May 29, 2007

High School Apprentice Graduation

2007 MJH High School Apprentices

This week, we held the graduation ceremony for our High School Apprentices -- one of my favorite events on the Museum's calendar. Why? Well, first, the kids are simply great -- inquisitive, eager, smart, grateful for the experience. Second, they bring their teachers and their families to share in their achievement. And, third, the whole program serves to energize my colleagues and me and helps to remind us of what important work we all do.

Here are the facts about the program: The High School Apprenticeship Program (HSAP) offers 15 New York City public high school students a program of work and study, during which they learn about Jewish heritage, the Holocaust, and what goes on "behind-the-scenes" at a museum. From February through May, Apprentices participate in after-school seminars twice a month, and from July through mid-August, Apprentices have full-time paid positions at the Museum. Through a close mentoring relationship with Museum staff, the 15 Apprentices explore the curatorial, educational, administrative, and operational sides of the Museum. The summer apprenticeship also includes film screenings, field trips, and leading tours for summer youth groups.

Each year, the kids nominate one of their colleagues to deliver some remarks on behalf of the class. This year Natalia Piland was chosen. Here is a photograph of Natalia and some excerpts from her speech, which was delivered with poise and warm feeling:

I have to say that these last four months have been incredibly delightful in every way. In such a short span of time, we’ve gotten to know each other and to learn how to work together in a way that a lot of people don’t manage after years of working together. Through the different things we’ve done in this program, such as bringing in our own artifacts and analyzing them, we’ve learned about each other’s heritage and our own—from Jewish to Mexican to Indian to yet other ethnicities from all over the world—at the same time as learning about how one can use these objects to tell a story.

During this time period, we were fortunate enough to hear a Holocaust Survivor, Sol Rosenkranz, give us his account of this time period, which was a new experience for many of us. It is quite a different thing to hear about history from a textbook than from someone who actually went through it- his testimony inspired many of us to ask fundamental questions about humanity and its capabilities and it will not be easily forgotten....

I think the thing that we have learnt from this program that is the most special is the concept of tikkun olam, or repair of the world. We have all come to interpret it in our own ways. To me, this phrase has become what I think about when I see small things around my school. When people say things without thinking about how it impacts those around them, it isn’t something that one can just ignore. I think of tikkun olam, and know that you can’t let everyone just defend themselves. Sometimes you have to step in and make sure people know that words have power, and they have to be used carefully. I think we can all agree that to try to repair the world, we have to accept each other for who we are, and to learn from each other. We have to protect each other from cruelty, and make sure that something like the Holocaust never happens again.

High School Apprentice Giving Tour

(Photos by Melanie Einzig)

May 16, 2007

Mission to Berlin and Poland

Krakow Main Square

Last night, we had a gathering at the Museum in advance of our Mission to Berlin and Poland taking place at the end of June. It has been 10 years since the last Mission, and the excitement is palpable. This trip has the potential to be life-changing for members of the Museum family who will be able to see the sites of Jewish culture and the shadows of once thriving Jewish life, visit concentration camps, and perhaps most important, share with their fellow travelers the meaning of a trip like this. I am especially thrilled to show them the synagogue in Oswiecim and the Auschwitz Jewish Center.

I am leading the trip along with Yitzchak Mais, founding curator of the Museum. As good friends, we have conspired to make this a very special journey indeed. We want to strike the right balance that every good trip should have – we want people to be enriched and to enjoy themselves.

Yitzchak is co-curator of our new exhibition on Jewish resistance, and the travelers in our group are privileged to be traveling through Eastern Europe with such a scholarly and knowledgeable guide. I look forward to returning to Berlin myself. I spent six years there, from 1988 to 1994, as the Director of the Berlin Document Center, where I managed the center’s 25 million Nazi-era personnel files, and subsequently oversaw the transfer of the center’s administration to the German government. Although I have been back to Berlin many times over the years, it is always a great pleasure to introduce this remarkable city with its layers of history to new people with whom you share a different part of your life.

If you are interested in joining the trip, there is still time. Contact Jilian Gersten at

(Photo: David G. Marwell)

Yom HaShoah

Lighting Candles of Remembrance

I wanted to let you all know about an extraordinary event that took place at the Museum on April 15th -- Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Commemoration Day). More than 1100 Holocaust survivors and their families braved one of the fiercest storms in modern memory to come to the Museum and take part in the Annual Gathering of Remembrance. I think my report on this remarkable event is a particularly fitting way to inaugurate this Blog since it represents the essence of our Museum.

I will include in this post an excerpt from my remarks at the Annual Gathering as well as some photographs from the event.
The cycle of the year has brought us to this place once again. Each of us has followed a different path, and each has brought our own history, our own memories, and our own hopes for the future. We have all come here to be together with one another, and, in some paradoxical way, we have each also come together to be alone. We have come together to be alone with our thoughts, our prayers, and some of us have come to be alone with the last distant memory of loved ones long gone.

We are drawn to come together this afternoon because we share a common determination – a determination like a stone that has been formed by the weight of sorrow and the pressure of memory – a determination that compels us to remember and to honor.

We remember and honor those whose names we know and those whose names have been lost. We remember and honor whole communities that were destroyed, a way of life that is no more. We remember and honor a vast potential for life and achievement that could not take root and flourish.

Annual Gathering of Remembrance Edmond J. Safra Hall

Ladies and gentlemen, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, was created from that same determination. It is our mission each day to be a place of memory and honor, but on this day we feel the responsibility and the determination with the greatest devotion and commitment.

It is fitting then that we should, on this day, also dedicate a new exhibition in this Museum, an exhibition which has the power to change the way that the public thinks about Jews and the Holocaust. No one who visits this exhibition will ever again believe that Jews were passive victims. We believe that there is no more important way to serve the memory of those who perished or to honor those who survived than by showing the broad sweep and varied nature of Jewish defiance in the face of unprecedented assault. This exhibition is a labor of love and respect, and of memory and honor.

Ladies and gentlemen, as some of you may know, the idea of this Museum was born at a Yom Hashoah commemoration more than a quarter century ago. As Mayor Ed Koch watched the candle lighting ceremony, which we will all witness in a few minutes, he reflected that there would come a time when no survivors would be there to light candles or to tell their stories. He resolved at that moment to create in New York City a Holocaust memorial, and the Museum, as a living memorial, was the result....

Henry Kissinger addressing the Gathering

(photos by Melanie Einzig)