Hunting Jewish Chocolate Trail Objects

Courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute

I am loving these Jewish chocolate objects as we research this fall’s Jews on the Chocolate Trail exhibit at the Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica – Temple Emanu-El, 
1 East 65th Street, New York, New York. This precious chocolate cup bears Albert Einstein’s image as a child. The set was fabricated for Albert and his sister Maya not long after her birth in the early 1880’s when the family lived in Munich. We could speculate about ties between hot chocolate drinking and genius.

This mid-century style ceiling lamp graced six of the Barton’s Bonbonniere chain stores designed by Victor Gruen. The shops were to be “toyshops for adults.” Attention to design permeated the stores as well as the packaging of this important Jewish company.

The history of Jews and chocolate builds on the Colonial period experience of Sephardim in the trade, manufacture, retail and consumption of chocolate in America. This advertisement highlights one of those, Rebecca Gomez and her chocolate manufactory. She was the only woman making chocolate at this period.

You are invited to engage your senses as you partake in an expedition into the Jewish stories of chocolate through decorative arts and historical documents at the exhibit which opens on October 20, 2017 and runs until February 24, 2018. The New World product of chocolate blazed a new world of commerce, appetite, and opportunity for Jewish refugees. Explore the surprising Jewish connections to chocolate, l’dor va dor, from generation to generation. Please feel free to be in touch if you know of other great items that connect Jews and chocolate.

Auschwitz museum prohibits Pokémon Go play on its grounds

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is not buying into the Pokémon Go craze.

On Tuesday, the Holocaust memorial site tweeted that it will not allow visitors to play the new smartphone game because it is “disrespectful on many levels.”

New York magazine first reported Tuesday that some users of the Nintendo game, which allows players to capture its animated creatures on their phones at outdoor sites and buildings with the help of phone GPS systems, were playing at Auschwitz.

Others soon took to Twitter to report finding Pokémon at the popular memorial in Oswiecim, Poland, but their screenshots of game activity did not match the normal look of the game. The game has not been officially released in Europe.

On Tuesday, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt went on Twitter to call for the museum’s visitors to refrain from playing.

The same day, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., also issued a statement condemning playing the game on its grounds. The Washington Post reported that the museum contains three different “PokéStops” — real-life sites where players can redeem in-game items.

“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told the Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

Since its release last week, Pokémon Go has become the most popular mobile game in U.S. history, with over 20 million daily users. The stock of its parent company, Nintendo, rose 23 percent on Monday.

New York magazine reported that playing the game at other sites — such as Ground Zero in New York City, near a North Carolina statue of a Confederate general and at the site of multiple African-American mural memorials in Brooklyn — has also caused controversy.

The game’s developer, Niantic, ran into similar trouble last year when one of its games, Ingress, allowed players to battle for control over real-life locations that happened to include multiple former concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau and Sachsenhausen.

Although it has yet to be officially released in Israel, multiple people — including Israeli President Reuven Rivlin — posted screenshots from the game in the Jewish state.

Munich state museum profited from Nazi-looted art, investigation shows

A state museum in Munich profited from art looted by the Nazis at least until the 1990s, a new investigation has revealed.

In a joint probe, the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the British NGO Commission for Looted Art in Europe found that the Bavarian State Galleries and many other such institutions have been sitting on art that was forcibly “purchased” from Jewish collectors under the Nazi regime.

The museums have tried to disguise the origin of the artworks, and even sold some of them without seeking the rightful owners or their heirs, according to the investigation.

The deception began as soon as American authorities handed over the restitution task to the Bavarian administration in 1949, according to the report. Thousands of artworks were in question.

Reportedly, German authorities kept some and sold others at deflated prices, including to members of prominent Nazi families such as the widow of Hermann Goering and Henriette von Schirach (nee Hoffmann), the wife of Hitler’s district governor, or “Gauleiter,” in Vienna.

The newspaper traces the story of how von Schirach came by one small painting, “Picture of a Dutch Square,” by Johannes van der Heydes that originally belonged to a Czech-Jewish couple, the consul general to Vienna, Gottlieb Krause, and his wife, Mathilde. The Krause family fled to the United States in April 1938, putting their possessions in storage.

But the property was later confiscated by the Gestapo and artworks were sold to, among others, the planned “Führermuseum” in Linz, Austria, and to the father of von Schirach, Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s official photographer and an art collector.

After the war, the painting was among the thousands of works to be returned to rightful heirs. But the Bavarian State Galleries sold it back to von Schirach for 300 Deutschmark, and she promptly auctioned it off for 16,000 Deutschmarks to the Xanten Cathedral Association; it was on display in the cathedral until 2011.

Meanwhile, the paper reported, the great-grandson of the Krauses, John Graykowski, has been seeking restitution of the family’s collection in vain.

Torah scroll that sat in home closet 15 years donated to Polish museum

A Torah scroll that sat forgotten in a closet of a home in Poland for 15 years was donated to a museum in the country.

Waldemar Sawicki, the owner of a home in the western Polish city of Zielona Gora, gave the scroll to the Museum of Lubusz Region, also in western Poland. His brother originally had found it in a pile of garbage.

“I thought that this was an Old Church Slavonic record brought by our neighbors from the East,” Sawicki told Radio Em in an interview on Wednesday. “I took this document with the thought that someday I will meet someone who will be able to read these letters. I hid it in the closet, along with wallpaper rolls, and it just lay there for almost 15 years.”


During a recent renovation of his house, Sawicki remembered the scroll. He contacted the museum, which informed him that the object was a Torah scroll.

It is not known how the Torah scroll made its way to Zielona Gora or why it was in the trash.

South Carolina Senate votes to banish Confederate flag to museum

South Carolina's Senate passed legislation Tuesday to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state house, where it has flown for five decades despite being viewed by many as a symbol of slavery.

A bill to banish the flag from the Capitol grounds to a museum easily passed a third and final vote in the Senate by a 36-3 margin and is now headed for debate in the state's House of Representatives.

The legislation, deemed a non-starter only months ago, has garnered strong bipartisan support after the June 17 killings of nine African-American churchgoers during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in the port city of Charleston, about two hours south of the state capital Columbia. 

Support for the flag has evaporated in a wave of sympathy for the victims and their families, who were widely acclaimed for expressing unconditional forgiveness for the shooter at his bond hearing less than 48 hours after the murders.

Several politicians say the shootings opened their eyes to the divisive nature of the flag and what it means to South Carolina's black population.

“The world changed on … June 17, not only for the victims and their families, but the entire world took notice,” said Senator Joel Lourie, a white Democrat.

“Let today be the beginning of a new story about the state of South Carolina … a story of how we removed a symbol (and) helped heal a nation and a state in their mourning,” he said on the Senate floor on Monday.

While most politicians recognize the flag is part of South Carolina's heritage, honoring those who died for the southern Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War, many agree it should not be flown in public places.

The bill may face a stiffer challenge in the House of Representatives but is still expected to pass and could be approved as early as Thursday. South Carolina's Republican governor, Nikki Haley, says she will remove the flag immediately if the law is passed.

The flag was raised atop the State House in 1961 in what critics say was a deliberate slap in the face to the black civil rights movement. It was moved in 2000 to a memorial for the Civil War dead that sits only yards from the entrance to the Capitol.

Agnieszka Kurant and the art of what’s missing

On June 5, Agnieszka Kurant will become one of only a handful of artists to have their work adorn the famous curved facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum here.

Kurant’s “The End of Signature,” a neon white projection created from the actual signatures of museum visitors with the help of a computer program, is an evolving light sculpture that the Polish-Jewish artist calls an ode to the disappearing art of handwriting. The “collective signature” will be visible on the Manhattan building at night and is similar to a work projected in blue outside a shopping mall in Holland in 2013.

“It’s like the signature of an invisible hand of a collective body,” said Kurant, a self-described post-conceptual artist now based in New York.

Her work will also be on display inside the Guggenheim as part of its summer contemporary art show. “Phantom Library” comprises 112 fictional books, originally mentioned in novels, lined up on a shelf. Kurant has given the books physicality, complete with ISBN numbers and bar codes.

“It relates to my general interest in phantom capital and how [the] contemporary economy is becoming based less and less on physical products and physical labor and more on virtual and immaterial products and immaterial labor,” Kurant told JTA.

Invisibility and the power of what cannot be seen are constants in the work of Kurant, who learned only as a teenager that her mother’s family was Jewish. Kurant’s maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and her mother, who spent most of her life in communist Poland, had been afraid to tell her daughter the truth.

Her family’s choice to keep her cultural and religious background hidden has weighed ever since on Kurant and her work.

“I’m particularly interested in how certain narratives are suppressed in collective memory,” she said.

Kurant was born and raised Catholic in Lodz. At 14, she accompanied her mother’s family to visit family graves in Warsaw. Noticing the Jewish stars etched on the tombstones — sometimes appearing alongside swastikas — she learned that her mother’s family was Jewish.

“When my mother was growing up, Jewish origin was taboo,” said Kurant, who until now has not discussed her Jewish identity in the media. “My maternal grandparents changed their names during the war and kept the fake names. … They had a fake Catholic wedding during the war and baptized my mother when she was born.”

Kurant’s mother’s family had been secular Jews, part of the Warsaw intelligentsia before the Holocaust. During the war they were hidden by a German businessman who allowed them to work in his factory. Her grandfather was a well-known surgeon in Lodz after the war. But in 1968, amid a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland that led to an exodus of 20,000 Jews from the country, he lost his job and was forced to live out his professional life at a small provincial hospital on the outskirts of the city, which is some 85 miles southwest of Warsaw.

Now working out of the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in Manhattan, the up-and-coming Kurant has exhibited her work at the Tate Modern in London and at New York’s MoMA PS1, one of the major institutions in the United States dedicated solely to contemporary art. She is preparing for an upcoming exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. In 2010, she represented Poland at the Venice Biennale.

Before moving to the United States permanently 3 1/2 years ago, Kurant lived on Chlodna Street in Warsaw, the site of a bridge that once connected the small and large Jewish ghettos. She was struck by the absence of a Jewish memorial at the site, which has monuments to Polish victims of the 1919-21 Polish-Soviet war and a monument to a Polish priest who lived on the street and was murdered by communists in 1984. The Jewish narrative, Kurant says, was suppressed.

So in 2009, along with the Polish artist Anna Baumgart, Kurant created “(…),” a huge sculpture of movable balloons commissioned by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. The ellipsis between parentheses suggests a gap in narration.

“It was created as an ‘anti-monument,’ a way of showing what was not there,” Kurant said, describing the piece as a “portable monument-for-hire for places where unresolvable conflict exist, or where there are problems impossible to discuss and where certain discourses were suppressed in collective memory.”

Since learning about her own family’s suppression, Kurant says she has embraced her Jewish-Polish cultural identity.

“It’s who I am,” she said.

New exhibit brings to life 350 years of American Jews in the military

Mementos of Jacob Goldstein slide across the 3-foot-by-4-foot horizontal screen like cards being dealt at a casino: his photograph, his name, an Operation Urgent Fury headline denoting the 1983 military campaign in Grenada, Goldstein’s explanatory text summarizing his role during the invasion.

Even more striking than the photograph showing the uniformed rabbi wrapping tefillin on the Grenada beach with his rifle resting atop a mound of sandbags is his recollection of going from Lubavitch disciple in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a U.S. Army officer and chaplain attaining the rank of colonel.

Goldstein is among the dozens of individual soldiers whose stories are told in an exhibition that opened Tuesday at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.

Titled “Jews in the American Military,” the exhibit engagingly conveys the role of American Jews in defending their country, from Asser Levy’s being granted the right to bear arms in 1657 to help protect Manhattan, to the 55 Jewish men and women killed in this era in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The interactive digital table from whence Goldstein emerges is dubbed “Service Around the World.” Pull up a chair, select a decade since the Cold War began in 1945, tap any dot arising across the map and learn about the American military’s involvement in conflicts, events and humanitarian missions. Many items include individuals’ stories. Others, like the peacekeeping force that President Reagan dispatched to Lebanon, do not, but curators hope that Jewish veterans will write in with information that can be added.

Elsewhere, the exhibit presents compelling text, photographs and artifacts in chronologically ordered sections. Display cases present such Jewish gems as medals from the Civil War and the Spanish-American War; an 1899 prayer book; a captured German rifle from World War II; a Torah ark that a Chinese officer fashioned from teak as a gift to Morris Gordon, whom the officer had befriended after saving Gordon from drowning during World War II. (Gordon would use the ark while conducting services on the legendary Burma Road.)

Nearby, from Guam, is the coconut that Seymour Silverman mailed to his daughter Maurita – writing her name, their Portsmouth, Va., address, and a sketch of a palm tree on the fruit itself. Maurita Silverman would follow her father into the military, serving as a nurse in the Vietnam War, according to museum archivist Pamela Elbe.

“Jews in the American Military” is a permanent exhibition that took eight years to develop at a cost of $750,000. The funding was raised by Jewish War Veterans of America groups and from the national office of JWV, an affiliate of the museum, with which it shares its brick DuPont Circle building.

While the museum has mounted exhibitions on such themes as Korean War service and females serving in World War II, it has never presented a comprehensive look at the Jewish presence in the U.S. military from the start to present day, said museum coordinator Mike Rugel.

Drawing on figures supplied by the National Jewish Welfare Board, which tends to the needs of Jewish soldiers, JWV and museum officials estimated, for example, that some 10,000 Jews fought in the Civil War, 225,000 in World War I and 550,000 in World War II.

Contemporary membership numbers for JWV are modest, however, as older veterans are dying and the number of Jewish enlistees dropped once the compulsory draft was lifted following the Vietnam War. The organization now has 20,000 members, mostly World War II veterans, according to Norman Rosenshein, its treasurer.

To remain viable long term, JWV is recruiting returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan while offering free membership to the 20,000 Jewish soldiers now on active duty.

Poor outreach seems to stand in the way, however. JWV’s national chief of staff, Marsha Schjolberg, provided a telling example.

When Schjolberg’s daughter, who works at the nearby Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, sought to publicize a talk on this Veterans Day by a Jewish author of a new book on military heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan, a local JWV post refused to help promote the event. Indeed, said Schjolberg, a San Diego-area resident who served in the Naval Reserves for 28 years, she didn’t learn of JWV’s existence until after she had retired.

Her late father, Harold Fuchs, a World War II veteran, lived just 10 blocks from a JWV post near Los Angeles and would eagerly have participated in the organization had he known about it, she said.

Schjolberg said she hopes the exhibit helps inform non-Jews of the notable contributions made by this one ethnic segment of America.

The exhibition abounds in examples. Col. Teddy Roosevelt, the exhibit text states, held his Jewish soldiers in high regard and became a member of the Hebrew Veterans of the War with Spain, a precursor to JWV. A photograph shows Murray Blum, killed on Dec. 3, 1943, after rescuing a Merchant Marine shipmate when a German U-boat torpedoed their vessel.

Then there’s Col. Gerald Fink, a Korean War fighter pilot shown in his plane, “Big G” chalked on its door. The plane was shot down in 1951, and Fink was tortured as a prisoner of war. He passed his time woodworking and, using shattered glass and an improvised knife, sculpted a 3-foot crucifix memorializing Father Emil Kapaun, a Catholic chaplain and fellow American POW.

“Surely, the crucifix made by a Jew for a deceased priest in a Communist prison camp is unique,” the exhibition’s text states. “It was a point of pride for Col. Fink until his death in 1987.”

(The National Museum of American Jewish Military History, at 1811 R Street, N.W., in Washington, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, and by appointment on Sundays. It is closed on Jewish and federal holidays.)


Don’t demolish LACMA: In praise of the ‘vulgar’ architecture

When Renzo Piano was first approached about designing an addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Italian architect hesitated. “As I already told you,” he wrote in a letter to Eli Broad, whose donation was funding the building, “it’s very frustrating to play a good piece by a string quartet in the middle of three badly played rock concerts.”

“Three rock concerts” was a reference to the existing architecture of LACMA, which had grown in fits and starts over the years. The original museum, which opened in 1965, was local architect William Pereira’s Southern Californian version of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center—three temples on a raised plaza. The second stage was a partial makeover by the New York firm Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, which in 1986 inserted a postmodern wing and roofed over part of the plaza. The third stage (1988) was a freestanding pavilion designed by the Oklahoma maverick Bruce Goff.

Blogger Mark Berman calls Pereira’s original buildings “mid-century classics.” Typical maybe, but classics? The architecture is pretty banal, even by Lincoln Center’s low standards. Stage two is not much better—L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight called it “Hollywood Egyptian.” And stage three, with its two stone towers and fossil-like objects on the roof is, well, goofy by any standard.

Despite his hesitation, Piano relented and the first phase of his addition opened in 2008, the second phase two years later. The Piano addition struck me as heavy-handed, not his best work and hardly the “good piece by a string quartet” he had promised. As for the “rock concert,” my first impression of the original museum was that it resembled an undistinguished shopping mall that had been enlarged over the years and then awkwardly converted into a cultural facility. But after sitting for a time at Ray’s and Stark Bar, the outdoor café on the shaded plaza, I changed my mind. 

Most art museums today resemble either palaces (if they are old), or upscale automobile showrooms (if they are new). This was neither. Groups of excited children played on the plaza and clusters of teenagers wandered in off Wilshire Boulevard. The familiar mall-like atmosphere made this an unintimidating space; it was definitely not the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But it struck me that this vulgar (in the literal sense of the word) solution to an art museum succeeded in one important way. Because of its lack of pretension, this was a cheerful place in which people appeared decidedly at home.

A sense of place is an elusive quality, difficult to achieve, and not easy to maintain. It is the result not only of architectural forms but also of behavior, habit, and time. Learning to use what you have is as important as having the perfect building. That’s why it’s a shame to hear that LACMA has decided to wipe the slate clean and demolish all its older buildings, except the Goff pavilion. Why does Los Angeles, which has little enough history, feel the need to keep reinventing its surroundings? 

It would be better to reconsider this wholesale demolition. Especially as the proposed replacement, designed by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, leaves much to be desired. It is a spreading building raised up on stilts; instead of a friendly plaza there is a dark and gloomy undercroft. The kidney shape is supposed to have something to do with the nearby La Brea Tar Pits, but it reminds me of a 1950s coffee table. Finished all in black, the proposed museum will be a somber presence among the palm trees on Wilshire Boulevard, as anomalous as a Calvinist preacher on a sunny Malibu beach. Or maybe it’s the quintessential Angeleno building?  After all, replacing an aging faithful spouse with a younger, more stylish trophy wife is an established Hollywood custom. 

Witold Rybczynski is emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and the recipient of the 2014 National Design Award for Design Mind. His latest book is How Architecture Works: A Humanists Toolkit.

This was written for Zocalo Public Square

Rare chance to see ancient biblical artifacts, documents

An exhibition of more than 200 of the world’s rarest biblical manuscripts is drawing big crowds to the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. 

The “Book of Books” exhibition will be housed at the museum through October. The museum, which contains a huge collection of artifacts produced in lands mentioned in the Bible, is across the street and just a couple hundred feet from the permanent Dead Sea Scrolls collection at the Israel Museum. Seen together, the two exhibitions provide a once-in-a-lifetime look at the holiest texts of Judaism and Christianity. 

Located on the lower level of the Bible Lands Museum, “Book of Books” explores the development of the Bible and the spread of Judaism and Christianity from the time of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago through the Middle Ages and the invention of movable type and printing. 

Bible Lands Museum, which is calling the exhibition that opened in October 2013 “historic” and “unprecedented,” features fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible — the Tanakh), the earliest New Testament scriptures, beautiful illuminated manuscripts, rare texts from the Cairo Genizah (a treasury of ancient Jewish texts discovered in an Egyptian synagogue) and original pages from a Gutenberg Bible. 

The artifacts that accompany the texts — ancient coins bearing religious symbols, incantation bowls — are reminders that text was just one way people expressed their religious beliefs and practices.  

The exhibition is being shown in a dimly lit but artfully designed hall to preserve the fragile, light-sensitive texts. Many have brilliantly colored illustrations and are in remarkably good condition. 

For lovers of rare religious books and manuscripts, entering the hall is the closest thing to paradise. Having the chance to see any one of these items would be a treat. Viewing them together is a rare opportunity. 

Most of the items on exhibit belong to a vast, 40,000-piece collection amassed by Steve Green, the devoutly Christian president of Hobby Lobby, the American crafts store chain founded by his father. He began collecting the biblical treasures just a few years ago and is in the process of building a 400,000-square-foot museum and institute in Washington, D.C., to permanently house the collection.  

Speaking at the opening, which was attended by the Green family, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau commented about the relationship between the Bible and the Jewish people. 

“The reason why we are here in this land is a result of the Book of Books, the Bible. The Bible is the identification document of the Jewish people. It is impossible not to feel emotion when viewing this exhibition, and when you read these texts you become connected to them.”

The exhibition traces the evolution of the Bible from its roots in the Judean Desert to Greece, Egypt, the rest of the Middle East and eventually Europe, and it reveals how the texts were adopted, edited and transformed not only by Christians but also Jews. In so doing, it calls attention to the Jewish roots of Christianity, the migration of Jews from the Land of Israel, and how a single “book” could have such a profound influence on the world and its religions — in an age before electricity, printing presses and the Internet.  

Given today’s globalization, it’s easy to forget that translating the Hebrew Bible into Greek, Aramaic, Coptic, Arabic, Latin, German, English and numerous other languages found in the exhibition was a massive undertaking. Canonized some time around the Second Temple period (70 C.E.), all biblical texts were painstakingly handwritten until Johannes Gutenberg invented his movable type printing press in the 1400s.  

The exhibition, which runs more or less chronologically, begins with an ancient inscription of the Shema prayer and ends with an actual demonstration of how books were printed on the Gutenberg printing press (one of the exhibition’s only facsimiles). 

Gutenberg Bible leaf, I Samuel (Latin); print and pigment on paper; Mainz, Germany, circa 1450. Photo by Ardon Bar-Hama

With a collection this rich, it is difficult to single out just a few of the best items, but it does include the works of two of Israel’s tiniest minorities: a Samaritan Pentateuch from the 12th to 13th centuries, and a Karaite Book of Prophets from the 11th to 12th centuries. 

Arguably the most unusual document is the Compilacion Historiae Totius Bible, a 14th century Latin chronicle of biblical history from Adam to Jesus that unfolds like a giant accordion. The document contains marvelous genealogical trees, and lists popes, emperors and kings.   

One particularly beautiful Jewish text is one of the earliest illuminated Scrolls of Esther. It was created by the Italian artist and scribe Moshe Pescarolo in 1615. All of the characters in the exquisitely illustrated Megillah are depicted in 17th century clothing. 

Other noteworthy items include “The Confessions of the Jews,” an anti-Semitic essay written in Latin in 1508 by a Jew who converted to Christianity; a public debate between a Christian and a Jew from 1529; and incantation bowls: vessels inscribed with spells that Jews in Iraq buried outside their homes to catch demons.  

Rachel Selby, a Jerusalem English teacher originally from England, called the exhibition inspiring. 

“Looking at the ancient parchments of Torah on the scroll from the 14th century, I was thrilled that my Hebrew school education from London in the 1970s allowed me to pick out the Hebrew phrases, read them and even understand what I read. It sent a shiver down my spine, actually.”

U.S. Holocaust museum returns barracks to Auschwitz

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has returned a section of wooden barracks that was given on long-term loan by the Auschwitz museum 24 years ago.

The barracks — half of a wooden building in which Jewish prisoners slept while imprisoned in the death camp — arrived at Poland’s port of Gdynia on Sunday, the Associated Press reported, citing the website of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp museum.

The barracks will undergo conservation and be joined with their other half before going on display, according to AP.

The U.S. museum borrowed the barracks in 1989; the contract was renewed in 1999 for another 10 years. In 2003, Poland enacted a law barring the loan of Polish historical artifacts abroad for more than five years.

The return of the barracks comes after several years of negotiations between Polish officials and Holocaust museum officials.

The barracks, a centerpiece of the Washington museum’s permanent collection, will be replaced by another set from Birkenau to be owned by the museum.

Sculpture in San Diego sun

Downtown San Diego is home to plenty of famous attractions — including the San Diego Zoo and The Old Globe Theatre — but, for art lovers, the city also boasts an impressive collection of post-World War II works by internationally recognized Jewish artists like Sol LeWitt, Louise Nevelson and Richard Serra. 

Beyond pleasing the eye, these works tell multilayered stories of Jewish artists’ roles in shaping contemporary American art movements, narrating the immigrant experience and expressing a sense of in-your-face, post-Holocaust survival.

Where to begin? 

“Two of the great works by prominent Jewish artists in San Diego are sculptures: Louise Nevelson’s monumental work in San Diego Museum of Art’s Sculpture Court Café, and Sol LeWitt’s large open-cube sculpture in the main entry of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Downtown,” suggested University of San Diego art history professor Derrick Cartwright.  

Al fresco art makes sense in this seaside city — especially in the summer — so off I went to the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA,, located in beautiful Balboa Park and home to a wide-ranging permanent collection that includes works representative of the Italian Renaissance, Post-Impressionism and pre-20th century America, among others. 

Nevelson’s welded, Cor-Ten steel work “Night Presence II,” of 1976, presides over the hubbub of the museum’s tented-courtyard café. The 13-foot-tall, rust-colored piece, referencing architectural forms like columns and finials, appears as an oversized Cubist collage sprung to 3-D life.  

Amy Galpin, the museum’s associate curator for art of the Americas, described “Night Presence II” as an homage to Manhattan, where Nevelson lived and worked as an artist for 50 years.  

Born in 1899 in Czarist Russia, Nevelson immigrated to Maine with her family in 1905. She learned English in school and spoke Yiddish at home. A strong, independent woman, she left her wealthy shipping magnate husband in 1933 to pursue her art. Calling herself “the original recycler,” Nevelson was at the forefront of using found objects — furniture legs, chair backs, architectural ornaments — to create monumental pieces of art. 

“The rise of feminism in the 1960s and ’70s pushed Nevelson to the forefront as one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century. Her work is in museum and private collections all over the world,” Galpin said. 

“Night Presence II” incorporates a figurative representation of a bird. As I sat in the sun-drenched SDMA café sipping an aranciata, I imagined Nevelson as that bird flying from the old country to the New World, and from the conventions of suburban married life to her identity as a world-renowned, bohemian artist (who had a brief affair with Diego Rivera). 

Tearing myself away, I eventually headed two miles southwest to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s (MCASD, downtown location. (MCASD also has a stunning, oceanfront branch in La Jolla.) The downtown space, dedicated to works created after 1950 across a spectrum of media and genres, straddles Kettner Boulevard, with one space right next door to San Diego’s historic Santa Fe train depot. That building once served as the train station’s baggage storeroom. Famed minimalist architect Richard Gluckman elegantly repurposed the storeroom as a showcase for contemporary art by retaining the large, Spanish-style arched window frames and using bare concrete floors to create an airy, open space, with loads of natural light and no visual distractions.

Being adjacent to the terminus of Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner makes the museum easily accessible by train from downtown Los Angeles’ Union Station. 

LeWitt’s sculpture “Six-Part Modular Cube” (1976) looks perfectly at home in MCASD’s minimalist space. The gleaming white, open cube structure, prominently displayed in the museum’s foyer, invites the visitor in to view art free from preconceived restraints of what art “should” be. Constructed of aluminum, each cube sits at eye level – enabling the viewer to interact with the piece on a human scale. 

LeWitt was born in 1928 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in Hartford, Conn., and is considered a founding father of both the conceptual art movement — in which the idea is the most important part of the work — and minimalism. Minimalist art sets out to expose the essence of a subject by eliminating all nonessential forms. LeWitt’s cubes demonstrate this, allowing natural light and open space to define their essence. 

“He often referenced how his Jewish cultural background influenced his work and gave him a mystical sense of connection to the larger world,” said Kathryn Kanjo, MCASD’s chief curator. The clean lines of LeWitt’s “Six-Part Modular Cube” might evoke a sense of spiritual purification and possibility for redemption.

Located just outside the museum’s wall-length, glass-paneled back doors is Serra’s monumental, site-specific sculpture installation, “Santa Fe Depot.” The world-famous artist was born in 1939 to a Russian-Jewish mother who emigrated from Odessa to San Francisco. 

When MCASD commissioned the work in 2004 with a generous gift from longtime patrons, it gave California native Serra the freedom to decide where to install it. He chose to place the sculpture, consisting of six individual blocks of forged weatherproof steel, just yards away from the train tracks. Each of the six blocks weighs 25 tons. 

As I approached the blocks, lined in two rows, I asked Kanjo, “Am I allowed to touch them?” 

“Oh, yes — they are solid and see a lot of action,” she said, laughing.

Serra’s works — like “T.E.U.C.L.A.,” in the plaza of UCLA’s Broad Art Center, the mammoth “Snake” at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and “Sequence,” which was on view for three years at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — encourage movement around them. “Santa Fe Depot” exemplifies Serra’s in-your-face work. Passengers must move around and between the blocks to catch a trolley or train. 

“Serra’s blocks suggest a kind of repetition and inevitability — like the comings and goings of train after train,” Kanjo said.

When contemplating Serra’s installation in a Jewish context, his choice of location struck me. Those 25-ton steel cubes sited alongside railroad tracks just outside a train station, considered in light of Holocaust concentration camp transports, suggest permanence, immovability, solidity and survival. 

While I gazed out the museum window, I saw a man waiting for a trolley deposit a plastic grocery bag full of trash on top of one of the cubes. A city janitor came by a minute later, picked it up with a trash-grabber and put it in his garbage bag. Again, the survival analogy came to mind: “Sure, you can dump garbage on us, but we’ll find a way to carry on.” 

This really moved me. I’m not sure if Serra intended anything close to this type of reaction, but art can be what we make of it, right? Go, and see for yourself.

Amy Winehouse exhibit opening at London’s Jewish Museum

Most of the images we’ve seen of Amy Winehouse tend to depict only the wild and tragic parts of her life. That’s about to change.

This summer, The Jewish Museum in Camden, Winehouse’s former London neighborhood, will feature “Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait.” The exhibition, which will commemorate what would have been her 30th birthday, is focused on the late singer’s style, family life, and Jewish heritage.

“Amy was someone who was incredibly proud of her Jewish-London roots,” her brother, Alex Winehouse told Vogue U.K. “We weren’t religious, but we were traditional. I hope, in this most fitting of places, that the world gets to see this other side, not just to Amy, but to our typical Jewish family.”

The exhibition is just the latest tribute to Winehouse. A documentary is slated for this year, and there may soon be a street in London bearing her name.

Romney tours site of future Polish Jewish museum

Mitt Romney toured the site of the future Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, completing the third leg of a three-country tour that also included Britain and Israel, on Tuesday met with museum chairman Piotr Wislicki, deputy chairman Marian Turski, interim director Waldemar Dabrowski, exhibition director Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and representatives of the museum’s two largest benefactors, the Taube Foundation and the Koret Foundation, Helise Lieberman and Yale Reisner.

Also present during the tour was Romney’s wife, Ann.

The museum, which is to open in 2013, is near the site of the city’s Holocaust-era ghetto.

Polish billionaire Jan Kulczyk donates $6 million to Jewish museum

Poland’s richest person, Jan Kulczyk, has donated about $6 million to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

The billionaire’s gift is the largest to the museum by an individual donor, according to the Warsaw Business Journal. The $96 million museum is set to open next year.

The money for Kulczyk’s donation will come from his company, Kulczyk Holdings.

“Life is not just a business, not just economics. We must remember what was,” Kulczyk said in a statement, according to the Warsaw Business Journal.

Forbes magazine listed Kulczyk, 62, as the world’s richest Pole, with a net worth of $2.7 billion.

The fabric of dance at LACMA

When artist Sharon Lockhart traveled to Israel in 2008, she wasn’t searching for Noa Eshkol. The Israeli dance composer and textile artist was not well-known outside her own country. In fact, Eshkol isn’t terribly well-known within Israel, where companies like Batsheva, Inbal, Bat Dor and the Israel Ballet hold far more cachet than Eshkol’s humble troupe. Lockhart came across Eshkol’s work on her journey, and now she’s brought the art of this somewhat obscure but undeniably brilliant, late choreographer to Los Angeles in a new collaborative exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

The curators behind the Lockhart-Eshkol collaboration are Stephanie Barron, LACMA’s chief curator of modern and contemporary art, and Britt Salvesen, the museum’s curator of photography. “Sharon is a Los Angeles artist who the museum has long been interested in, both in terms of acquiring work and showing work,” Barron said in a recent interview with the two curators at Barron’s office. “And this was an opportunity to show, for the first time in the U.S., a new body of work which was created in Israel.”

Surprisingly, this is also the first collaboration between LACMA and the Israel Museum, where Lockhart and Eshkol’s exhibition was shown last year. “We share an interesting history in that both institutions … opened within a month of each other in 1965,” Barron said. “We’re both encyclopedic institutions; we often share some significant donors … so it’s a really nice opportunity for us to collaborate.”

As curator of photography, Salvesen was intimately familiar with Lockhart’s work.  Lockhart, known for both her films and her still photography, has had solo exhibitions at the Walker Art Center; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo.; and Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, among others, and her work has been seen locally at MOCA and the Hammer Museum. Lockhart is known for her ability to infiltrate closed communities and provide an up-close look at their culture. Eshkol, who was born in 1924 and died in 2007, was best-known as a co-creator of the Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation (EWMN) system, a system that attempted to define the motion of limbs around their joints, and her choreography was rooted in this systemic approach. The installation at LACMA includes Lockhart’s films of Eshkol’s dancers performing the work, as well as other archival materials.

In exploring Eshkol’s work, Lockhart conducted lengthy interviews with many of Eshkol’s former dancers, who remain devoted to their leader.

Noa Eshkol, “Umbrella Flower,” 1970s.  Noa Eshkol Foundation for Movement Notation, Holon, Israel.

“The idea of an artist as a historian of sorts was also interesting to us,” Salvesen said. Barron added: “This was really the first time that Sharon, in a certain respect, was collaborating with an artist that was no longer alive.” 

At a press preview for the exhibition, Lockhart said Eshkol “had a very strong opinion and saw things her way” and admitted that she might not have approved of this show, were she still alive.

But the luxury of Eshkol’s approval was not something available to Lockhart, as she told LACMA’s Sabine Eckmann in an interview that appears in the exhibition’s catalog. “I was trying to be as true to her process as I could. I recognize that I was drawn to her by historical precedents with which I identified … but that the work would function only if I could surpass that history and create something really new.

“My association with Eshkol seemed so natural and personal when I was introduced to her production,” Lockhart continued. “I immediately felt a connection, and it was only later that I came to know the distinction between her creations and those of her collaborators. Bringing up the question of memory and the imagination seems appropriate, because in truth that’s the only way I will ever know her.”

How much one truly knows Eshkol after viewing the exhibition is questionable. Her dancers gesticulate on screen for Lockhart’s cameras, her drawings and notations fill displays, and photos of her works line the walls. She resides like a phantom within the body of her materials, but a full portrait of her remains elusive. 

It’s hardly surprising that the woman herself comes into such little focus, considering Eshkol’s company didn’t even perform publicly for much of her later years. The only posters for shows included at LACMA date from the 1950s. This was not a woman who revealed much of herself to the world.

Lockhart stressed that “it was important to me that it was considered a two-person show, with two female artists,” yet it is Lockhart, along with Eshkol’s dancers, who has pulled the earlier artist into the spotlight for a round of perhaps unwanted applause.

All that said, the work, particularly some dazzling wall carpets designed by Eshkol and her dancers, is stunning. And, as Salvesen points out, “Not only did Sharon want to bring to light someone whom she felt was under-recognized as an innovator in modern dance, but to do so in such a way that she points out how this kind of simplicity and purism are radical. … I think she recognized Eshkol as a kind of kindred spirit.”

For her part, Barron sees in the work a new horizon in the art world. “The expansion of dance within contemporary visual art is increasing,” she said. “The Whitney Biennial, which just closed, had on the top floor a space devoted 100 percent to a sequence of different dance performances. … It’s a kind of zeitgest.”

Sharon Lockhart | Noa Eshkol is on display on the second floor of LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum through Sept. 9. For more information, visit

Yad Vashem hit with anti-Israel, anti-Semitic graffiti

Vandals spray painted anti-Israel and anti-Semitic graffiti at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.

The slogans written in Hebrew, including “Hitler, thank you for the Holocaust,” “If Hitler did not exist, the Zionists would have invented him,” and “The war of the Zionist regime is not the war of the Jewish people,” were mostly found at the entrance to the museum and concentrated near the Warsaw Ghetto Square and the memorial to the deportees.

Police reportedly believe that haredi Jewish extremists, who are opposed to the state of Israel, believing that it should not be established until the arrival of the Messiah, are responsible for the crime, which occurred early Monday morning.

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, who is a Holocaust survivor, called the vandalism a “blatant act of hatred of Israel and Zionism,” and said that it “crosses a red line.”

From the heights of Mount Scopus

This is exclusive to

Dr. Avraham Biran, director of Israel’s Department of Antiquities, received a call early on the second day of the war from the wife of Yigael Yadin, the former army chief of staff and Israel’s most eminent archaeologist. Since the start of the crisis Yadin had been serving as military advisor to Prime Minister Eshkol. With the army entering Jordanian Jerusalem, Yadin wanted Biran and two colleagues to check out the condition of the Rockefeller Museum and ensure that the museum’s collections were secured, particularly the Dead Sea Scrolls in its possession. The three men drove to Col. Gur’s headquarters and presented themselves to the brigade commander. Climbing onto a half-track with Col Gur and his staff, they crossed no-man’s-land and entered the museum from the rear.

Bullets whined through jagged windowpanes as the archaeologists walked through the galleries. It was two decades since access to the Rockefeller had been closed to Israelis. Exhibit cases had been smashed by ricocheting bullets and the floor was littered with glass. Battle-weary paratroopers sat or sprawled in the corridors. A dozing private opened an eye as the group approached and fixed it on Biran. “Hey, fellows,” he yelled, suddenly wide awake, “now we can get an explanation.” A score of bone-weary soldiers picked themselves off the floor and followed the archaeologists on one of the most unusual museum lecture tours ever given. Shots echoed through the galleries and glass display cases periodically shattered as Biran and his colleagues explained the significance of some of the finds.

The archaeologists noted that hardly anything had changed since they had last been there. Items marked “removed for repairs” on cards dated 1947 still had not been returned to the display cases. One of the few changes was the plastering over of Hebrew gallery signs chiseled into the walls; the equivalent signs in Arabic and English remained. Biran had hoped to make arrangements to protect the exhibits, but it was obvious that with a war going on around the museum this was impossible. Before leaving, he asked the soldiers to keep an eye on things and make sure nothing disappeared.

* * *

While the museum below was filling with soldiers, Captain Schwartzberg kept up his duel from the tower with the Arab positions on the Old City wall, sometimes assisted by one or two men. Machine-gun bullets poured into the tall arched windows and bazooka shells beat a tattoo against the walls outside. Schwartzberg’s legs and cheeks were bleeding from shrapnel. He sat on the floor firing through alternate windows, sometimes placing his helmet on a chair and shoving it with his foot in front of one window while he fired out the other. A young soldier with him had a flask of cognac, and periodically they would pause for a nip. Machine guns, ammunition boxes, and sandbags were passed up the winding steps by other soldiers, and the tower began to take on a cozy look.

Schwartzberg descended briefly with the keys he had taken from the guards in order to make sure no one was hiding in the basement rooms. He came across a strongroom containing the museum’s coin collection and remembered seeing it on exhibit when he was a boy. He did not come on the room where the museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls had been secured the eve of the war.

Most of the men dozed off on the floors, disregarding the whine of bullets and explosions. At one point the chandelier at the main entrance fell with a loud clatter. The men lying under smaller chandeliers in other rooms moved aside and resumed sleeping.

The 71st Battalion was bivouacked in Wadi Joz where the men were distributed among private homes. The Arab families living there were asked to assemble in one or two rooms and were left alone there. Some soldiers who attempted to converse with the occupants found older men willing to talk, occasionally in remembered Hebrew; but the young men were silent and sullen. The soldiers helped themselves to food and slept on beds when they could but avoided looting. (Second-line troops arriving later were to prove less scrupulous. There was, however, no instance of rape or sexual molestation.)

The troops had had nothing substantial to eat in two days, and commanders permitted them to break into groceries. (Journalists were to find shutters on jewelry shops and camera stores intact.) The most sought-after beverage was not spirits but Pepsi-Cola, which the Arab boycott had succeeded in banning from Israel and which most of the Israelis had never tasted.

Not all the Jordanian civilians accepted the Israeli occupation with resignation. Soldiers from the 71st were on a street in Wadi Joz when a man ran out of a house shouting in Arabic and firing a pistol at them. To Lieutenant Gad, he seemed old enough to be his father and for a fraction of a second he wondered if there was a way to stop him without shooting. The man fell in a burst of fire. He knew he was going to die, thought Gad, and knew what he was dying for.

* * *

Late Tuesday night Nasser, who had not until now informed Hussein of the destruction of the Egyptian air force, dropped his final veil in a message transmitted to the king. It was at last an abandonment of self-delusion and posturing.  “My dear brother, King Hussein. We find ourselves face to face with one of those critical moments that nations are sometimes called upon to endure. It demands courage beyond human capacity. We are fully aware of your difficult situation as at this moment our front is crumbling too. Yesterday our enemy’s air force inflicted a mortal blow on us. Since then our land army has been stripped of all air support and forced to withstand the power of superior forces. When the history books are written, your courage and tenacity will be remembered.”

* * *

Descending from the Mount of Olives, the two lead Israeli tanks reached the turnoff to Lion’s Gate. One continued past it and took a blocking position farther up the main road. The second tank halted and turned its gun toward the gate. The tank commander was Sergeant Ben-Gigi. To him had fallen the task of hammering open the gates of the Old City. The Moroccan-born tinsmith, whose workshop was within 200 yards of Jaffa Gate on the opposite side of the walled city, was unmoved by the occasion. He regarded the gate as simply another enemy strongpoint to be reduced, and he ordered his gunner, Moshe Haimovsky, to open fire.

An antiquated bus was parked at the side of the road, 50 yards from the gate. Haimovsky asked what to do about it. “Hit it,” said Ben-Gigi. Heavy fire was coming from the ramparts and Ben-Gigi thought that if the bus were set aflame the smoke might shield the paratroopers as they moved up the road. Haimovsky had collected seven shells on his lap for quick firing. He pumped two antitank shells into the bus with little visible effect. When he tried an explosive shell the bus caught fire. Black smoke poured out and the wind drove it back against the Jordanian positions on the gate as Ben-Gigi hoped.

Haimovsky, a school administrator, presumed he should try to open the gate. Magnified in his periscope, the gateway was seen to be closed by two tall metal-sheathed doors. The right door was partially blocked from view by the smoke. Haimovsky aimed for the upper hinge of the left door and fired. The top of the door canted backwards under the impact, permitting him to see through into the Old City itself. He was looking straight up the Via Dolorosa.

Meanwhile, Gur himself had joined the race for the gate, following the tanks down from the Mount of Olives in his half-track. Driving the vehicle was Sergeant Ben-Tsur, a bus driver in civilian life. The brigade commander ordered him to pass Ben-Gigi’s tank. Ben-Tsur swung around it and started up Lion’s Gate road. The gate was hidden by a thick column of smoke. The loaded half-track struggled up the incline, Ben-Tsur’s foot pressing the accelerator to the floor. He could feel the heat from the burning bus as they passed it. Suddenly, he was through the smoke. Just ahead loomed the gate. There were two huge doors, the left one hanging partially open. He steered for the center of the gate. The half-track slammed hard and the left door toppled backward, the right door swinging open. An Arab wearing a kheffiya jumped clear behind the gate, and a shower of small stones from the damaged arch fell into the half-track. They were inside the Old City.

Captain Zamush mounted the city wall alongside David’s Tower and encountered an armed Jordanian, who surrendered. The Jordanian was stunned. “Aren’t you from the Iraqi army?” he asked. Paratroopers who entered the Jordanian barracks found clothing neatly laid out for inspection on tightly made beds. A private named Yaacov found a large drum, which he hauled up the narrow stairway to the rampart on the city wall. The day before, his weapon had stopped a Jordanian bullet that would have hit him in the chest, and he sounded out his joy now with a vigorous beat.
In Israeli Jerusalem, from where the paratroopers could be seen moving along the ramparts, civilians began coming out of the old stone houses of Yemin Moshe and Mamilla and pouring into the streets. Others crowded balconies. Youngsters ran toward no-man’s-land, and civil defense wardens, fearful of mines, kept them back.. Above the shouts of the crowd could be heard the triumphant rat-tat-tat of the drum.

Many of those soldiers who had stood dry-eyed at the Western Wall shed tears now. Looking down at the cheering residents from the firing positions that had dominated them for years, the paratroopers had the feeling of deliverers. Lieutenant Yair could hear the Jerusalemites singing the Hatikva across no-man’s-land. Civilians approaching close to the wall called for a flag to be raised. Yair, who had remained near the Citadel, turned to Lieutenant Bitan, who had awakened him three weeks before at Kfar Blum with his mobilization order, and told him to raise a flag atop the minaret, known as David’s Tower, rising from the Citadel.

Bitan descended from the wall and raced up the graceful minaret’s spiral staircase. Climbing on a metal railing, he fixed the flag to the spire, teetering over a sheer drop as he did so. Of all the flags raised that day, none had a more dramatic impact than this, proclaiming to the Jews of Jerusalem that the Old City was taken.

Four Arab dignitaries strode across the Temple Mount to the knot of Israeli officers beside the Dome of the Rock. Governor Khatib asked in English whom they could speak to. Colonel Gur, who was kneeling over a map on the ground, rose and replied that he was in command. Khatib introduced himself and Gur shook his hand. Khatib declared that the Jordanian army had left the city. There would be no further organized resistance, he said. If no one resists, replied Gur, peace will descend on the city. Gur said his soldiers had strict instructions not to molest the population or destroy property. However, if shooting came from any house it would be destroyed.

The decision to abandon the Old City without a fight lost Jordan the last chance it had of salvaging something from the war. As the Americans would discover at Hue in Vietnam, a battle in an ancient, walled city is an excruciating business, even for modern armies with massive firepower. Israel would have felt far more constrained about using firepower in Jerusalem’s Old City than the Americans would feel in Hue. A few hundred Jordanian soldiers and hundreds of armed civilians with large stocks of ammunition would have been a formidable force in the maze of the Old City. The Jordanians could not win the battle but they could hope to hold out until the international community, particularly the Christian world, forced through a cease-fire on terms that would accommodate some of Jordan’s demands.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission by the author. The Kindle edition of “Battle for Jerusalem” can be ordered through at a list price of $9.99.

Albert Einstein museum to be built in Jerusalem

Israel’s Cabinet unanimously approved the establishment of an Albert Einstein museum in Jerusalem.

The museum will be built on the campus of the Hebrew University, to which Einstein left his personal papers and the intellectual copyright to them. Einstein also left the university the right to use his image; the museum reportedly will be constructed in the shape of his head.

The government allocated about $260,000 for the initial planning phases of the museum celebrating the father of the theory of relativity.

“This is not just a tourist matter,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday after the vote. “This is an issue of the greatest value that will grant recognition to the sparks of genius that were hidden in our people and which broke through with Einstein.”

The decision came a week after the Limmud FSU conference in Princeton, N.J., emphasized the accomplishments of Einstein, who taught at Princeton University. More than 650 young Russian-American Jews from across the United States came together at the conference for a festival of Jewish learning.

Anne Frank figure unveiled at Madame Tussauds in Berlin

Madame Tussauds in Berlin unveiled a wax figure of Anne Frank depicted sitting at her desk, pen in hand, smiling dreamily.

The unveiling took place last week amid some criticism about including a Holocaust victim at such an unserious location, according to the Bild Zeitung, Germany’s most popular daily. Others say that as long as there is information about the life and death of Anne Frank it is appropriate.

Anne died at age 15 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp about a month before the camp’s liberation in April 1945. The best-known photographs snapped of the young diarist by her camera-happy father, Otto—the only immediate family member to survive the Holocaust—show young Anne smiling.

A museum spokeswoman, Nina Zerbe, told Bild Zeitung that the display includes information about Anne in German and English, and she is presented in the context of the room in which she hid.

“This is a three-dimensional history lesson for visitors,” Zerbe said.

The director of the Anne Frank Center in Berlin, Thomas Heppner, who attended the unveiling, praised the idea of bringing visitors closer to history through such displays.

The Berlin branch of Madame Tussauds has been criticized over the inclusion of other historical figures related to the Nazi period. In July 2008, one of the first visitors to the new museum, a 41-year-old Berlin man, lunged past guards and lopped off the head of the Hitler figure. The figure, which depicts a defeated Hitler, was repaired and is now behind glass.

Tel Aviv museum launches $60 million capital campaign

The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Beit Hatfutsot, is launching a $60 million capital campaign in New York to raise money for renovations and new exhibits and programming.

The “New Vision” campaign seeks to continue the transition of Beit Hatfutsot from the Museum of the Diaspora, which was founded in 1978 with donations from New Yorkers, into the Museum of the Jewish People. According to a statement, the revamped museum will contain an expanded archive, school and interactive exhibits.

In 2005 the Knesset passed the Beit Hatfutsot Law that redefined Beit Hatfutsot as “the national center for Jewish communities in Israel and around the world.”

The Nadav Foundation and the Israeli government have allocated nearly $27 million to fund the changes. A fundraising gala will be held Dec. 1 in New York.

Polish museum opens exhibit on Warsaw Ghetto Uprising leader

A Polish museum has opened a section dedicated to Marek Edelman, one of the commanders of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis.

The exhibit at the Historical Museum in Lodz opened Oct. 2, two years after Edelman died at the age of 90.

Edelman, a cardiologist by profession, lived and worked in Lodz after World War II, and the exhibition is arranged to evoke his home and office. The display uses his furniture, books, photographs and other objects.

A longtime human and social rights activist, Edelman joined the anti-Communist Solidarity movement in 1980 and was interned by Poland’s Martial Law authorities. After the fall of communism, he served as a member of Parliament and was awarded Poland’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the White Eagle, as well as the French Legion of Honor.

Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance wins Knesset approval to build

After years of delays due to legal challenges and fundraising setbacks, the Simon Wiesenthal Center received permission on July 12 from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior’s District Planning and Construction Committee to begin construction on the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. The ministry gave a green light to a revised design for the building, saying that because the building’s footprint would remain the same as an earlier plan, a new review process would not be necessary.

The new design, by Chyutin Architects, a local Israeli firm, replaces a previous plan by Los Angeles superstar Frank O. Gehry, who pulled out of the process when funding shortfalls forced the Wiesenthal Center to request a scaled-back version.

For years, Palestinian leaders had fought to halt the project, claiming that the site on which it is to be built is an ancient Muslim burial ground.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s founder and dean, welcomed the decision, which he said will allow for construction to begin immediately.

“We have the full blessing and endorsement of the government of Israel, and the prime minister of Israel and the mayor of Jerusalem,” Hier said.

Groundbreaking for the museum officially kicked off in 2004, but construction was halted in 2006 when Arab leaders in Israel sued to stop work after bones were unearthed during excavation at the site. In 2008, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the Simon Wiesenthal Center could build on the site.

“The Supreme Court reviewed the Palestinian claims for three years and ruled unanimously that, for more than half a century, Muslims no longer considered that site to be part of the cemetery,” Hier said.

With the global economic downturn, the project was then reformulated. What had been a $250 million building designed by Gehry was reconceived as a $100 million project.

The question answered at the Knesset on July 12 was a technical one about the building’s footprint, according to Hier. The permit allows the Wiesenthal Center to build without restarting the planning process. “We are building on the same three-and-a-half acres,” Hier said.

Hier said that the center has raised $45 million, which will allow construction to begin by September. He said the building will take three years to complete.

Picasso painting goes on display in Ramallah

A Palestinian art academy has put a $7 million Picasso painting on display.

The painting, Pablo Picasso’s “Buste de femme,” painted in 1943, is on loan from the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Netherlands. It went on display in Ramallah Monday as part of the “Picasso in Palestine” exhibit.

It is said to be the most prestigious work ever exhibited in the West Bank, and is the Dutch museum’s most valuable work.

The loan took two years to arrange, though these transactions typically take about six months, according to reports.

The painting was flown from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv and then escorted to Ramallah by an Israeli security company, the Associated Press reported.

Holocaust exhibition repeatedly stolen in Romania

Someone keeps stealing an exhibition about Jewish heritage and the Holocaust in Romania from a subway station in the country’s capital city.

The exhibition, created by Israeli photographer Shani Bar On and Austrian-born journalist Emil Rennert, was sponsored by the Austrian Culture Forum and installed on the walls of a major Bucharest subway station June 11, but within 24 hours all of its 22 text and photo panels had vanished.

Bar On and Rennert re-printed the panels and re-installed the exhibition on Wednesday. By Friday, 12 of the panels were again missing, despite improved security promised by the subway management.

Rennert said there was no evidence of anti-Semitic graffiti. “We have no idea who took them,” he told JTA. Rennert said no formal police investigation had been started yet, but that the Austrian Culture Forum would be following up the situation.

The exhibit is based on Rennert and Bar-On’s book “The Jewish Bucovina—Clues.” It features photographs of Jewish heritage and life today in northern Romania, as well as interviews and stories with Holocaust survivors detailing the deportation of Romanian Jews to camps and ghettos in Transnistria, part of Ukraine, during the Holocaust.

Before being mounted in the Bucharest subway station, the exhibition had been shown without incident at the University of Vienna and other locations in Romania and Austria.

Sobibor museum closes due to lack of funds

The museum at the Nazi death camp Sobibor closed due to a lack of funding.

The museum in Poland on the grounds of the death camp announced Thursday that it closed because the regional government did not provide enough funding to keep it open, the German press agency dpa reported.

About 20,000 people a year visited Sobibor. Some 250,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed there during the Holocaust.

The museum this year received less than half of the $360,000 it requires to remain open, according to reports.

Sobibor guard John Demjanjuk was convicted last month of being an accessory to more than 28,000 deaths at the camp. 

“Holocaust survivors are aghast that the museum at Sobibor, the site of John Demjanjuk’s crimes, has closed because of insufficient funding by Polish state authorities,” Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement.

“The demands of history and our obligation to the education of future generations must be respected so that this solemn place remains open. Whatever the price of memory, the cost of forgetfulness is so much greater.”

U.S. Holocaust museum presenting roll call of victims

Holocaust survivors and members of the public are reading the names of Holocaust victims at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The reading at the museum’s Hall of Remembrance began Sunday and will last through May 8.

During the Days of Remembrance, May 1-8, the museum is commemorating the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, as well as the millions of other victims of Nazi persecution, with observances in Washington and throughout the United States.

In recognition of the 65th anniversary of the verdicts at the first Nuremberg trial and the 50th anniversary of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the museum chose “Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide: What Have We Learned?” as its theme for 2011.

On Monday, Holocaust Memorial Day, some 7,000 Auschwitz survivors, Jewish youth from around the world and 2,000 Polish youth marched between the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps in the 20th annual March of the Living.

U.S. Holocaust museum pushes West Coast visibility

During a lecture on genocide prevention at American Jewish University (AJU) on April 13, Michael Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, discussed a shift in the international community’s view of how to handle crimes against humanity. 

We’re seeing a “shift from a culture responding after the fact to a culture of prevention,” Abramowitz said.

The discussion, titled “From Memory to Action,” along with other recent events, including a presentation in Long Beach last February focused on Nazi collaborators, is part of the Washington D.C.-based museum’s “strategy to expand our presence” on the West Coast, according to Michael Sarid, Western regional director of the museum.

The museum has programs he believes have “flown under the radar,” Sarid said, including an annual teachers’ forum on Holocaust education that takes place in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as the museum’s efforts to partner with local universities, including Loyola Marymount, UCLA and California State University, Long Beach, to present lectures and traveling exhibitions. 

At AJU Abramowitz discussed his recent trip to Sudan, which he said was true to the mission of the Committee on Conscience, the museum’s genocide awareness program — part of his effort to “bear witness” by going to “a place where genocide has happened or there exists the threat of genocide.”

In February, Sudan offered its citizens the opportunity to vote on a referendum to split the country into northern and southern regions. Despite violence leading up to the vote, most people living in southern Sudan endorsed independence from the north.

Abramowitz, a former Washington Post White House correspondent, explained that he and others on the Committee on Conscience had been concerned that genocide, similar to those in Darfur or Rwanda, could have occurred in Sudan.

But at AJU, Abramowitz described the new state of Southern Sudan as secure. It’s a poor but relatively peaceful place, he said.

Jewish World Watch, a nonprofit dedicated to genocide prevention efforts, co-sponsored the event at AJU, along with the school’s Sigi Ziering Institute.

Despite the vast array of local Holocaust programs and institutions worldwide, among them Los Angeles’ Museum of Tolerance and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, as well as USC’s Shoah Foundation Institute, there is still the need for programs put on by the D.C.-based museum here in Los Angeles, Sarid said.

The museum’s director, Sara Bloomfield, “has said many times through the years that no one organization can carry the massive burden of Holocaust remembrance education alone,” Sarid said. “It really takes a village, a broad effort.”
— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer

The new National Museum of American Jewish History traces the immigrant ethnic experience.

PHILADELPHIA – George Washington never had it this good.

From five stories up, it’s pretty easy to see what he couldn’t, with the expanse of Independence Mall splayed out below. Washington’s newly recreated house is straight ahead, right next to the Liberty Bell Pavilion. One block to the left is Independence Hall and, to the right, the National Constitution Center.

But the top floor of the brand-new National Museum of American Jewish History — which opened late last year here in the dead center of the country’s single most historic square mile — is the only place that gives you a full panorama of the intricate, carefully planned landscape of the Mall.

From the balcony, the history is almost too much to take in. On surrounding cobblestone streets, top-hatted tour guides cart tourists around in horse-drawn carriages.

But for all the history outside, the stories inside are even richer. The museum’s history of the Jewish experience in America is a microcosm of both the whole history of the Jewish people and of the quintessentially American experience of the last couple hundred years.

Erev Passover is a particularly appropriate time to walk through the museum’s earliest artifacts, which date to the first Jews’ arrival in North America almost 350 years ago. Themes of freedom and liberation course through the exhibits, where stories and memorabilia from the Jewish immigrant experience are writ large in videos, displays and impressive interactive exhibits.

“This museum is a story of one immigrant ethnic group’s encounter with freedom,” said Michael Rosenzweig, president and CEO of the museum. “At the beginning, notwithstanding the tremendous aspirations that drove people here, the freedoms were far from perfect.”

In some cases — fleeing Spain and Portugal in the 17th century, or Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — the plight of the Jews on the run very closely mirrors the exodus from Egypt. Here, they had passports — the museum displays a few from early 20th century Russia — but once they arrived, their lives were often a complicated mix of Jewishness and Americanness, with the two not always compatible.

The museum does a skillful job of showing how these twin identities slowly bumped up against one another, with too many artifacts to count: a copy of Maryland’s 1819 “Jew Bill,” which allowed Jews to hold elected office; a pair of Levi’s jeans from 1885, which look shockingly similar to modern-day jeans (although Mr. Strauss probably didn’t think skinny jeans or low-riders would ever be in fashion); and English-Hebrew typewriters used to produce the myriad Jewish newspapers in New York and elsewhere. The exhibits tell of the slow, careful journey that Jews took in America, from searching for their own freedom to using their eventually perfected freedom to lift up others.

“It’s tough enough, when you look at broad strokes of those years of the American Jewish journey, simply to pursue and try to perfect and achieve those freedoms for one’s self,” Rosenzweig said. “By the time we get to the 20th century and certainly the 21st century, we have achieved those freedoms for ourselves and so it’s a natural thing, I think, given the ethos of our tradition, to begin to look very seriously at efforts to help others.”

After World War II, the American Jewish experience changed, so the museum’s tenor changes as well.

Jews became more engaged in the social and political life of the country, taking on leading roles everywhere from the entertainment industry (movie clips from Mel Brooks to Sarah Silverman put a fine point on just how funny we are) to politics. They vacationed in the Catskills and moved to the suburbs (one-third of all American Jews left cities for picket-fenced pastures from 1945 to 1965). And they went to camp.

The museum includes a whole room on Jewish summer camps, complete with “artifacts” (songbooks, packed trunks, the sew-in name tags of one Carol Levenson), field recordings (you hear the “ohmygodhowwasyourwinter” shrieks of the first day of camp piped in through speakers), and opportunities for interaction (visitors to both the museum and the Web site,, can upload embarrassing camp photos and postcards for all to see). One time I visited, other patrons walked through the room singing Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.”

This focus on a crucial piece of the American Jewish experience — one that’s on the one hand extremely American, but at the same time a rare opportunity for American Jews to immerse themselves in such a Jewish atmosphere — articulates the different kind of freedom Jews have found just in the last 65 years. Not only do we have the freedom to be Jewish, and to practice Judaism as we please, but for the first time, we have the freedom not to be Jewish.

“Because we enjoy these intoxicating degrees of freedom, we can assimilate. We can be completely American and, if we wish, not at all Jewish,” Rosenzweig said. “The choice, the challenge, is living in that tension.”

Jewish museum officials decry Vienna exhibit destruction

Directors of Jewish museums and educational institutes in Europe have written an open letter condemning the destruction of a 16-year-old exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Vienna.

The exhibit, based on holograms, was removed recently to make way for a new exhibit due to open next summer. According to the museum’s website, efforts to preserve the exhibit proved technically impossible.

Public criticism grew after photographs of the shattered exhibition made their way onto museum-related blogs.

In the open letter to Danielle Spera, director of the Vienna Jewish Museum since July, the critics said they expected colleagues to “show dignity and respect for their own institutional history. And the same dignity and respect should be shown to our colleagues and their work.”

According to the letter, the holograms “were among the most remarkable presentations of Jewish history in the world of Jewish museums and beyond.” They were designed to underscore the point that concrete cultural objects had been destroyed in the Holocaust.

Directors of Jewish museums in Germany, Belgium, Holland and Austria were among those who signed the letter.

Cilly Kugelmann, program director at the Jewish Museum Berlin, told JTA that she hoped the letter would raise awareness about the importance of preserving historic museum displays, even though they must sometimes make way for new innovations.

“One should not throw the old overboard,” she said.

Kugelmann, who said she was “shocked by the destruction,” said there had been no response to the letter.

On the museum’s website, Peter Menasse, director of the financial and organizational department, describes the holograms as a “trademark” exhibition that showed the history of Vienna Jewry, but that also were showing signs of wear and tear. He wrote that one slip and the safety glass used for the holograms shattered into thousands of pieces, tanking plans to preserve them.

In an interview and fashion shoot last year in the Austrian magazine First, Spera said it was her greatest wish to design a permanent exhibit that would show all facets of Jewish life in Austria.

Italy collecting Holocaust memorabilia for museums

The Italian government has launched a national campaign to collect material related to the Holocaust and Jewish history in Italy for inclusion in two new museums.

Called “Family Stories,” the campaign was launched Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and will run through June 30.

The campaign includes a series of television spots featuring celebrities asking individual Italians as well as institutions, companies, associations, foundations and other bodies to go through their possessions and donate photographs, documents and other relevant material they might find. People are asked to bring items to local government offices, which will send them for assessment and cataloguing by a group of experts.

Selected material will be included in the collections of two new museums under development—a state-run National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah in Ferrara, and a Museum of the Shoah in Rome.