As your child embarks on bar/bat mitzvah preparation, you may want to do more than describe Jewish history and culture. An interactive lesson can teach beyond words. It may be time to head to The Jewish Museum (TJM), the oldest museum of its kind in the world. Located in the elegant, century-old Warburg Mansion on Museum Mile in Manhattan, The Jewish Museum is the ideal place to explore the Jewish experience with grandparents and great-grandparents, parents and children. It provides the opportunity to discuss and learn. The Museum itself and the people who visit tell stories, a powerful way to pass down values and tradition.
The Jewish Museum is an art and culture museum. It’s about more than the artistic expression of Jewish people throughout history. Anne Scher, director of communications, emphasizes, “It’s important to take time to read the text ... to understand the story.” Scher explains that the exhibitions in the Museum attempt to tell the story of the evolution of modern Jewish identity with art. “Wherever Jews lived, they adapted to the majority culture.” The story depicted is one of cultural identity, not religious identity, although one might argue that, in the case of Judaism, the two are often intertwined. Nonetheless, the displays remain accessible to all and appeal to people from many different backgrounds.
An exhibit called, “Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey,” which tells the unfolding story of Jewish culture and identity through 800 works of art, takes up most of the permanent collection on the third and fourth floors of the building. Filled with beautiful artifacts and interesting quotes, this display attempts to describe how Judaism survived through the centuries, often under difficult or tragic circumstances. Judaism has often questioned and reinterpreted itself. Sharing these ideas with your children helps keep Jewish ideals relevant for the next generation. The Museum recognizes that stories of Jewish heritage must be remembered, appreciated and passed down to the future Jewish community.
In that vein, taking your family to TJM is an exercise in history, culture and tolerance. From the depiction of the first Jews arriving here in 1654 to the present day, Jews fleeing religious persecution have contributed to the Jewish culture in the United States. The museum does not skirt around the issue of a Jewish homeland in Israel, but recognizes contributions of Jews around the world. A sign displayed in the museum clearly states, “… arrivals continue to enrich the American Jewish community.”
For the younger siblings who come along, don’t miss the Children’s Gallery, an interactive exhibit that includes an archaeological “dig” for young children, make-your-own zodiac plaque and an interesting (even to parents!) display comparing old (cars, toys, etc.) to new. The Museum also offers Vacation Week Art Workshops (Painted Passover Stories, April 6, 7 and 9) and occasional live concerts (Brady Rymer, April 19) for families.
The Jewish Museum is now offering free, eight-year memberships to recent bar and bat mitzvahs through a partnership with local synagogues. The program encourages young adults to continue their education and exploration of art and Jewish culture beyond the milestone of a bar/bat mitzvah, and to create a lifelong relationship with the Museum. Synagogues can take advantage of this opportunity to obtain gift memberships at no cost, to present to member youth upon becoming bar/bat mitzvah. Each gift includes a special certificate, which entitles the recipient to membership privileges from ages 13 through 21 and admission for themselves and two accompanying adults, as well as all the benefits of a Museum membership (usually a $180 value). Contact your local synagogue to encourage participation in this exciting new program sharing art and Jewish culture with families.
The Jewish Museum, located at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street in Manhattan, is open six days a week, closed on Wednesdays. Saturday admission is free for the Jewish Sabbath, but keep in mind that interactive and money-related features (e.g. the museum shop) will be unavailable.
For information about having your bar mitzvah celebration at the museum ($10,000 donation required), and other general information, check out their website at thejewishmuseum.org.
Elisa Bremner is a frequent contributor to Westchester Family.