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Engaged and Relevant: The Role of Jewish Museum Milwaukee

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Engaged and Relevant: The Role of Jewish Museum Milwaukee

dsc0801-version-2Wow! Three years. It really doesn’t seem possible that I have been at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee for three whole years. They say that time flies when you are having fun, and if you consider fun the ability to learn, grow, converse, contemplate and create; then I have certainly had my share at JMM.

The people, the programs, the exhibits, the education programs and the special events all make each day meaningful and unique. I am awed by the talent of the staff and interns, inspired by the passion of the board, docents and exhibit committees, touched by our visitors’ stories, thankful for treasured donations to the archives, warmed by the thousands of school children who visit, grateful to our loyal members and encouraged by the donors and all who believe in what we do.

JMM is strong today because of this collective passion, vision and dedication.

JMM occupies a unique niche in the museum world in Milwaukee. We use the Jewish experience to build bridges between groups of people and between eras. We live our tagline “Where Conversations Happen” by looking at multiple perspectives of a topic or issue, by partnering with diverse organizations, by asking visitors to use critical thinking skills to contemplate commonalities and differences of a particular subject over time. The board and staff of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee met this fall and after considerable discussion, data gathering, and reflection put to writing our collective understanding of what we see as JMM’s impact in the Jewish community, Greater Milwaukee community, South Eastern Wisconsin schools and residents, and even national audiences.

“Use the Jewish experience in Milwaukee and beyond to connect and create dialogue on relevant critical issues and to inspire and transform visitors.”

dsc0801-version-2We certainly had that goal in mind when we decided to exhibit Allied in the Fight: Jews, Blacks and the Struggle for Civil Rights and related programming this past winter. The intent was to share the history of these two groups as it relates to the Civil Rights movement and the Fair Housing marches of 50 years ago. We were also intent on building bridges between the two communities and two eras. The exhibit engaged the national and local alliances between African Americans and Jews historically, during and after the 1960s, and contemplated issues that are relevant today. Programs explored redlining, segregation then and now, and contemplated actions needed for moving forward toward effecting positive change. The exhibit and programs fittingly ended with an African American Jewish Freedom Seder. Twenty City of Milwaukee schools were subsidized so they could bring their classes to learn about the Civil Rights era of 50 years ago. One thousand nine hundred students learned about this important time period. Diverse audiences came to the nine sold-out programs. These programs demonstrated that the audiences were hungry for information and open dialogue – wanting to understand Milwaukee’s history and to take actions to change the status quo.

One visitor commented, “My first time at this museum and it was powerful and inspiring about the past and present of this state. Don’t change too much, we have lots to do!” Another stated: “Beautiful exhibition. Two voices that can only build off each other.”

dsc0801-version-2The remount of Stitching Histories From the Holocaust, is at its essence stories about the human toll and talent lost during the Holocaust. The stories of three families with local ties personalizes the enormity of the Holocaust. JMM added a timeline to the exhibit which highlights immigration laws and anti-Semitic activity from the 1920s to 1950s. The three families’ watershed moments complete the timeline – asking visitors to contemplate the personal toll laws and public opinion had on the outcomes of these three families.

Programs for the exhibit look at the historical context like the Diaspora in China: German and Polish Refugees in Shanghai on August 7. JMM will also provide context for the rise of nationalism and immigration issues of today. On July 11, former United States Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro will explore the rise of nationalism in relation to his family’s story of immigration from Czechoslovakia in 1940 and the return of populism and nationalism in the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe today. Darryl Morin will present Contemporary Issues in Latino Immigration on July 25. These presentations will offer historical threads, impart new knowledge, and spur thoughtful conversation.

This October, with our most ambitious exhibit to date, JMM will consider the question that echoed through the United States in the 1940s and 1950s: Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

dsc0801-version-2JMM’s originally curated Blacklist: Hollywood’s Red Scare explores the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigation of alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens and organizations suspected of having communist ties. Driven by fear of the spread of global communism, HUAC demanded that actors, writers and directors declare if they ever had communist ties and to name others who may have communist affiliations. HUAC and its supporters espoused that it was a citizen’s patriotic duty to share their political affiliation and to identify others’ associations. Those who refused to declare their affiliation or to name names felt they were the defenders of the First Amendment Rights of Free Speech and Assembly.

I hope you were impacted and maybe even transformed by the exhibits and programs of the past year, as I was. I certainly hope you join us this fall as we contemplate and discuss the definition of patriotism. We hope school children explore the exhibit and partake in workshops to learn more about their First Amendment rights. Thank you to all of you for making my first three years memorable, transformative, insightful and treasured. Please join us again and again, for only through shared discourse and learning can we make a difference.

Patti Sherman-Cisler
Executive Director

9 cheers for 9 years

dsc0801-version-2Jewish Museum Milwaukee has accomplished a lot in our first nine years—join us in celebrating NINE things that we want to cheer about. Which is your favorite?

1. Stitching History From the Holocaust

This award-winning exhibit has been in five venues, and been seen by tens of thousands of visitors; it earned international media coverage and spun off projects as diverse as a one-act play and designs inspired by Hedy.

2. Over 16,000 student visitors

JMM has worked with students from throughout the state and beyond (as far away as Israel, Germany, China, and Malawi!). With each group tour, we have the opportunity to help young visitors better understand Jewish history and peoplehood. One 8th grade student said, dsc0801-version-2This experience is going to affect me in life, because whenever I see something that’s wrong or I see an individual infecting people’s minds, I will speak out against it and not let it go any further. The lesson I’ll take with me is to not let people control me or anyone.” Multiply this times 16,000 and you can understand the importance of the work we do!

3. Three-time winner of the Governor’s Archives Award

The backbone of the museum is our archives, which has been collecting materials since 1986. JMM’s Archives and volunteers have been recognized three times with the prestigious Governor’s Award for Archival Excellence for documenting local cemeteries done by Penny Deshur, the availability of archival resources on the website, and for Stitching History From the Holocaust exhibit.

4. Published two book – third in processdsc0801-version-2

With the publication of John Gurda’s book in 2009, One People, Many Paths: A History of Jewish Milwaukee, JMM jumped into the world of publishing. This was the first comprehensive history of Milwaukee’s Jewish community that was published since 1963. JMM also published a catalog to correspond with Stitching History From the Holocaust and is in the process of creating a catalogue for the upcoming Adolph Rosenblatt exhibit.

5. Significant Media Coverage

We make NEWS, real news with our eclectic collections and special exhibits. Of course Stitching History generated some interesting national coverage, including features in the New York Times and PBS Newshour. But we have also been highlighted in national Jewish media like Tablet and The Forward. We truly appreciate our local coverage through MPTV ArtsPage, WUWM Lake Effect, the Shepherd Express, and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, all of which drives visitors to our museum and increases our exposure throughout Southeastern Wisconsin.

6. More than 300 programsdsc0801-version-2

In 9 years, we have hosted over 300 programs! They run the gamut from the first ever Milwaukee Mah Jongg Tournament to Lost Music from the Holocaust with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, from Bud Selig sharing his baseball history to Bob Reitman talking about Bob Dylan. We have featured academics, artists, and filmmakers. People have shared hidden history, expertise, and personal memories. Thousands of people have come to these events and have left with new information, insight and understanding. This is the cornerstone of our tagline—“Where Conversations Happen”

7. Digitized 15,000 historic images collected from Milwaukee families

With more than three decades of collecting under our belt, JMM has a lot of IMAGES in our collection—15,000 of them to be somewhat exact. Last summer, we embarked on a largescale project to make these pieces more accessible, which started by scanning them all. We now have a number of interns and volunteers working to tag these pieces, with the hopes of getting them up on the internet. Let us know if you are interested in helping with this project.

8. Oral Histories collecteddsc0801-version-2

We have been collecting oral history testimonies for over thirty years. To date, we have over 500 videos that document the evolution of Milwaukee’s Jewish community and continue its traditions. Here are some of the notable names that we have collected: Alfred Bader, Betsy Green, Bob Habush, Sheldon Lubar, Steve Marcus, Esther Leah Ritz, Marty Stein, and Elmer Winter.

9. 20 Special Exhibits

What other museum has highlighted everything from Chagall’s Bible prints to Jews Who Rock, from common knowledge like baseball to undiscovered history like that of Mildred Fish Harnack, the only American executed on direct orders of Adolf Hitler. Each exhibit has allowed our staff and volunteers to develop themes and ideas that strengthen the understanding of Jewish life and the human spirit. Learn more about all of past exhibits here. We certainly will not be resting on our laurels in this arena. Under the leadership of our exhibit committee, JMM recently formalized its calendar for the next two years. Here is your early (cryptic) preview: Adolph Rosenblatt, Shabbat, Civil Rights, Stitching History, Blacklist.