Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jewish Community, Heritage and Culture Come Alive at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

If you have already seen the quintessential NYC museums -- The Met, The MOMA, the Museum of Natural History -- and you are looking for something a little different, yet still quite captivating, head downtown to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, located at 36 Battery Place.

At the MJH, follow the timeline of Jewish history from the late 1800s through the present day as you make your way through the museum's three floors. Beginning on the first floor, step into a rotunda in which a vivid, nine-minute montage introduces Jewish life and culture to visitors. The museum's exhibits then continue, with the first floor examining Jewish life from 1800 to 1930, the second floor presenting the plight of European Jews between 1930 and 1945, and the third floor concluding with the Jewish experience since the end of World War II.

Your journey through this museum is sure to be an emotional one. On the first floor, feel the joy and awe of various Jewish customs and rituals surrounding family milestones such as a wedding or the birth of a child.  Learn how members of Jewish communities interacted with each other and cared for each other, as well as for their "Gentile" neighbors, and how the Jewish population grew and expanded worldwide between 1880 and 1930.

Prepare your tissues for the next floor, however, as you explore intolerance, hatred, Anti-Semitism and the plan for Jewish extermination in the wake of World War II.  Explore the sad truth about how many people, and even world leaders, closed their eyes, and their countries' proverbial gates, to the violent persecution of Jews in Europe in the years leading up to the war and throughout Adolf Hitler's Holocaust.

Nevertheless, despite the devastating experiences of the Jewish ghettos, kristallnacht, and the concentration and death camps, post-war Judaism persevered, and Jewish culture slowly began to thrive again.  On the museum's third floor, see how European Jews began to rebuild their lives.  Learn about the birth of the State of Israel, and come to understand how "the story of Jewish heritage continues ... guided by the same principles that existed before the war -- tradition, community, and justice." (Quote attributed to MJH's Visitor Guide).

The Museum of Jewish Heritage also has rotating special exhibitions.  Due to time constraints, WGINY was only able to explore one of three current exhibits, "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race," which focuses on the controversial practice of, and theories behind, eugenics, especially as it related to the preservation of the "Aryan Race" in the mid 1900s.  Fueled by racism, stereotypes, and pure ignorance, the idea of essentially weeding out all but one superior "Master Race" is chilling.  Make sure to see this exhibit soon, as it only runs through next Monday, January 16, 2012.

In order to have time to see all of the museum's permanent exhibits, as well as the current special exhibits, "Deadly Medicine," "Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles," and "Let My People Go! The Soviet Jewry Movement, 1967-1989," allow at least three hours.

The museum is easily accessible via public transportation.  Find information about tickets, including free Wednesday evening access, here.

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