September 10, 2007

9/11 and our 10th Anniversary

The Museum and the World Trade Center
(Photo by Peter Goldberg)

The Museum was dedicated on September 11, 1997, and this week, along with remembering the sixth anniversary of 9/11, we are marking the tenth anniversary of the Museum. Last week, I received an email from Jonathan Mark, one of the most thoughtful and talented writers at The Jewish Week, and in the entire Anglo-Jewish press, for that matter. Jonathan enters my thoughts each year around this time because I got to know him in September 2001, when we were both invited to participate in a study trip to Germany, sponsored by the German government, which included participating in the opening of the Berlin Jewish Museum on September 10th. We were in Leipzig on the afternoon of 11th, and had just toured the Gewandthaus, when we learned by cell phone of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Our group, including John Silber, the former president of Boston University, was scheduled to return to the US the next day. We were forced, however, to remain in Germany through the next weekend, and some, Jonathan included, remained through Rosh Hashanah.

I got back to the US on Monday, September 17, spent Rosh Hashanah with my family in Washington, and returned to New York on September 20th. It was then that I met with our Chairman, Robert Morgenthau, and it was then when he told me to get the Museum open as soon as possible and to move forward with the construction of our new wing.

Anyway, Jonathan Mark wrote a quick note last week to thank me and my colleagues for helping him with a story he was doing on our special exhibition, The Other Promised Land. After the thanks, his note concluded:

My admiration keeps growing for the museum's coverage of the Jewish experience, beyond the Shoah, and I very much appreciate how helpful you've always been. Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabbos folks would be proud of you. Of all the Holocaust memorials and museums I've seen, no one but MJH has that Oyneg Shabbos sensitivity for capturing the sweet essence and small pleasures of Jewish life that was and that is. You all do a tremendous job.

Children's Calendar (Ringelblum Archives)

Jonathan, likely had no idea how especially meaningful his comments were, but he paid us the highest compliment imaginable. He might not have remembered that in September 2001 we were actively working on our special exhibition, Scream the Truth at the World: Emanuel Ringelblum and the Hidden Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto , which is about Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabbos, a group that met secretly to collect and to record details about the lives of Jews in Poland under Nazi domination. The collection was buried in tin boxes and milk cans, only to be recovered after the war (there remains an undiscovered and presumably irretrievably lost cache). The original artifacts, lent for the first time outside of Poland, were scheduled to arrive on 9/11 and were delayed several weeks. For reasons that I cannot adequately articulate, our exhibition on Ringelblum struck a deeply resonant chord with all of us at the Museum when we opened it in November, and my colleagues and I will forever identify the tragedy of 9/11 and its aftermath in some significant way with our work on Ringelblum.

And the link with Ringelblum has been deepened since we opened Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust, which places the work of Oyneg Shabbos in the context of the Jewish response to the Holocaust. In June, during our mission to Germany and Poland, we visited the Jewish Historical Institute, and were invited into the vault there by the director,Lena Bergman, and given the rare opportunity to view originals from the Ringelblum Archive and see the milk can in which they had been buried and in which they outlived their creators and survived to tell their story. For many, it was their first and likely their only opportunity to see these originals. It was for me like visiting old friends, for these documents had hung on our walls in the months following 9/11.

Jonathan’s note came at the right time; I can’t imagine a better way to sum up our first ten years as an institution...

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