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“The Prophet Jeremiah” – A Tapestry by Marc Chagall

Featured in the Atrium Gallery

The Chagall Tapestry was designed especially for the atrium of the Evan and Marion Helfaer Community Service Building.  Marc Chagall graciously consented to design this work of art in 1972 after being contacted several times at his home near Nice by Albert B. Adelman.  Evan Helfaer commissioned it.

The $125,000 tapestry, unveiled on April 29, 1973, was the first tapestry by Chagall in the United States, and at that time, was one of ten Chagall tapestries in the world, including the three on display in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem.

Madame Yvette Cauquil-Prince, in whose Paris studio Turkish and Moroccan craftsman worked for eight months to produce the monumental wall piece, translated the small gouache, painted by Marc Chagall, into the 14 by 19 foot tapestry.  Mme. Cauquil-Prince was the sole person in the world that Chagall would allow to interpret his work in this medium.  With strands of colored wool close at hand, she traced the “cartoon” for the tapestry on the reverse side of the place on which the weavers worked.  Because the tapestry was woven upside down and backwards, the design was never seen from the front, either by Mme. Cauquil-Prince or the weavers until it had been completed and cut down.  It was then taken to the artist for final approval.

The tapestry is intended both as a representation of the history of the Jewish people and as a tribute to Israel’s Premier Golda Meir, who, like Marc Chagall, was born in Russia, where the suffering and persecution drove both to seek new lands and ideals where peace, understanding and freedom might be possible.

Marc Chagall himself interpreted the meaning of his tapestry:

“The image of the prophet tells of the history of the chosen people of God and in the pages are written the prophecies of Peace, of Wisdom, and of the comprehension between all the peoples of the earth for the future.”

“The red bird symbolized the joy and the hope and he seems to sing the Song of Songs.”

“The color red of the bird makes an allusion to the long sufferings of the Jewish people in their travels through the centuries, of their sacrifices and of their innocence.”

“In painting the woman, I have thought of the women of the Bible, of Madame Golda Meir, and of all the valiant women of the earth.  In depicting the other woman, my thoughts go to Madame Helfaer.”

“The blue represents the color of Hope and the new Israel.”

“The other bird, the blue, symbolizes the hope of life, of truth, and of good fortune for all humanity.”

“The moon, in another era in my life, permitted us to dream of a better future.”


Milwaukee Jewish Community Memorial to the Holocaust

Found outside the Museum

The Milwaukee Jewish Federation commissioned the Holocaust Memorial in 1983 in memory of the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.  Milwaukee-born artist, Claire Lieberman, designed it to be more than a beautiful sculpture.  It is a place where people can sit and contemplate and remember, as well as a place for teaching.  Every person finds their own meaning, but some symbolism is in the design to stir memories.

The cortan steel sheets give a book-like effect – symbolic of the Jewish people being the people of the book.  They also each bear the name of a concentration camp.  Not all camps are mentioned, but the representative group calls to mind the events of the time.  Lines weep from the letters as they have aged.  The steel is darkening with age but remain sturdy and solid.

The granite pillar is reminiscent of the smoke stacks of the crematoriums.  Near the bottom is a yellow band with a Star of David, similar to the yellow armbands Jews were forced to wear.  The Hebrew work “Zachor” means remember.  The top points to the sky to symbolize hope and the future.  The granite pillar stands tall and proud, signifying survival.

As one walks into the Memorial, the railroad ties recall the trains in which Jews were herded to the camps. As one sits in the Memorial, although it is open, it is protected from the street and forms a space of its own.  It is frequently used by community members and immigrants from the Soviet Union who lost family members in the Holocaust and have no cemetery or place to visit.  They bring flowers and place them in front of the pillar, and they sit on the benches and they remember.