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Museum History

Mission Statement

The Jewish Museum Milwaukee is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history of the Jewish people in southeastern Wisconsin and celebrating the continuum of Jewish heritage and culture. The history of American Jews is rooted in thousands of years of searching for freedom and equality. We are committed to sharing this story and the life lessons it brings with it, so that we may enhance the public’s awareness and appreciation of Jewish life and culture.

The Milwaukee Jewish Archives grew out of the “Roots Committee” of the Women’s Division of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. In 1986, the Archives were founded to assemble documentary evidence of the history of Jewish people in Milwaukee.

In a 1986 brochure, the Milwaukee Jewish Archives were described as “a chain that unites the Milwaukee Jewish community with the historic past – a link that will create the vital connection to the Jewish community of the future.” In November 1988, the Archives mounted a first public exhibit: A Century of Jewish Life in Milwaukee, 1850-1950.

In addition to active collecting, the Milwaukee Jewish Archives promoted tours of the “old neighborhood,” and presented an exhibit on Yiddish theater in Milwaukee. By 1992 its resources included 128 family collections and over 1500 photographs from the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

In 1995, the Milwaukee Jewish Archives celebrated the men and women who served in World War II with a major exhibit entitled We Were There…World War II: The Milwaukee Jewish Experience, which was later published as a book. In 1998, reflecting the expanding functions of the organization, the Archives were renamed the Milwaukee Jewish Historical Society (MJHS), and Marianne Lubar became its first president.

As the new millennium began, serious work was undertaken on a plan to create a museum to hold the collections, which now included over 300 oral histories, films, and artifacts. In 2001, Patrick Gallagher of Gallagher & Associates led focus groups throughout the community. Collecting and exhibiting continued. Together with several local organizations, a community-wide program Remembering Golda was presented in 2003. The MJHS launched its website in 2004, attracting researchers from all over the world who were able to interact with its resources without leaving their homes.

During this special year, the MJHS won the Wisconsin Governor’s Award for its creative website; its “Food of Memories” series linking recipes and personal histories drew wide audiences; and oral history interviewing continued.

Museum development moved from theoretical to practical with the renovation of the Helfaer Community Service Building, development of contracts with Gallagher and Associates, and the assembling of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee Board of Trustees. With the support of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation, space for the Jewish Museum Milwaukee was renovated and made available on the first floor of the Helfaer Community Service Building.

A docent program was inaugurated with intensive training sessions; the Milwaukee Jewish Federation announced a $1 million endowment gift from the estate of Jacob Bernheim to ensure the continuity of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

On April 28, 2008, the Jewish Museum Milwaukee opened to the public.