Thursday, May 31, 2012

We Love a Good Book, But We Love These Authors Even More


As the publishing world waits with baited breath for the opening of Book Expo America this weekend, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is doing its part by bringing together authors from the Museum family to talk books with visitors. Six survivors and one survivor/US Army vet who have written books – or whose story is told in a book – will sit at tables in the lobby and talk about their books and their experiences during the war.

Many of these people are part of our Speakers Bureau, and they go out in the world talking to students, community groups, and synagogue and church groups throughout the year. It is a rare moment when we get to hear from them ourselves. Their books will be on sale in the lobby, and each author is happy to sign books. Take time on Sunday to meet Denise Bensaid, Bronia Brandman, Greta Elbogen, Elly Gross, Ruth Gruener, Max Lerner, and Chana Sharfstein.
In addition to our own authors’ books, we will also be selling books published by the Museum: stock up on copies of To Life: 36 Stories of Memory and Hope, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival by June Feiss Hersh, and Marion Kaplan’s Dominican Haven: The Jewish Refugee Settlement in Sosua, 1940-1945. Inside the shop you’ll find additional books by Museum staff, like Bonnie Gurewitsch’s Mothers, Sisters, Resisters, catalogs from previous exhibitions, and memoirs from survivors who could not join us on Sunday, like Fanya Gottesfeld Heller’s Love in a World of Sorrow, Hannah Rigler’s 10 British Prisoners of War Saved My Life, and Norbert Friedman’s Sunrays at Midnight.

This free event takes place from 1-3 p.m. Please join us.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Celebrating Ms. Lazarus and Ms. Liberty Through Music

One of the great things about our location is that we get to be a part of a vibrant downtown culture and work with other organizations that feel as strongly as we do about our neighborhood. We’re especially pleased to be working with the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra to present the world premiere of an evocative new work, “Cantata for Huddled Masses,” on Monday, June 11. In advance of this event, we reached out to Gary Fagin, the composer of the piece and the music director of the KCO, for a sneak preview.

MJH: Tell us about the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra. How did you get started?

Gary Fagin: I believe in the power of classical music to inspire and heal. After 9/11, I wanted to contribute to the revitalization of our wounded downtown community. I set in motion a plan that had been a lifelong dream–combining my passion for music and my love for my neighborhood–and founded the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra.

The KCO was incorporated in 2008 with twin goals: to perform great music in distinctive downtown venues and to offer innovative educational outreach. I’m proud to say we’ve accomplished these goals, each year reaching thousands of residents, workers and students.

MJH: What inspired you to write “Cantata for Huddled Masses”? How would you describe it?

Gary: I enjoy creating works that have an historical context. The combination of the recent 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, coinciding with the Museum of Jewish Heritage's Emma Lazarus exhibit, offered the opportunity to compose a work that honored both Ms. Liberty and Ms. Lazarus.

There are two contrasting musical elements in "Cantata for Huddled Masses," one undulating and wave-like, in which the harp plays a prominent part, and the other a setting of the poem's most famous lines as an anthem.

MJH: What is your composing process like?

Gary: Most important for me is finding the right harmonic context for a composition, from which I can generate one or two brief motives.

From these simple ideas, the macroscopic form of the piece takes shape; the end process is then orchestrating the work from my initial piano sketches.

MJH: How did the fabulous Marin Mazzie get involved?

Gary: Marin Mazzie and her husband, Jason Danieley, two of Broadway's most celebrated performers, are dear friends. In 2009 Jason Danieley thrillingly premiered my work "And Bold to Fall," composed in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's sail into New York harbor, before an audience of 1,500 at the World Financial Center Winter Garden.

It has always been my desire to compose a work for Marin Mazzie, There is no performer more suited to represent "...the mighty woman with a torch..." than she, and I am delighted she has agreed to sing the premiere performance of "Cantata for Huddled Masses."

MJH: Along with the world premiere of “Cantata for Huddled Masses,” you have chosen a selection of pieces that influenced Lazarus or were inspired by her writing. How did you go about putting together the program? What should we listen for? What can we learn about Emma from this music?

Gary: Although Emma Lazarus’ passion was primarily the world of letters, music played a large part in her life. We will present sections of Robert Schumann's "Waldszenen," which inspired Lazarus' poem "Scenes in the Wood." Acclaimed actor Myra Lucretia Taylor will read parts of "Scenes in the Wood" between the movements of "Waldszenen."

We will also highlight music of 19th-century Jewish composers Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler, and perform Aaron Copland's "Letter from Home" as underscoring for a reading by Ms. Taylor of a letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Emma Lazarus.

MJH: What would you like the audience to take away from the evening?

Gary: I’d like the audience to be moved. I’d like people to remember–or to be introduced to–the power and beauty of classical music. On a personal note, it is especially meaning for me, the son of a Holocaust survivor, to bring the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra to perform at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. I hope people will come away from the concert with an interest in the life, work and era of Emma Lazarus, and will think about the Statue of Liberty herself and all that she represents: freedom, courage, acceptance, opportunity, and peace.

Photo of the KCO by Robert Simko.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Get to Know the Irish-Jewish Museum

Last night I attended an event at the Irish Consulate that filled me with lovely memories. Deputy Consul General Jacqueline O’Halloran Bernstein was hosting an event for the Friends of the Irish Jewish Museum. I know, you’re re-reading that title. Located in Dublin, in the very neighborhood Leopold Bloom calls home, this museum tells the 150 year history of Jews in Ireland. The Board has plans to increase their facilities six-fold. The entire museum is run by very hard-working volunteers, and they have a daunting task. Building classrooms, event space, expanded exhibition space, a garden…sound familiar? Ireland mandated that the Irish school curriculum include teaching children about racial, religious, and ethnic tolerance and the museum expects to see the numbers of students increase significantly.
Ilona Moradof, MJH curator and senior project manager, accompanied me to the event. We were welcomed most warmly by the Deputy Consul General, and then proceeded to run into old friends. Rachel Gilkey, from the Irish Arts Center, Lorin Sklamberg from The Klezmatics was there with the talented Susan McKeown. They performed a great concert called Saints and Tzadiks at the MJH in 2010.NYC Comptroller John Liu was in attendance as was Paul Schaeffer, musician, composer, and conductor of the CBS Orchestra on Late Show with David Letterman.
The program featured a short but lively DVD of the museum today and what its future will be. We heard from Lord Mayor of Dublin Ben Briscoe (his dad was the first Jewish mayor of Dublin), John White, and a lovely man named Derek Enlander. Derek was describing the time he was on his honeymoon in Dublin and his wife Caron wanted to go to the Irish-Jewish Museum. It has an irregular schedule. She pounded on the doors until finally someone came to open the door. She was informed it was closed. She informed them she was here today. They let her in.
My husband and I also stopped by the Irish-Jewish Museum on our honeymoon. We, too, arrived on a day it was closed. I did not think to pound on the doors until someone came. Within a few years, perhaps they won’t have to turn a single visitor away.
Photo of the front of the museum, taken in 1995.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Behind the Scenes of History

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think about what it was like before Wikipedia and Internet Movie Data Base, when you would go home after seeing a compelling film based on a true story and want to know more about which scenes really happened, which were fictionalized, and what happened to the subjects after the action in the film was over. However, you’d have to wait until an article came out in a newspaper, or you had time to go to a library and do your own research. Now we have that information as close as our iPhones, but at the Museum of Jewish Heritage we give audiences a chance to learn about history from the remarkable people who lived through it. For instance, this week when we showed the landmark film Exodus, not only did we have Leon Uris’ biographer, Ira Nadel, there to offer remarks before the screening, but at intermission, Ruth Gruber, a journalist who was a witness to the journey depicted in the film, spoke at length about her experiences.

Sunday, June 3rd at 2:45 p.m., we’ll be offering a rare opportunity to watch an award-winning film and hear from Krystyna Chiger Keren, one of the people whose story is dramatized, when we’ll present a special screening of Agnieszka Holland’s Oscar nominee, In Darkness (Poland, 2011, 114 min.). The film’s screenwriter, David Shamoon, will be on hand to share his insights as well.

In Darkness follows Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief in Lvov, a Nazi occupied city in Poland. One day Socha encounters a group of Jews trying to escape the liquidation of the ghetto. He hides them for money in the labyrinth of the town’s sewers beneath the bustling activity of the city above. What starts out as a straightforward business arrangement turns into an unlikely alliance between Socha and the Jews for whom he risks his own life.



Still from In Darkness. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What We're Reading: The Dovekeepers

This month, the staff book club will be reading Alice Hoffman’s first foray into historical fiction, The Dovekeepers. Set in the time leading up to the siege on Mount Masada, Hoffman’s book is a fascinating look at ancient Israel, told through the eyes of four vividly drawn women whose lives and fates become intertwined. According to the only written report at the time, the Romans forcefully attacked the 900 Jewish men, women, and children who were living in the fortress on Masada. Rather than face capture and enslavement, the Jews committed mass suicide. Only two women and five children survived. At close to 500 pages, the book is more than just a historical account or a war story, it breathes life into all characters, whether major or minor. The Dovekeepers is emotional, suspenseful, and full of rich details about everything from witchcraft, superstition, and ancient sects of Jews, to the intricacies of familial and romantic love. Read along with us, or let us know what you think we should read next.

Monday, May 14, 2012

California, Here We Come!

I went to college in Los Angeles and it is rare to find me pining for the days of the 405 Freeway at rush hour, the smog alerts, or the occasional reminder from the San Andreas Fault that even on a sunny day, natural disasters strike. This week, however, all bets are off, because the Skirball Cultural Center is opening Project Mah Jongg on Thursday, May 17. Registrar Erica Blumenfeld reports that playing tables will be set up outside overlooking the mountains. We have a lot of amenities in our corner of the world; mountain views are not one of them. There was a great preview article in the LA Times this weekend, and we have really enjoyed working with the team there. If you’re in LA between now and September 2, do yourself a favor and visit the Skirball, play a little mahj, and enjoy the sunshine, because you know, it never rains in Southern California.*

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

16th Annual Heritage Dinner

We held our annual Heritage dinner this week, and the cloudy rainy weather did not diminish the excitement in the Museum or the generous support of our donors. We raised $1.3 million and heard an impassioned speech about Israel from the honoree, Rupert Murdoch. The emcee of the evening was Fox 5 morning anchor Rosanna Scotto, who described our Museum as “magnificent” when she told her Good Day New York co-host, Greg Kelly, about the evening.

We thank all of our 375 guests who supported the dinner and look forward to welcoming you back in the near future.

Portrait of Wally on Display for Everyone to See


Registrar Erica Blumenfeld examining
Portrait of Wally July 2010.
As you may have heard, the documentary about Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally and its 13 years of litigation has opened. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last month and starts a limited engagement at The Quad in Greenwich Village beginning this Friday.

While you are familiar with the long history of the painting, its story of international intrigue, courtroom drama, and the subject of art restitution, we entered the scene in 2010 when we hosted the news conference announcing that a settlement was reached between the Bondi family and the Leopold Foundation regarding the disposition of the painting.

The painting was displayed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage for three weeks and was the only place in the world to see it before it returned to Vienna. Here is the label that accompanied the painting when it hung in the Museum; consider it an abridged history.   The Museum was chosen to host the painting by the Bondi Jaray estate who wanted “a setting that would memorialize the suffering of so many in the Holocaust and the resilience and resolve of those who escaped and/or survived.”

Robert Morgenthau, in his role as Manhattan District Attorney, prevented the Museum of Modern Art from sending the painting back to Vienna after its showing in 1997. As you can imagine, he figures prominently in the film, as do art restitution experts, federal officials, and a museum director or two.

We very much enjoyed working with director and screenwriter Andrew Shea, screenwriter David D’Arcy, and producer Barbara Morgan when they were here filming, and we wish them tremendous success with their important film.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Summer Preview

This blog is from Gabriel Sanders, our director of Public Programs, who apparently will not be spending his summer in the Hamptons. In an age of October snowstorms and unusually early springs, it’s tough to know what to do with old sayings like “April showers bring May flowers.” Be that as it may, the Museum’s May-June calendar is certainly in full bloom. Tonight, May 2, NYU historian Edward Berenson will be discussing his new book, The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story—in a room overlooking Lady Liberty herself. On May 6, the PEN World Voices Festival returns to the Museum with an all-star panel of writers (Michael Cunningham, Deborah Eisenberg, Daniel Kehlmann, and Edmund White) to discuss the late Gregor von Rezzori’s Bukovina Trilogy.
On May 9, we’ll be celebrating Chutzpah Fest—a showcase of up-and-coming Jewish musical talent— with Golden Bloom, Yael Kraus, and Zack Borer. On Mother’s Day, May 13, we’ll be bringing together some of the biggest names in food writing—including Top Chef’s Gail Simmons, Melissa Clark of The New York Times, and GQ’s Alan Richman—to discuss home cooking and Jewish mothers in a program titled “Like Mama Used to Make.” On May 16, to mark the Israel’s 64th birthday—and the 65th anniversary of the sailing of the Exodus—we’ll be screening the classic 1960 film with Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint. Leon Uris biographer Ira Nadel will be on hand to offer introductory remarks. As we prepare for the London Olympics, we look back to what is no doubt one of the saddest chapters in Olympic history: the 1972 Munich games. On May 23, historian David Clay Large will join us for discussion of the ill-fated games and their legacy. On June 10, the Museum will welcome historian Marni Davis, author of the new book Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition. A post-discussion tasting will be sponsored by Hudson Whiskey. On June 11, in what promises to be one of our year’s highpoints, the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra will be here to perform a World Premiere of their setting of Emma Lazarus’ “New Colossus.” To round out the program, the Orchestra will perform music that Lazarus loved coupled with the poetry it inspired. On June 17, Father’s Day, three longtime New York Times sportswriters, Robert Lipsyte, Ira Berkow, and Gerald Eskenazi, will come together to discuss what it was like being Jewish in press box. And finally, on Wednesdays from June 27 through August 8—with the exception of July 4—we’ll give our screen over to comic master Mel Brooks. Among the pictures were planning to screen—for free!—are Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety, and History of the World, Part I.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hava Minute?

This September, the Museum of Jewish Heritage will present a festive, new exhibition called Hava Nagila: A Song for the People. However, curating an exhibit is a collaborative process, and this time, we’re looking to you to help us find the most memorable images from multiple generations of people dancing, performing, or listening to the song for possible inclusion in the exhibit and related materials. Clean out your drawers and your photo albums and share your most meaningful, touching, and embarrassing moments from bar or bat mitzvahs, weddings, or other celebrations. Post your photos on Pinterest or Tumblr or email them to Alice Rubin at arubin@mjhnyc.org. Photo: to get you started, here is one of our Deputy Director, Anita Kassof
at her son's bar mitzvah . Stay tuned for additional Hava Nagila-related images as we get them in.