Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Changing of the Guard

After 32 years serving as Museum Chairman, Robert M. Morgenthau took on a new title, that of Chairman Emeritus, when he stepped down as Chairman at the June 19 Annual Meeting of the Board. Bruce C. Ratner has been named the new Museum Chairman.

Mr. Morgenthau has served as Chairman of the Board since 1982, one year after Mayor Koch created a Task Force to determine what kind of Holocaust memorial was needed in New York City.

Mr. Morgenthau said, “I’m so honored to have been part of the Museum’s creation and its ongoing vitality, and look forward to remaining involved for many years to come. I’m also thrilled that the Board has elected Bruce Ratner as Chairman. Bruce has long been a friend to me and the Museum. And most important, his vision for the Museum as an institution that teaches about 20th- and 21st-century Jewish history and the Holocaust in a way that is meaningful to a larger community is critical to the Museum’s commitment to the principles of education and social justice within the Jewish community and beyond.”

Under Mr. Morgenthau’s leadership, the Museum has experienced incredible growth and reach over three decades. The original building opened to the public in 1997, and the wing that bears his name opened in 2003, tripling the square feet of the institution and increasing the innovative programming offered.

Of his many accomplishments, there is one that shines as a tribute to an entire generation. His was the vision behind the award-winning exhibition Ours To Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War.
Just as Holocaust survivors did not begin to tell their stories until decades after the war ended, veterans, too, were unable to articulate fully the memories that dwelled deep within.

As with survivors, these memories become more precious as they become more scarce, and these experiences needed to be documented. The result was an extraordinary archive of memory, courage, and history. Mr. Morgenthau, a Navy veteran himself, wanted the world to know that Jews, on the battlefront and on the home front, came together to “rid the world of a monstrous evil.”

While Mr. Morgenthau became the voice for his generation of veterans, he was also the voice of resolute determination for New York City. At the reopening of the Museum after the September 11 attacks, he announced that construction would begin on the new wing in a matter of weeks, and in a single moment demonstrated not only his commitment to the future, but his unequaled leadership in a time of complete uncertainty.

The role of Chairman Emeritus was created for Mr. Morgenthau to recognize his long-standing and invaluable service to, and lasting impact on, the Museum. Museum Director Dr. David G. Marwell said, “Robert Morgenthau had a clear vision for the Museum from the very start and helped shape it into an important educational institution, and a vital place of memory. It was Bob’s belief that the Museum should not only relate the tragic history of the Holocaust, but should also celebrate Jewish life by exploring its variety and richness. He succeeded in creating an institution that has earned its place in the cultural landscape of New York City and its reputation as a crucial stop for all who believe that we must understand the past in order to navigate the future.”

Mr. Ratner said, “The Museum of Jewish Heritage, the building and the programs, will long stand as a monument to how the Morgenthau family has worked endlessly on behalf of the Jewish people — before and after the Holocaust. I strongly believe that Bob’s sense of justice and the power of the law are derived directly from his involvement with these issues.”

Mr. Ratner, who has served on the Board of Trustees since 1996, co-chaired the Building Committee with Peter Kalikow, and his firm, Forest City Ratner (FCR), provided pro bono construction project management for the Museum’s expansion in 2003. As the Chairman of the Brooklyn Academy of Music from 1992 until 2001, he drew on his background as a developer and created a vibrant cultural district in the neighborhood of the immensely popular arts institution. Given the economic and construction boom currently taking place in Lower Manhattan with the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, 1 World Trade Center, and the development of Brookfield Place, this neighborhood is undergoing its own rebirth, and Mr. Ratner’s understanding of how culture drives the economy will only enhance the image of the Museum in this redesigned downtown.

As Executive Chairman of FCR, one of the largest urban real estate developers in the country, he has, over the last 25 years, developed 44 ground-up projects in the New York City area. He is the majority owner and developer of Barclays Center Arena, home of the Brooklyn Nets, the first major professional sports team to call Brooklyn home since the Dodgers left in 1957.

Mr. Ratner has been a forthright and generous supporter of the Museum, funding general operations and special exhibitions including Against the Odds: American Jews and the Rescue of Europe’s Refugees, 1933–1941, and was the co-honoree at the 2008 Heritage Dinner, when he announced from the stage, “The Museum is the most important philanthropy with which I am involved.” Mr. Ratner grew up in a Jewish home, the son of immigrants, whose family bore the scars of the Holocaust. After the war, Bruce’s mother committed herself to resettling survivors, finding homes for them and helping to create community for these newcomers. “Some of the survivors looked at my parents as their family, the kids were like our cousins. My mother most of all would remind us to Never Forget,” recalls Mr. Ratner.

Mr. Ratner currently serves on a number of boards, including Weill Cornell Medical College and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University School of Law. He is the father of two daughters, Lizzy, a writer, and Rebbie, a filmmaker, has one grandson, Elias, and is married to Dr. Pamela Lipkin.

ABOVE LEFT: Museum Director Dr. David G. Marwell, Robert M. Morgenthau, and Trustee Judah Gribetz. ABOVE RIGHT: Bruce Ratner accepts the Heritage Award at the 2008 Heritage Dinner.
Photos by Melanie Einzig.