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News Room

Peruse articles that discuss CAJM activities and initiatives, offer major news from our constituent members, or address current issues in the field.

Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life names new CEO
10/19/2017
Michele Schipper will succeed Macy B. Hart in steering the ISJL, the innovative cultural and educational organization that promotes Jewish life and heritage in the South.…

The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) has named Michele Schipper Chief Executive Officer. Schipper, who has served as the ISJL's Chief Operating Officer since 2007, will become CEO in early 2018 when founding leader Macy B. Hart steps aside.

Schipper, a Jackson native, spent two decades working in the Jewish communal service world on the West Coast before returning to Mississippi ten years ago.

When he transitions away from running the ISJL, Hart will focus on his "ISJL Bucket List," which includes development work as well as projects he has long wanted to explore, but never had the time to do while concentrating on the primary objectives of the organization.

 

A Trove of Yiddish Artifacts Rescued From the Nazis, and Oblivion
10/18/2017
A collection of rare Yiddish artifacts and documents were recently discovered in the basement of a former church in Vilnius, Lithuania. Some will be displayed at YIVO's New York headquarters at the Center for Jewish History, beginning October 24, 2017.…

In one of their odder and more chilling moves, the Nazis occupying Lithuania once collected Yiddish and Hebrew books and documents, hoping to create a reference collection about a people they intended to annihilate.

Even stranger, they appointed Jewish intellectuals and poets to select the choicest pearls for study.

These workers, assigned to sift through a major Jewish library in Vilna, Vilnius in Lithuanian, ended up hiding thousands of books and papers from the Nazis, smuggling them out under their clothing, and squirreling them away in attics and underground bunkers.

In 1991, a large part of the collection was found in the basement of a Vilnius church, and were hailed as important artifacts of Jewish history.

But months ago curators at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Manhattan, the successor to the Vilnius library, were told that another trove, totaling 170,000 pages, had been found, somehow overlooked in the same church basement.

These documents, experts say, are even more valuable and compelling. Among the finds:

• Five dog-eared notebooks of poetry by Chaim Grade, considered along with Isaac Bashevis Singer as one of the leading Yiddish novelists of the mid-20th century.

• Two letters by Sholem Aleichem, the storyteller whose tales of Tevye the Milkman formed the core of "Fiddler on the Roof."

• A postcard written by Marc Chagall, the Jewish modernist painter.

"These are gold," said David E. Fishman, a professor of Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who traveled to Vilnius in July at YIVO's behest to assess the trove's importance. He came back with the sort of enthusiasm one might find in an explorer who has just discovered unknown lands.

A selection of 10 items from the newly found literary manuscripts, letters, diaries, synagogue record books, theater posters and ephemera will go on display on Oct. 24 at YIVO headquarters on West 16th Street.

In interviews, Mr. Fishman and Jonathan Brent, YIVO's executive director, discussed other findings, including, an early poem by Abraham Goldfaden, the father of the flourishing Yiddish theater in Europe and on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and 10 poems handwritten in the Vilna ghetto by Abraham Sutzkever, among the greatest Yiddish poets. In one poem, Sutzkever expresses his fear that "Death is rushing, riding on a bullet-head/To tear apart in me my brightest dream."

Mr. Brent and his staff said they were just as excited by more quotidian items like scripts of "Sherlock Holmes" and other popular entertainments that delighted prewar Jews and an astronomical guide with a set of dials to calculate when religious holidays should fall, given variations in the lengths of Jewish lunar months. A 1933 "autobiography" by a malnourished fifth grader, Bebe Epshtein, describes how her parents forced her to eat by telling her beguiling stories. When "I would open my mouth," she wrote, "they would pour in food."

Many of the items, the experts said, offer glimpses into the hardscrabble everyday lives of the Jews of Eastern Europe when the region, not Israel or the Lower East Side, was the center of the Jewish world.

Almost as intriguing as the cache is the serpentine story of the documents' rescue and rediscovery, much of which had been known before but which has been updated with the new find.

When the Nazis occupied Lithuania from 1941 to 1944, they were determined to incinerate or grind up the country's Jewish collections, particularly those at YIVO, which from 1925 to 1940 in Vilna was the world's foremost library of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. With characteristic incongruity, though, they decided to save a third of the YIVO collection for a research center near Frankfurt that would study "the Jewish question" even if they planned to make sure the Jews would be extinct. (In Lithuania alone, 90 percent of the prewar Jewish population of 160,000 was murdered.)

They needed Yiddish speakers to analyze and select the materials, and deployed 40 ghetto residents like Sutzkever and another raffish poet, Shmerke Kaczerginski, as slave laborers. Risking death by a firing squad, this "paper brigade" rescued thousands of books and documents.

When the Germans were pushed out of Lithuania by the Soviets, survivors like Sutzkever spirited some hidden treasures to New York. (The Soviets frowned on anything evocative of ethnic or religious loyalties.) Meanwhile, a gentile librarian, Antanas Ulpis, who was assembling the remnants of the national library in a former church, St. George's, stashed stacks of Jewish materials in basement rooms to hide them from Stalin's enforcers. He is, as a result, regarded by YIVO as a kind of Oskar Schindler of document rescue.

The bulk of the basement collection - documents totaling 250,000 pages - was recovered after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Last year, the entire basement collection was transferred to the Martynas Mazvydas National Library of Lithuania, which had reopened in a grand colonnaded building, and in May officials there informed Mr. Brent, of the new trove of 170,000 documents. They had been stored in a separate church basement room and had never been evaluated because none of the assigned archivists could read Yiddish or Hebrew.

Lithuania has chosen to hold onto all the Jewish documents in the library's Judaica center as part of its national heritage. But it has allowed YIVO to digitize them for the use of the general public - and to have select items to display in Manhattan later this month.

"It's going to take decades for scholars to analyze all of this," said Mr. Fishman, who this month published "The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures From the Nazis."

Among the more mundane curiosities that were salvaged is a weathered agreement from 1857 between a yeshiva in Vilna and a union of water carriers.

What is a water carrier, a Talmud student might ask?

In Vilna at that time, water carriers were needed to deliver buckets of water to homes from available wells. The ragtag Jewish water carriers formed a guild, which promised to donate a Torah scroll and a set of Talmuds to the yeshiva if members were given a room of their own, rent-free, for worship.

The crew that rescued these records largely did not survive the war. Some 34 of the 40 people viewed by experts as having been members of the "paper brigade" died, according to Mr. Fishman, some in death camps like Treblinka or in labor camps or in more random fashion. Mr. Kaczerginski was killed in 1954 in a plane crash in the Andes. Sutzkever had an illustrious career as a poet in Israel and died at age 96 in 2010. Mr. Ulpis, who helped save the documents later found in the church basement, died in 1981.

 

World’s Largest Index of Jewish Art
08/10/2017
A resource to remember: the world’s largest online database of Jewish art is available through Hebrew University's Center for Jewish Art.…

The Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem launched the world's largest online database of Jewish art.

The Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art is a collection of digitized images and information about Jewish artifacts from all over the world. The online collection includes more than 260,000 images of objects and artifacts from 700 museums, synagogues and private collections in 41 different countries, as well as architectural drawings of 1,500 synagogues and Jewish ritual buildings from antiquity to the modern day.

The public can access the Bezalel Index of Jewish Art and search more than a quarter of a million images, with accompanying details and descriptions, either by simple keyword search, or according to such categories as Iconographical Subject, Origin, Artist, Object, Community, Collection or Location.

The Center for Jewish Art is the world's foremost institution dedicated to the preservation of the Jewish artistic heritage. The Center's activities include documentation, research, education and publishing.

The digitization of the Center for Jewish Art archives became possible in the framework of a joint project with the National Library of Israel and Judaica Division of Harvard University Library. It was generously funded by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, "Landmarks" Program of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, Judaica Book Fund endowments established by David B. Keidan (Harvard), as well as by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, The Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation, Mrs. Josephine Urban and Mr. William Gross.

The Israeli government recognized The Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art as a non-tangible national heritage in 2012, and it is today considered the most comprehensive database of Jewish art in the world, existing as a virtual museum available to all.

 

Curator Says Jewish Museums Should Take 'Theatrical' Approach
07/06/2017
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett discusses some of the challenges faced by our museums in a talk at Princeton University.…

Issue of particularism vs. universalism challenges organizers

In choosing "freedom" as its theme, the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia must find ways to maintain an ethnic identity within a more universalist context.

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, speaking at Princeton University, said Jewish museums should leave behind their focus on objects, showcases, and labels to more closely resemble world fairs and expos. Warsaw's POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, where Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is director of the core exhibit, also reaches out to contemporary Jews in Poland.

Perhaps communal leaders should back away from pushing synagogue membership and instead increase Jewish engagement by touting joining another type of Jewish institution, a museum.

Today, with synagogues failing to attract the younger generation, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett of Warsaw's POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews said museums can play a central role in a new Jewish landscape. "The museum is kind of a place for the unaffiliated," she said. "It is a secular space that is a neutral ground where people can feel comfortable who are not connected to anything Jewish."

The best way to attract those visitors is by transforming museums into places that are "more theatrical, narrative, expressive, and communicative," she said in a talk given at Princeton University.

What they should leave behind, she said in her presentation, "Theater of History: Performing the Past in American Jewish Museums," is their current "exhibitionary" focus on objects, showcases, and labels; they must move from simply displaying and explicating collections into an environment that more closely suggests world fairs and expos.

The 1970s and '80s saw the start of museums' collecting American-Jewish ephemera in earnest, said Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the director of the core exhibit at POLIN and a professor emerita at New York University. The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) was established in 1976 in the Mikveh Israel Sephardi synagogue in Philadelphia (it moved into its new building on Independence Mall in 2010). During the same period, the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles started its Project Americana; the regional Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience was established in Jackson, Miss.; and many synagogues in former Jewish immigrant neighborhoods were transformed into museums.

But the simple amassing and exhibiting of Judaica - representing in most cases the religious and cultural life of once thriving Jewish communities now gone or decimated - represents a failure to convey the totality of the Jews' story. Quoting the critic Edward Rothstein, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett said, "A museum of Jewish religious artifacts alone is partly a Jewish morgue, less a tribute to Judaism's continuity than a memorial to a world of belief left behind - in some cases forcibly so."

Fueled largely by Congress's funding of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1980 - it opened in Washington in 1993 - the 1980s saw an increase in the establishment of institutions focused on the Shoa.

In part as "a kind of pushback on the proliferation and power and importance of Holocaust museums," Kirshenblatt-Gimblett said, and in part as a recognition of Rothstein's suggestion that museums focused only on the past will not succeed, Jewish museums have more recently shifted to representing Jewish peoplehood.

As museums shifted "from classic collections of Judaica and archeology to ethnic or identity museums," Kirshenblatt-Gimblett said, they often added a more universalist focus on diversity and tolerance. The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage near Cleveland, for example, states that its mission is to introduce visitors to the beauty and diversity of the Jewish heritage in the context of the American experience" and promote "an understanding of Jewish history, religion, and culture." But it continues that it also seeks to "build bridges of tolerance and understanding with those of other religions, races, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds."

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett said that among those who took exception to that non-particularist approach was Rothstein, who argued that "in an attempt to broaden audience and universalize the message, Jewish museums are losing their soul."

Ably condensing the conundrum inherent in the issue of particularism versus universalism, said Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, was Peter Schafer, director of the Jewish Museum Berlin, who said, "At our exhibitions, if they are too Jewish, you don't get an audience, and if they are not Jewish enough, you don't get an audience."

When the NMAJH opened its new building in Philadelphia, it chose freedom as its theme. But by choosing this approach, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett said, NMAJH and similar museums must confront the challenge to maintain an ethnic identity within a more universalist context.

Although Kirshenblatt-Gimblett voiced some criticisms of NMAJH, she expressed enthusiasm about how the museum succeeds in using the more "theatrical," communicative approach she was touting. One example was its presentation of the 19th-century Purim balls that were organized as fund-raisers by German Jews. "This is theater, exhibition as theater, open space, you move around" in the exhibit, she said, in a way that fully engages visitors.

She also pointed to the museum's method of telling the stories of 18 notable American Jews, depicted in two enormous panoramic videos in the main lobby. She said she especially liked their relational approach, with children talking about parents, and students talking about a revered teacher. And for every person celebrated, there is a small showcase of a few "amazing" original objects. "It is a brilliant solution - considering my allergy to ‘halls of fame,'" she said.

Her own POLIN museum, at the end of its exploration of 1,000 years of Jewish history, reaches out to contemporary Jews in Poland. The final exhibit includes interviews with about 20 Jews living in Poland today, featuring their answers to such questions as "What does Israel mean to you?" and "Is there a future for Jews in Poland?"

But the single most provocative question, the one that connects the POLIN museum to Polish Jews of today, she said, "is not a natural question to ask [in the United States], but it is a natural question to ask in Europe, particularly post-communist Europe," in a country where after the Shoa, Jews often concealed their Jewish identity: "Did you always know you were Jewish?"

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's talk, the Lapidus Family Fund Lecture in American Jewish Studies, was presented April 19 by Princeton University's Program in American Studies and Program in Judaic Studies, and was cosponsored by the Princeton University Art Museum, Lewis Center for the Arts, Department of Comparative Literature, and Center for Jewish Life/Hillel.

 

Israel Museum Remembers Holocaust With New Message
04/23/2017
Ghetto Fighters' House positions the Holocaust as a warning sign.…

KIBBUTZ LOHAMEI HAGETAOT, Israel - As a teenager, Dorka Sternberg watched as Nazi officers, enraged after two youths from the underground fired a handgun at them, randomly picked 25 young men and women from a roundup in her Polish hometown, Czestochowa, lined them up against a wall and shot them dead.

"I was lucky, I suppose, because I am here," Ms. Sternberg, 93, said, recalling the event last week in her small kibbutz house in a lush coastal area of northern Israel.

Not long after the war ended, Ms. Sternberg met one of the few legendary fighters who had managed to emerge alive from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the most significant, albeit doomed, act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. She joined his group of pioneering Socialist Zionists, who drew up plans immediately after the war, while still in Poland: to build a kibbutz, and a new life, along with a museum to honor the dead in the Jewish homeland.

On April 19, 1949, the sixth anniversary of the start of the Warsaw uprising and nearly a year after the establishment of the state of Israel, they broke ground for the communal farm and named it Lohamei Hagetaot, Hebrew for "the ghetto fighters." The same day, on the kibbutz grounds, they laid the foundation stone of the Ghetto Fighters' House, the world's first Holocaust museum.

The closing event of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day will take place in an amphitheater outside the museum on Monday.

Of the 150 Holocaust survivors who founded the kibbutz, Ms. Sternberg - who shared her testimony with museum visitors for years - is one of the last ones alive to bear witness. As her generation fades away, the Ghetto Fighters' House is grappling, like other institutions, with the question of how to educate future generations about the Holocaust and combat ignorance and denial.

"What will be in another generation from now?" asked Arye Carmon, the chairman of the museum's board.

"Our answer is to position the Holocaust as a warning sign," he said, pointing to the international growth of xenophobia, threats to liberalism and democracy, and the challenge of alternative truth enabled by social media. He described Auschwitz as the nadir of what he called "a deteriorating continuum of evil."

So instead of dealing with the Holocaust as a static historical event, and only a Jewish tragedy, the museum is advocating a more dynamic approach with a focus on the moral lessons for all of humanity.

In one sign of change, President Reuven Rivlin of Israel has invited former President Joachim Gauck of Germany to join him at the closing event here on Monday.

It is a stark departure from the past, when prominent German representatives were not asked to attend formal Israeli commemorations, partly in fear of offending the survivors. (The main opening ceremony took place Sunday, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, at Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.)

The invitation to Mr. Gauck, initiated by Mr. Carmon, has prompted criticism. The leaders of seven Israeli youth movements from across the political spectrum, both religious and secular, signed a letter to Mr. Rivlin protesting Mr. Gauck's presence, saying it could imply the Jewish people's forgiveness "for the greatest crime perpetrated in human history." They exhorted Mr. Rivlin to clarify in his speech at the ceremony that this is not the case.

The Ghetto House officials say that is yesterday's thinking.

Anat Livne, the director of the museum, said the message it was trying to convey was one of courage to go against the grain, inspired by founders like Yitzhak Zuckerman, a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising whose nom de guerre was Antek, and Zivia Lubetkin, an underground commander who became his wife.

The invitation to Mr. Gauck, Ms. Livne said, was "not about forgiveness or atonement, but about being together in an alliance of liberalism and democracy against all those who endanger it."

On Wednesday, the anniversary of the uprising and the founding of the kibbutz, senior Israeli Army officers and a group of Jewish and Arab educators attended seminars and toured the museum's exhibits, some of which are based on documents and objects that the founders brought with them from Europe.

The museum does not shy away from dealing with Israel's own inner conflicts. Its Center for Humanistic Education, founded in 1995 by Raya Kalisman after she spent a year at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, runs a six-month program for Jewish, Arab and Druze high school students, mostly from northern Israel. The program encourages the students to confront the complexity of their identities as citizens of the country.

Reflecting that complexity, Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot was established in the vicinity of Al-Sumeiriya, a Palestinian village that Zionist forces occupied and destroyed in the 1948 war over Israel's independence, turning its inhabitants into refugees.

"Most Arabs here perceive themselves as victims of the Jews," said Yariv Lapid, the director of the center, adding that any student searching online for information about the Holocaust in Arabic is likely to encounter a lot of denial. Over time, he said, the program challenges them to examine their own communities, which are often conservative and may be intolerant, for instance, of homosexuals.

Ms. Sternberg, who was born Devora Zissel Bram, grew up in a religious household in Czestochowa and was 15 when World War II broke out. She said she lost her faith in God after her parents, younger sister and brother were taken to the Treblinka death camp and killed. She was taken with other girls for forced labor in a Nazi arms factory. She fled to Warsaw as the Soviets approached, to avoid being taken to Germany.

She remembered Antek Zuckerman's knocking on the window of the apartment in Warsaw where she was staying after the war with other young women who had been left alone, without any family, pondering what to do and where to go. Mr. Zuckerman was recruiting Zionist pioneers to build kibbutzlike communes in Poland and to organize the Jewish youths there before leaving for Mandatory Palestine, or the Land of Israel.

"We looked up to him as if he were a god, an emissary from heaven," she recalled.

After working as a youth counselor in Poland, Ms. Sternberg arrived at Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot in March 1950 and soon married. She cleaned toilets and worked in the fields before being assigned a role in education.

The kibbutz has since been largely privatized. Cooperative but no longer egalitarian, it still has a dairy and orchards, but its main income is from Tivall, a company that produces vegetarian, meat-substitute products. A majority stake in Tivall, which kibbutz members founded, has been purchased by an international food corporation. Today, families on the kibbutz make their own living independently and run their own households.

A widow, Ms. Sternberg has two daughters, one of whom lives on the kibbutz, as well as five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

One of her grandsons, Yehonatan Stein, 35, said he had never left the kibbutz, other than for his army service. He was with his son Michael, 2, in a playground teeming with other toddlers.

"It is living evidence that after the Holocaust we enjoy life. We have parties; we have a swimming pool," Mr. Stein, a history teacher, said of the kibbutz. "To grow up in a place like this means living a normal life alongside the memory."

 

Members of Baltimore synagogue speak out after finding swastika
03/19/2017
Jewish leaders and Baltimore officials linked arms to pray Sunday after a swastika appeared on a sign belonging to the Jewish Museum of Maryland.…

Baltimore demonstration
Members of a Baltimore snyagogue gather Sunday after a swastika was painted on the facility last week. (Colin Campbell / Baltimore Sun)


Colin Campbell, The Baltimore Sun

Jewish leaders and Baltimore officials linked arms to pray Sunday after a swastika appeared on a sign belonging to the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

The appearance of the Nazi symbol is believed to be the latest in a nationwide series of attacks on Jewish centers - this one less than two weeks after the museum on Lloyd Street opened an exhibit called "Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity."

More than 50 people linked arms to pray and to speak out against the act Sunday morning near the sign at B'Nai Israel: The Downtown Synagogue. Rabbi Etan Mintz organized the event and invited several local officials, including City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, council members Zeke Cohen and Robert Stokes, and Del. Brooke Lierman.

"While it's only a small piece of defamation, we felt as a community that it was important to come out and to raise a voice and to say that love will overcome hate," Mintz said. "Words are words, whether they're written, whether they're spoken. But ultimately they lead to deeds. We have to make sure voices are heard saying this is not OK."

It wasn't lost on Mintz that the swastika appeared shortly after the museum opened its exhibit on Auschwitz, where Nazis killed an estimated 1 million Jews.

"The irony is deeply powerful," he said.

Rabbi Daniel Burg, of Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill, noted that the vandal had also scrawled the word "shalom" next to the swastika in Sharpie. The Hebrew word, a Jewish greeting, means "peace," which Burg said can only be achieved when people stand up for what is right.

Vandalism"Peace is only achieved when we come from a place of strength, when we come from a place of our sense of who we are and what we stand for," Burg said. "This is a time to stand together, not only as a Jewish community, but with other marginalized communities: women who have been denigrated in these past months, people of color, immigrants, refugees."

"This is our moment to stand together and to say we as a Jewish community will not countenance this sort of behavior," he said. "We will not be intimidated by a culture of fear."

More than 150 threats have been made against Jewish institutions in more than 30 states this year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills and a Jewish day school in Annapolis are among the many across the country to receive bomb threats. Maryland's congressional delegation has called for a federal investigation.

"It's become really overwhelming," Lierman said. "But I was also heartbroken that something like this would happen in our community, in District 46. The Jewish Museum, Lloyd Street, B'Nai Israel - the work that you all do here for Jonestown and for the whole city couldn't be more important."

Baltimore Police Capt. Jarron Jackson said he saw a silver lining in the incident. He'd just finished his first week as captain, and hadn't had a chance to visit the synagogue until Sunday.

"What it does, that these monsters don't realize, is it brings us closer together," Jackson said. "Had this act of hate not happened, I would not have met all of you today. So out of this negativity, we're going to find the love, as the rabbi said. We're going to find friendship and fellowship."

Cohen said many people in his family were killed in concentration camps during the Holocaust. He said his great grandmother came from Austria on "the last boat out of Europe."

"She left to escape symbols like the one we saw over there," Cohen said, gesturing at the sign. "She came to this country to build a better life."

He said he planned to introduce a City Council resolution Monday to reaffim that Baltimore is a welcoming city.

Young called the vandalism a "cowardly act," and urged police to examine surveillance footage from cameras in the area.

"Hate is not something that we represent," he said. "We stand here in unity with the Jewish community, who are our brothers and sisters, to let you know that we won't tolerate this type of behavior from anyone."

Hindah and Jared Weissbrot, former members of B'Nai Israel who now live in Pikesville, brought their three children, ages 6, 4 and 1, to the demonstration Sunday.

"It's a good lesson to show our children," Hinda Weissbrot said. "You don't hide. You stand up and say, 'This goes against our Jewish values. This goes against our community.'"

"The way to fight this," her husband added, "is to come out and show up."

Baltimore Sun reporter Brittany Britto and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication 

AAM Advocacy Alert: Help Fight Proposed Elimination of IMLS, NEA and NEH
03/16/2017
Important suggestions and advocacy resources for museums…

Description: https://www.congressplus.com/userfiles/194/image/AAH_New(1).gif

Trump Budget Proposes Billions in Cuts, Including Elimination of IMLS, NEH and NEA

This morning, the Trump Administration formally proposed eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in its preliminary budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018. These eliminations are part of a package that the administration projects would cut $54 billion in domestic spending in order to offset an identical increase in defense spending. Although a full budget proposal is not expected from the Administration until May, this document also appears to target museum-related programs at the Department of Education, the Department of State, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
 
“While these proposals from the Trump Administration were rumored for some time, they are no less alarming and disturbing to see released today. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other programs play an essential role in helping museums make the arts and the humanities accessible to all Americans,” said Alliance President and CEO Laura Lott. “It is Congress—not the President—that will ultimately determine funding levels for these vital agencies. After a record-setting presence at Museums Advocacy Day 2017, the Alliance will continue to work with our allies to build on Congress’ tradition of strong bipartisan support for these agencies. We hope you will join our efforts today.”
 

Congressional Budget Process Kicks Off; Make Your Voice Heard

Over the next few weeks, members of Congress will begin to inform the House and Senate Appropriations Committees—which have jurisdiction over this area of federal spending—which programs they believe should receive funding in Fiscal Year 2018. Those committees will then strongly consider this information as they begin writing funding bills. As part of this process, U.S. Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), and David McKinley (R-WV) as well as U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are circulating letters of support for the IMLS Office of Museum Services.
 
Ask your members of Congress to sign on in support of the Office of Museum Services
 
While some legislators in both parties have already expressed skepticism about the budget proposal, this is the first time that a president has ever called for eliminating any of these agencies. Find out how much funding museums in your state get from IMLS, NEH, and NEA with our State Snapshots, and tell your legislators to support NEH and NEA today.

Want to do more to #SpeakUpforMuseums? Use our tools to make the case to Capitol Hill and in your community.

http://bit.ly/SpeakUp4Museums

Holocaust Organizations and Historians Urge Action
03/13/2017
With reports surfacing that the President plans to defund the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, more than 100 Holocaust institutions, scholars, and educators from around the world are calling on government officials not to cut, but to maintain and strengthen the office.…

These institutions and individuals cite the recent examples of hatred, xenophobia, and racism spreading across the nation and ask the public to call Congressional and Senate offices. Read the full statement, see the list of signatories, and respond to calls for action by following this link: http://bit.ly/2mAVh7i

Bomb threat prompts evacuation of Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn
03/09/2017
The Jewish Children's Museum in Crown Heights, Brooklyn was evacuated Thursday after staffers received an email about a bomb in the building.…

The Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn was evacuated Thursday after staffers received an alarming email saying several pipe bombs had been hidden in the building, officials said. Nothing was found after a three-hour search.

Cops raced to the museum on Eastern Parkway near Kingston Ave. in Crown Heights after the email came in around 9:30 a.m., officials said.

The building was cleared and cops conducted a floor-by-floor inspection.

No bombs were found after a painstaking three-and-a-half-hour search of the building. Staffers and children were allowed back in beginning at 1 p.m., officials said.

The institution was built in memory of a Jewish teen killed by a terrorist on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994.

Museum staffers including Devorah Halberstam, the mother of murdered 16-year-old Ari Halberstam, watched as cops conducted the search.

"It's a horrible thing that happened to us today," Halberstam said, breaking down in tears outside the museum with Gov. Cuomo by her side. "It was only last week that it was the anniversary of (Ari's) death. That this happened the very same week... is suffering. Very, very deep suffering."

Despite the threat, Halberstam said that she and the rest of the museum staff will soldier on.

"We will be open for business as soon as they do a clean sweep of the museum," she said. "We want all the children to not only come, but to continue coming every day.

"We all stand together and we do stand together against these messages of evil and hate," Halberstam added.

Gov. Cuomo, who recently ordered a coordinated investigation into a series of bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the state, called Thursday's "one of the cruelest ironies yet in this rash of anti-Semitism that we've been experiencing.

"This museum is a monument to tolerance," he said. "This is a situation that is repugnant to the concept of the state of New York. We are New Yorkers, which means by definition, we applaud and appreciate diversity.

"More dramatic action must be had," Cuomo continued. "(The threats are) disgusting, it's repugnant and every New Yorker should be embarrassed."

Resident Yehoshua Carbonera, 22, agreed as he watched cops surround the museum, his eyes tearing up.

"It's a threat against the Jewish people. It's close to home. It's a scary thing, very alarming," Carbonera said. "These are children. These are people."

Yochevet Grape, 53, was rattled by the police activity.

"I have a teenage daughter who comes here sometimes," he said. "It's scary. This is the world. People are being persecuted for being who they are."

The threat was directed to the Jewish Children's Museum "concerning museum security," according to the email, which was acquired by the Daily News.

"A group of individuals who I used to work for... have successfully planted pipe bombs at the museum and the devices are set to go off today at a busy hour of the day," the email read. "To my knowledge I am aware there are three pipe bombs scattered throughout the museum. They will be detonated via cellphone that my group leader has in his possession."

The person making the threat said the bomb plot had been hammered out for months - and that a museum staffer helped plant the bombs.

"This is going to be a well planned attack," the email writer said, claiming that he decided to tip off museum workers after a change of heart.

"I made wrong decisions in my life which I deeply regret," the email stated. "I befriended these people and went on with them to carry out this attack. I recently cleared my mind and I want to prevent this bombing attack for taking place by notifying you."

Cops are working to track down the person who sent the threatening email.

Opened in 2005, the institution is the largest Jewish-themed children's museum in the United States.

The threat came as scores of Jewish centers have been targeted with bomb threats in a series of apparently coordinated calls.

None of the threats directly led to violence.

Gov. Cuomo has ordered a special state police unit to coordinate with federal and local law enforcement to investigate the disturbing trend. He is also allocating funds for more security for Jewish institutions.

Hate crimes are up 113% so far this year compared to the same period in 2016, Police Commissioner James O'Neill said Tuesday. There was an alarming spike in anti-Semitic incidents - 55 so far this year, compared to 19 during the same time frame in 2016.

 

I Buried My Negatives in the Ground ...
03/09/2017
The Washington Post has published a number of images taken by photojournalist Henryk Ross documenting the Lodz Ghetto under the Nazi Regime. He buried the negatives in 1944 to record these events and individuals. CAJM members will preview the "Memory Unearthed" exhibit at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts during our upcoming conference.…

‘I buried my negatives in the ground in order that there should be some record of our tragedy.' The photographs of Henryk Ross.

Officially, former Polish press photojournalist Henryk Ross was forced to work by the Nazi regime as a bureaucratic photographer for the Jewish Administration's statistics department. He took photographs for Jewish identification cards, as well as images used as propaganda for the Lodz Ghetto. Ross, a Jew, was one of at least 160,000 people held in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland, second only to the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Europe.

Unofficially, at great personal danger, Ross documented the cruel truth of life under Nazi rule. In the four-year existence of the Lodz Ghetto, a quarter of its prisoners died of starvation. In 1942, nearly 20,000 were deported to the death camp of Chelmno; in 1944, 70,000 were sent to Auschwitz.

An exhibition, "Memory Unearthed," organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, presents more than 200 of Ross's photographs. It is on view in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts from March 25 to July 30.

See the full article and photographs: http://wapo.st/2me1iaG

Inside Sara Berman’s Closet at the Met Museum
03/05/2017
At CAJM's 2016 conference, Maira Kalman and Alex Kalman discussed the upcoming installation of a distinctive closet belonging to their, respectively, late mother and grandmother. The Times reports on this new addition to the Met's American Wing.…

There are 21 period rooms in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ranging from a 17th-century colonial interior to an enormous Prairie-style living room by Frank Lloyd Wright, each designed to transport the viewer back in time.

The newest addition, however, is an unexpected meditation on modern city life: a modest closet from a studio apartment in the West Village, filled with the curious, lovely and very particular personal effects of Sara Berman, a Belarussian and Israeli émigré who was the mother of Maira Kalman, the irreverent artist, book author and illustrator. (Her credits include the memorable "New Yorkistan" cover of The New Yorker, created with her boyfriend, Rick Meyerowitz.)

Sara Berman's closet[Photo: Andrew White for The New York TImes]

Sara Berman wore only white. She was a cracker-jack ironer and closet cleaner. She spent a lot of time in Loehmann's - Ms. Kalman likes to say that she was very chic, but not at all vain. She precisely folded and stacked her white T-shirts and socks, her white ribbed sweaters and white, mannish pants. She was a fine cook, but her repertoire was limited mostly to schnitzel, blintzes, latkes and sesame cookies. (You'll see an Israeli-made potato grater in her closet.) She was also a knitter and made sweaters for the family's beloved dog, Pete, even though she was terrified of him. When she died and Ms. Kalman and her sister, Kika Schoenfeld, an artist, hat maker and interior designer, were cleaning out her apartment, Ms. Kalman joked that their mother's closet should be a museum and Ms. Schoenfeld its docent. "My sister said, ‘Are you out of your mind?'" Ms. Kalman recalled.

Nonetheless, they saved all of Sara's belongings.

And one morning last month, Ms. Kalman, her son, Alex Kalman, a designer and director, and Amelia Peck, a curator of American decorative arts at the Met, led me through the elaborate collections in the American Wing to a new gallery that would soon be sheathed in white Sheetrock and, for the next six months, hold all these relics of Sara Berman's life, right down to the fluffy red pompom on the end of the closet's light bulb pull cord.

"It's a wonderful way to enliven the collection," Ms. Peck said. "A new way of looking at rooms and possessions and women's history." The exhibition, which opens Monday, will be on view through Sept. 5.

Ms. Kalman and Mr. Kalman had first incarnated Sara's closet in a once-gritty storefront on Cortlandt Alley in TriBeCa. The installation was part of Mr. Kalman's Mmuseumm, a tiny exhibition space housed in a former freight elevator and that storefront, which he founded with the filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie. Like his mother, Mr. Kalman, 31, tells stories through everyday objects, and Mmuseumm's deeply personal collections have included the tattered wool blanket of a Mexican immigrant, left behind in the Arizona desert, along with goods made by prison workers incarcerated in New York State and a taxonomy of cornflakes.

The contents of Sara Berman's closet became a hit, curatorially speaking. They also reflected the habits of her humble upbringing in Palestine, where the women of her family, Ms. Kalman said, "worked like beasts from morning to night. It was that sense of dedicating yourself to a life of taking care of the people you love, by baking and sewing and cleaning."

Sara was 12 in 1932, when her family left a rough shack in Belarus for a rougher shack in Tel Aviv, part of an exodus of Jewish families away from the pogroms and the poverty of the region. Many of those who stayed behind would be murdered during the Holocaust. Sara, a beauty, was one of four children; their father, a house builder, was a deeply religious man who loved potatoes and praying. Sand filled their new home, a three-room shack flanked by the sea and the desert. Sara; her mother; and her sister, Shoshana would spend hours sweeping it clean and tending to the laundry with military precision: washing, starching and ironing. Sara had tremendous style and dressed in outfits copied from the pages of European fashion magazines and sewn by her mother. For 38 years, she was unhappily married, to a diamond dealer named Pesach Berman.

"Everyone talks about how many suitors she had," Ms. Kalman said, "all jumping out of windows and doors. For her own reasons, she chose my father."

In 1981, Ms. Kalman and her husband, Tibor Kalman, the activist designer who died in 1999, visited Sara in Tel Aviv while they were on their honeymoon; when they returned to New York City, Sara came, too. She loved her new life in a studio apartment a few blocks away from the Kalmans. She watched "Jeopardy" every night, and she could see the Empire State Building from her windows. Her apartment was as singular as her wardrobe. There were children's school chairs, and the floor was strewn with inflatable beach ball globes. "They were sprinkled all around the apartment, so you really had to watch your step," Ms. Kalman said.

Maira Kalman, who is an artist, book author and illustrator. Credit Andrew White for The New York Times
Growing up, Alex and his sister, Lulu, would organize their closets with their grandmother when she came to babysit on the weekends. "You mean it's not what everyone does on the weekend?" he said. "It seemed not just normal but joyful. Installing Sara's closet has been a surreal process," he continued, "because while it felt like we were working on an art installation, at the same time it felt like being a kid again."

At the Met, Sara's closet will be "in dialogue," as Ms. Peck put it, with the florid, Gilded Age boudoir once belonging to Arabella Worsham (the mistress - and later wife - of the railroad magnate Collis Huntington), which features an explosion of marquetry in the style of the Aesthetic Movement. Worsham lived alone with her son in a townhouse on West 54th Street, paid for by her lover, under cover of a pretend widowhood.

Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, the curator for Arabella's dressing room, noted the contrasts between the two women, the asceticism of Sara and the maximalism of Belle, as she was known, as well as the parallels. "Both were strong, self-motivated individuals," Ms. Frelinghuysen said. "It's interesting the control they each had over their own surroundings, which extended to how they adorned themselves."

For her part, Ms. Kalman said: "Of course, what I think of is the anti-Semitism of the Gilded Age. I wonder if Belle would be appalled by Sara or welcome her into her home. I can't imagine the two women having a dialogue, but there they are."

Ms. Kalman is not the first artist to present her mother's worldly goods in a museum setting. Thematically, "Sara Berman's Closet" most closely recalls a work by the Chinese artist Song Dong, who arrayed the contents of his mother's Beijing house, along with the house itself, at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009. "Waste Not," Mr. Song's title for the show, was an overwhelming collection of hundreds of objects - plastic bottles, rice bowls, stuffed animals, fabric scraps, ballpoint pens - hoarded by a woman traumatized by the Cultural Revolution and by the death of her husband. Her belongings told a story of privation and sorrow; their sheer mass was a bulwark against future hardship.

(Another, creepier reference is an installation that appeared at the New Museum's "The Keeper" exhibition last summer, at which the artist Howard Fried offered the contents of his dead mother's closet, though his piece was an act of mourning. "The Decomposition of My Mother's Wardrobe," as he titled the project, was just that: her clothes, and his intention to let them fall apart naturally.)

Turning Sara's belongings into a museum work meant that each object had to be tagged, photographed and entered into the Met's database. In addition, the items had to be valued for insurance, a mysterious calculus that weighed monetary worth along with other, ineffable measures.

"What is the intrinsic value of a notebook your mother owned?" Ms. Peck asked the artist.

"Where does value come from?" Mr. Kalman said. "Is it from meaning, or because it's an art object at the Met?"

"We spent hours figuring this out," Ms. Peck added. Because of the Met's insurance rules, the value of one of Sara's clean white socks, for example, could not be shared with me.

Sara's closet, said Julie Saul, Ms. Kalman's longtime gallerist, "is about the intimacy of family and representing the essence of someone through their belongings. There are very few boundaries among the ways that Maira works. That can present difficulties to an artist. She's most well-known as an illustrator and a writer, and that may have excluded her from conventional museum collections. It's very hard to navigate the curatorial pathways."

This is not to say that Ms. Kalman doesn't have relationships (often whimsical, always unpredictable) with cultural institutions. She has been a guest curator at the Cooper Hewitt, organizing a show about the comfort of objects that featured the conductor Arturo Toscanini's trousers, lent from her personal collection. She has performed with Ms. Saul, Isaac Mizrahi and the composer Nico Muhly at the New York Public Library, in a percussion-based opera based on Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style," the rule book of English grammar, which Ms. Kalman illustrated in 2005. She has collaborated with Daniel Handler (otherwise known as Lemony Snicket) on a series of books based on the photography collections at the Museum of Modern Art. She once played a duck - in a tutu and flippers - in Mr. Mizrahi's production of "Peter and the Wolf" at the Guggenheim. But the Met has long been her playground. She has provided the route and the narration to the Museum Workout, a sold-out adventure in which dancers lead groups through the Met's collections. Date night for Ms. Kalman and Mr. Meyerowitz means Fridays sketching in the galleries. Ms. Kalman even persuaded the Met's administrators to let her join the cleaning crew for a few hours, part of a daylong apprenticeship in which she worked in the cafeteria and also as a museum guard. "I was in uniform for all three jobs," she said, happily.

What would Sara make of her closet's metamorphosis into, as her grandson put it, "a monument to courage and independence and freedom?" Or the fact that her socks were on display at one of the world's largest cultural institutions?

"She would have thought we were crazy," Ms. Kalman said, "but in the best possible way."

MORE PIX ONLINE AT THE NYT WEBSITE: http://nyti.ms/2mc2OfW

 

Jewish Museums as Catalysts for Community
02/27/2017
The CEO and Gwen Goodman Director of the National Museum of American Jewish History argues that Jewish museums are an essential part of the ecology of Jewish history and identity -- and an important part of a vibrant Jewish future.…

"They took all the trees/
And put them in a tree museum/
Then they charged the people/
A dollar and a half just to see 'em"[1]

The quote from singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell points to the perception that museums are where things go to die. Everyone, from the 20th-century artist Marcel Duchamp to the esteemed rabbi and scholar of blessed memory Arthur Herzberg, has asserted this claim. Jewish museums are subject to double jeopardy. One might conclude that if museums are where things go to die, then Jewish museums are where Jewish things go to die. Hence, we are tolling the death knell for Judaism or Jewishness.

The museum field has not done a terribly good job of countering the stereotype. Like many stereotypes, it contains a shred of truth. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, museums were more likely to be storehouses to preserve history than hotbeds of new thinking. However, the dissemination of information has long been an essential function of museums, and has evolved into a public mandate resulting in robust and innovative education programming.

Ed Rothstein (former art critic for The New York Times, more recently of The Wall Street Journal) wrote: "... a Jewish religious object put on exhibit was no longer playing its vital role in synagogue or home; taken out of its context and function, it had been turned into a relic, more closely resembling the artifacts of a fading Native American tribe in a museum of natural history than a 17th-century Dutch portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even today, a museum of Jewish religious artifacts is partly a Jewish morgue, less a tribute to Judaism's continuity than a memorial to the world of belief left behind. ..."[2]

Obviously, those of us who toil in the field of Jewish museum work must take issue with this. None of us would do this work if we thought those were the ends. In fact, I would argue, Jewish museums are doing quite the opposite. We're just not making the case strongly enough. We're also allowing Jewishness to be defined narrowly by its ritual attributes rather than by all the many things that really make, and keep, Jews Jewish.

Jewish museums may not be the answer to Jewish hand wringing, borne by the 2013 Pew study,[3] which posited that fewer Jews are affiliating Jewishly in traditional ways. Nor are we alike. But we are, I would argue, an essential part of the ecology of Jewish history and identity. Most of all, we are an important part of a vibrant Jewish future.

In this data-driven time, our anecdotal evidence is not sufficient. But it is powerful. In the National Museum of American Jewish History's collection is a beautiful menorah, made by Manfred Anson. (There is a version in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York, and at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.) Anson, himself a former refugee, created the menorah for the 1986 centenary of the Statue of Liberty. The NMAJH was honored to be asked to bring our menorah to the White House in 2013 for the Hanukkah celebration.

There, it was lit by a Jewish family whose husband and father was deployed in Afghanistan. President Obama lifted one of the children to light the candles and those gathered recited the prayer and sang Ma'oz Tzur. If that isn't Jewish life, I don't know what is.

Jewish museums and historic sites provide ways to think about the present (and future) with knowledge of our past.

Many of my colleagues in American Jewish museums are using their standing in the community and their role as the custodians of history to act on current events. For example, the Jewish Museum of Maryland helped to stem racial tension in Baltimore in the aftermath of Freddie Gray's death, an African American youth shot and killed by Baltimore police, and a landmark case in contemporary race relations in the United States.

At the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, a long time education program called the Living Museum Project has produced the Interfaith Museum project, in which Muslim students and Jewish day school students partner over the course of a school year to investigate ritual (and other) objects from their homes and to discuss their own traditions. They find differences, of course, but they also uncover profound similarities and understand each other as individuals. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the program occurs when the Muslim and Jewish families and teachers of the 5th and 6th graders gather at the museum in lower Manhattan to view the exhibition that the kids have curated and organized and share a meal together.

In this highly charged, contentious time in America, where better to address the hot topic of immigration than at the Tenement Museum, Eldridge Street Synagogue, or the National Museum of American Jewish History?

I gave a tour of NMAJH to an interesting family that taught me a lot about the muscle of the museum. The patriarch, his three children, their spouses, and some grandchildren arrived. They had grown up squarely Reform. One of the grown kids married a similarly Reform partner, another married a Catholic man and they were raising their children "both." The third had become Orthodox with children attending yeshivot, their heads covered. Where else could this family have come together to comfortably explore their shared heritage but a Jewish museum?

Recently, we had a small family group that bid for a tour of the museum at their synagogue auction. The group included the parents of one partner of a young lesbian couple. The wife-to-be was not Jewish. For those smart parents, the museum provided an unthreatening space for that family to discuss Jewishness, tradition, and innovation, and to casually explore family history and practice. Incidentally, it also provided a place to learn about the role of queer Jews in the larger struggle for LGBT rights in this country and to find an appropriate, same sex, interfaith ketubbah (Jewish marriage contract) Maybe this is not so incidental, but rather a sign of the malleability of "Jewishness" and Jewish traditions to accommodate societal change.

The Jewish philanthropic field is mixed in its reviews of museums and whether to support them. We will always have funders who want to support a narrow stream of activity and stay in their lane with discipline and precision. Some explicitly state in their guidelines that they won't support museums or entertain proposals from them. I suspect those funders don't really understand what we do and our potential impact. The consequence of their narrow focus means that they lose the opportunity to engage those who have a broader vision of Jewish identity, vitality, community, and religious meaning.

Jewish funders and Jewish museums alike should invest more in what messages our non-Jewish audiences cull from us. Jewish funders who have a singular goal of "Jewish continuity" often don't factor in that Jewish continuity in America includes our hyphenated identity. We need to meet folks on both sides of their hyphen and appeal to their whole selves. For example, the exhibition "Bill Graham and the Rock ‘n Roll Revolution" (organized by the Skirball, and opened at NMAJH in September 2016) is most appealing to rock ‘n roll fans, but attracts Jews and non-Jews who learn the astounding story of how a Holocaust orphan, who began his American life in foster care in the Bronx at age 10, grew up to stage manage the rock revolution. Or our recent induction of Julius Rosenwald into our Only in America Hall of Fame. We have been sharing the little known story of this first generation Jewish American whose incredible innovation and entrepreneurship as president of Sears and Roebuck made him a very wealthy man in the early 20th century. He used his fortune to engage in his civic community (for example, helping to build what is now the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago), his Jewish community (by helping to save Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms), and the African-American community in the rural south, for which he helped build more than 5,000 schools for African-American children who did not have access to quality education because of segregation. Promoting the story of Julius Rosenwald helps us instill pride in being Jewish and American, while inspiring our audiences to dream, dare, and do more to transform the world in which we live, and address injustice where they see it.

NMAJH just celebrated our fourth annual Freedom Seder. This is an intentionally interfaith, interethnic visitor experience of 300 or so dining together, with another several hundred participating by livestream video. Everyone in attendance participates in the program through music and storytelling that encourages real dialogue about the contemporary meanings and struggles around notions of freedom. It ends with a stirring version of Od yavo shalom aleinu.[4]

Now, Ed Rothstein and, to be fair, many others, might assert that this is pandering - privileging the American narrative over the Jewish narrative. But Jewish museums can, and should, be catalysts for community writ large. It is interesting that as an international community we think most about the importance of museums and historic sites during conflict and war, and the importance - symbolic and otherwise - of their preservation or destruction. After the Russian Revolution, the Russians proclaimed that all historic monuments were to be protected. Conversely, we witnessed the recent tragic destruction of religious and historic sites in Iraq and Syria. The good guys and the bad guys understand that the evidence of history is central to the spirit, pride, and continuity of people.

We need museums, and Jewish communal support for Jewish museums, because we need to experience collective history to see how the past resurfaces in the present in order to remain civilized in the future. "Societies build these institutions because they authenticate the social contract. They are collective evidence that we were here,"[5] and continue to be.

---

[1] Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi," 1970
[2] Edward Rothstein, "The Problem with Jewish Museums," Mosaic Magazine, February 1, 2016.
[3] Pew Research Center, "Portrait of Jewish Americans," 2013.
[4] An Israeli folksong about peace, often used referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and includes "salaam," the Arabic word for peace as well as "shalom."
[5] Elaine Heumann Gurian, "The Many Meanings of Objects in Museums," Daedalus Vol. 128, No. 3 (summer 1999).

Ivy Barsky has been the CEO and Gwen Goodman Director of the National Museum of American Jewish History, in Philadelphia, since June 2012. Previously she served as deputy director of New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

 

Special Message From CAJM
02/10/2017
The Council of American Jewish Museums stands with those who resist discrimination, religious intolerance, divisive language, unequal treatment of minorities, and restrictions that bar refugees.…

This is a critical time for our field. Our museums, which interpret Jewish history and culture for people of all backgrounds, fortify ideals of tolerance, diversity, and pluralism. At a moment when these ideals are publicly vulnerable and fiercely debated, the Council of American Jewish Museums stands with those who resist discrimination, religious intolerance, divisive language, unequal treatment of minorities, and restrictions that bar refugees.


CAJM's member institutions and colleagues serve as vital resources doing important work. They provide forums, programs, exhibitions, and spaces that welcome diverse publics and promote dialogue. Our field fosters mutual respect and provides expertise and insight to counter anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and hatred of others. Jewish museums provide historical and cultural perspectives that help inform the national conversation.


Still, our colleagues are facing new challenges. In the year ahead, we will present new opportunities for participation and feedback. In addition to our annual conference (March 19-21, 2017), we are planning a summit for interested members to address issues raised in the current cultural and political climate. We also want to hear about your programs, statements, and strategies for creating openness and inclusivity in your community. To submit examples, or to register your interest in attending the summit, please e-mail cajmnow@gmail.com.

We remain committed to advancing our missions as open, welcoming communal institutions, and to supporting our members in their essential work.

Board of Directors
Council of American Jewish Museums

 

Anti-Semitic Incidents Reach Museums and Synagogues
02/09/2017
The New York Times has initiated a This Week in Hate column drawing attention to hate crimes and harassment around the country since the presidential election. This edition mentions an incident at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.…

Hateful Threats Against a Jewish Blogger
This Week in Hate
By ANNA NORTH FEB. 9, 2017

Marc Yellin at home in Albuquerque, NM. Credit Adria Malcolm for The New York Times
This Week in Hate highlights hate crimes and harassment around the country since the election of President Trump.

Marc Yellin had gotten some political criticism during his six years of blogging about Jewish life in Albuquerque, but nothing like the messages he received last month.

The 66-year-old retired technical writer checked his email on the morning of Jan. 13, to find that someone had used the contact form on his website to submit two threatening messages containing anti-Semitic slurs.

"If you try to get the US involved in another war for Israel there are thousands of sleepers in the US who will shoot up your synagogues," one of the messages said.

In the contact form, the sender had entered the name William Pierce, the founder of a white nationalist organization who died in 2002.

Mr. Yellin was somewhat afraid when he read the messages, but mostly disgusted and disappointed. He wondered, "Have we come to this?"

After he recovered from the initial shock, Mr. Yellin contacted the Anti-Defamation League, which reported the threat to the F.B.I. and the Albuquerque police. Authorities are investigating the incident.

Mr. Yellin was not the only one in Albuquerque to receive an anti-Semitic threat in January. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque was one of dozens of Jewish community facilities around the country to receive bomb threats last month. The facility was evacuated and police confirmed there was no bomb. The F.B.I. is investigating the bomb threats.

Anti-Semitic threats are unusual in Albuquerque, according to Suki Halevi, the New Mexico regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "We've been hearing about it and reading about it happening in other places," she says, "and now these incidents have reached our community."

The A.D.L. is concerned about an increase in reported hate crimes and online harassment since the start of the presidential campaign. In New Mexico, the group has been working with Muslim and immigrants' rights groups to respond to and prepare for incidents of hate. The A.D.L. also offers training and online resources to help Jewish communities recognize suspicious activity and keep facilities safe.

"One of the goals of cyberharassment and threats of violence is to disrupt a community and cause fear," says Ms. Halevi. "When the community is prepared, it helps to stop that from happening."

For Mr. Yellin, one way to fight hate is to talk about it. A few weeks after he got the threatening messages, he wrote about them on his blog: "This blatant, open anti-Semitism must not be allowed to become the new normal."

He encourages others who have been threatened to make the incidents public if they feel safe doing so. "Nothing is going to change if people don't know," he says.

Here are some reports of hate crimes and harassment that have drawn public attention in recent days.

• On Jan. 30, members of a family in Orlando, Fla., discovered racist notes including swastikas on the windshields of three of their cars. One tire on each car was slashed. Family members believe they may have been targeted because one of them is an organizer for Black Lives Matter.

• Anti-Muslim graffiti was discovered at a mosque in Roseville, Calif., on Jan. 31. Earlier in the month, a mosque in nearby Davis, Calif., was also vandalized.

• A swastika was found carved into a bench inside the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill., on Feb. 1. Police are investigating the vandalism as a hate crime.

• Last weekend, a swastika and the word "Trump" were scrawled with chalk on a statue at Rice University in Houston. It was the third incident of vandalism on the campus in a month. Previously, vandals had written "Trump 2016" on a portion of the Berlin wall at the university, and placed white supremacist recruitment posters on campus.

• On Saturday, a window at a synagogue in Chicago, was broken and swastika stickers were placed on the front door. A man was arrested and charged with a hate crime in connection with the incident.

• During services at a synagogue in Las Vegas, on Saturday, a swastika was carved into an outside wall.

• On Sunday, a family in Peyton, Colo., discovered that their home had been vandalized with dog feces, eggs and about 50 pieces of paper bearing hate messages and racial slurs. The F.B.I. is investigating the incident as a hate crime.