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Museum Musings

A Night at the Round Table

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Our Seder table had no head, no foot, no place of honor, no place of shame. And so, though there were several dignitaries and leaders seated at the table, in our conversation no one was more important than anyone else. Freedom yields equality. Around our table, in freedom, all spoke from the heart with candor, humility, and conviction. All comments and questions were received with grace.

The ancient story of Israel’s ancestors, freed from slavery in Egypt, reminded us of our own “enslavements” and longings for freedom. For the ancient story is repeated in one way or another in the lives of all people. The story’s relevance to our particular lives became more obvious and more poignant with each performance on the Freedom Seder’s program. Music, poetry, testimonials, and stories fueled our longings for freedom for ourselves and for all: freedom from and freedom for, especially freedom for peace and justice, mutual respect and deeds of kindness; and freedom from burdens weighing down our psyches and families as well as freedom from our society’s penchant for greed, cruelty, violence, and injustice – society’s sins that keep us all, directly or indirectly, in bondage. zones of peace

As the ancient story of the Exodus was told - and retold in relation to today’s issues - I was filled with gratitude for the Jewishness of my Christian faith. As stories and songs gave urgency and drama to contemporary issues, I was in holy communion with those most affected by each: the stubbornness of racism, the indignities foisted on LGBTQ minorities, the crush of poverty, the struggles of students and their educators, the indifference received by artists, the sorrow of a people identified by holocaust and oppression. I witnessed small steps toward peace and justice being taken around our table as the Rabbi to my right and the Pentecostal Christian to my left asked questions of one another, searching for understanding and common ground.

I was at that table because I am a consultant with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, coordinating the Zones of Peace initiative for the Religious Leaders Council. The RLC includes the leaders of more than 30 religious traditions representing more than 2 million constituents in our region and committed to interfaith understanding and cooperation. Through the Zones of Peace initiative, the RLC honors congregations, organizations, and institutions whose efforts reduce violence and build better communities. The National Museum of American Jewish History is one of more than 50 organizations to be recognized as a “Zone of Peace.” The Freedom Seder is an outstanding example of the efforts that garnered this honor for the Museum, and this year served as the perfect backdrop to officially acknowledge the Museum as a Zone of Peace and to present them with their banner. I loved it and will be back.
“Next year in…”

John Hougen, Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia
Coordinator - Zones of Peace

So, what does freedom mean to you?

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Working on my new project for the Museum, Scattered Light, I was exposed to many personal associations and stories that arise when one is asked:Liat Segal  “What does freedom mean to you?” In Scattered Light, I use phrases taken from the Museum’s It’s Your Story recording booths, which invites visitors to record their answers to various questions. I write this post after long hours of video watching and feel that now it’s my turn to stop and answer this question myself.

The museum recording booth yields a spectrum of associations connected to freedom, from theoretical thoughts to extremely personal stories. My immediate association is very specific: the freedom to create. To create my art and to re-create myself.

About four years ago I re-created and redefined myself. After years in the academy and the high-tech industry, I started creating art. Back then I was working in a great group at a leading software company. I loved my colleagues, my research interested me, and the working conditions were amazing. It was all great, and at the same time something in me felt uncomfortable. So I created.

I started using the tools I had learned, but changed their contexts. I learned electronics and added new techniques to my toolbox. It took me a few years until I was able to say, when asked about my profession, that “I am an artist.” At first I was insecure about my steps but I was lucky enough to be surrounded by an encouraging environment. Lucky to have the emotional space, the physical ability and the support to create. There are still many open questions as I make my first steps into a new world, but I feel that the fact that one has the opportunity to redefine himself means optimism. This change did not happen overnight, but once the process started, for the first time I felt I was in the right place.

By Liat Segal, Artist

Photo by Jessi Melcer

Life in a Jar

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Below, is a blogpost written by one of three students who took part in a National History Day in 1999. Megan Felt (then Megan Stewart performed in “Life in a Jar”, a play that will be shown at the Museum two times. The first time will be just for students and the second for the general public.

Life in a Jar  

irina sendlerIn the fall of 1999, a rural Kansas teacher encouraged three students to work on a year-long National History Day project which would, among other things, extend the boundaries of the classroom to families in the community, contribute to history learning, teach respect and tolerance, and meet our classroom motto, “He who changes one person, changes the world entire.”

Two ninth graders, Megan Stewart, Elizabeth Cambers, and an eleventh grader, Sabrina Coons, accepted the challenge and decided to enter a project in the National History Day program. The inspiration was a short clipping from a March 1994 issue of News and World Report their teacher had shared with them which said, "Irena Sendler saved many children and adults from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942." Her network saved many children from the Ghetto, and provided hiding locations for over 2,000 of them. The teacher, Mr. Conard, also told the girls the article might be a typographical error, since he had not heard of this woman or story. The students began their research and looked for primary and secondary sources throughout the year. This research project would become their National History Day Project, a performance called Life in a Jar.

The students wrote Life in a Jar (in which they portrayed the life of Irena Sendler. They have since performed this program hundreds of times for numerous clubs and civic groups in the community, around the state of Kansas, all over North America and in Europe. Their small Kansas community had little diversity and no Jewish students in the school district. The community was inspired by the project and sponsored an Irena Sendler Day. The students began to search for the final resting place of Irena and discovered she was still alive and living in Warsaw, Poland.  Irena's story was unknown world-wide, even though she had received esteemed recognition from Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum in Israel) in 1965 and support from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous in New York City
. Forty-five years of communism had buried her story, even in her own country.

From that time on they would take a jar to every performance and collect funds for Irena and other Polish rescuers, which also inspired the name, Life in a Jar. The significance of this project really started to grow with community support. Community contacts assisted the students in sending funds to Poland for the care of Irena and of other rescuers. They wrote Irena and she wrote dozens of deeply meaningful letters to them, with such comments as, "my emotion is being shadowed by the fact that my co-workers have all passed on, and these honors fall to me.  I can't find words to thank you, for my own country and the world to know of the bravery of rescuers. Before the day you had written Life in a Jar, the world did not know our story; your performance and work is continuing the effort I started over fifty years ago. You are my dearly beloved ones."

Irena passed away on May 12, 2008. She was buried in a Warsaw, Poland cemetery. Her family and many of the rescued children continue to tell her story of courage and valor. The Life in a Jar students continue to share her legacy through the play, this web site, through schools and study guides, and world media.


In 2009 the Hallmark Hall of Fame produced The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler for CBS. There is also an award-winning book available about the girls and Irena called, "Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project."



Singing a New Song

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placingtallisRecently, I had the distinct privilege of participating in the ceremony at NMAJH in which Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D. was inaugurated as the President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities. More than 300 guests from all aspects of the movement and its allies celebrated this historic occasion—the sixth president of the RRC and the first woman to lead one of the major movements of Judaism.
Of course, the National Museum of American Jewish History is not affiliated with any denominational movement, though we teach a bit about the history of each in our core exhibition. We are proud that the Museum daily presents the story of Mordechai Kaplan and the foundations of the distinctly American Reconstructionist movement. Many of the themes of the movement are explored more broadly in our exhibition—democracy, inclusion, and facing head-on the choices and challenges of American Jewry in the modern era. Just as we look at Jewish tradition, we explore how those traditions have been changed and adapted over time, pointing to the innovation, creativity and resourcefulness of the community. In celebrating Rabbi Waxman’s inauguration, the Museum didn’t only teach history, we witnessed and participated in its enactment. What an honor!
Perhaps the most moving part of a very powerful ceremony was when youngsters from the Camp JRF sang accapella “Zeh hayom.” Or maybe it was when Rabbi Waxman articulated her vision for the future, or when RRC faculty member Jacob Staub recited a poem he had written for the occasion, which began: “Rejoice, O women of Judah./Sing the song of autumn leaves,/arrayed in a shuk of stunning colors/proclaiming the dramatic change of seasons…” It may have been when all the assembled sang from Psalm 96:1-2, a shir hadash—a new song.
May the Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Rabbi Dr. President Deborah Waxman go from strength to strength.

Written by Ivy Barsky, CEO and Gwen Goodman Director
Image: Seth Rosen, Chair, Community Engagement Committee, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
Hon. Abraham Clott, Chair, Congregational Services Committee, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
Judith Spatz, Chair, Jewish Reconstructionist Camping Corporation
Susan Beckerman, Vice Chair, Board of Governors, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
David Roberts, Chair, Board of Governors, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Kugel Kupcakes

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With Rosh Hashanah just around the corner, I have begun to cook and freeze entrees and side dishes for our annual family festivities. Hosting 25 adults, plus their accompanying children, requires as much preparation in advance as possible. These individual kugels are easy to make, freeze well, and toast up nicely. The individualizing also ensures my husband won’t scoop up more than his share, leaving our guests without the yummy goodness that is savory kugel.

The process of making this dish reminds me of raising my son. It starts with tears. Tears from the joy of his birth and starting our family, and tears from chopping the onions. Cooking the mushrooms slowly, letting the essences develop into a sauce that will flavor the entire dish, is like teaching my son that being a good person will lead him to have a good life. Adding the sour cream adds tangy sweetness to the kugel, as each night’s bed time routine is sweetened with a new book or extra snuggle. And the noodles. The noodles must be well seasoned to balance all the flavors, just as I try to season my son by educating him about other cultures and customs, helping him grow into a well-balanced adult. Without the eggs, what would hold the kugel together? Their protein rich goodness holds everything together as children hold families together. Sure, both kugel and families can be made without this ‘glue,’ but for me, both are essential.

Kugel Kupcakes
Makes approx. 36 individual kugels, or two 9”x13”x2” casseroles Mushrooms

3 large onions, chopped into ½” pieces
24 oz sliced crimini mushrooms
5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 tablespoon truffle oil – optional, but really adds flavor
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
16 oz. sour cream
16 oz. large curd cottage cheese
2 large eggs
Two 16 oz bags of Wide Egg Noodles

More salt as needed

1. Cook egg noodles according to package directions, but add the tablespoon of salt to the water. After you drain, toss with truffle oil.

2. Heat oven to 400 F.

3. Heat a saute pan over medium with 2 tablespoons of veg. oil, add onions and a sprinkle of salt to get them to sweat. Cook 5-7 minutes, tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Pour into large bowl and set aside. 

4. Re-heat the same pan with 1 tablespoon of oil and add 1/3 of the mushrooms and another sprinkle of salt. Saute slowly, turning only once browned. If you try to cook all of the mushrooms at once, there is a good chance they will be too crowded to brown. Add to the onions in the big bowl, and repeat twice with the remaining thirds of the mushrooms.
kugel kupcakes 

5. Add the sour cream, cottage cheese, and pepper to the mushroom and onions. Mix well. Add the eggs last to ensure they don’t get scrambled. Now pour in the truffled egg noodles and fold to coat evenly.

6. Use a muffin tin, filling each cup all the way with the mixture. Or pour into two casserole dishes.

7. Bake at 400F for 25 min, or until lightly browned on top.

8. Allow to cool on the counter for 1 hr. Loosen the individual kugels by running a knife along the edge, then place into a tupperwear and head to the freezer. The casseroles can be left in their dishes if they are freezer safe.

9. To reheat, place individual kugels on sheet tray and place in oven preheated to 350 F for 20 min, or until heated through. Casseroles make take up to 40 min to re-heat.


Written by Ebony Goldsmith, Assistant to Marketing and Communications 

Introducing Martha

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Hello there friends,

I love to say the acronym NMAJH like it's a new fragrance by L'Oreal.  Namaajjhh.  With a little aspirated breath at the end.  Namaste.  Nor'easter.  Nom de plume.

Martha on the Corbu ChaiseI, Martha Graham-Cracker, couldn't be more thrilled to announce that I was invited to create a cabaret in conversation with the collection at the NMAJH (or National Museum of American Jewish History).  I will be premiering that cabaret, entitled IT'S HIGH TIME I SAID SOMETHING, the first weekend of December 2014 -- this is your first warning.  I am putting together this really BIG SHOE in BIG SHOES with Andrew Nelson (bassist extraordinaire) as musical director and Elizabeth Stevens as director.  There will be a set design!  There will be a bar!  There will be a roving spotlight!  There will be six musicians backing my humble voice in a sumptuous manner!  I can hardly believe it....

I guess I should back up and explain a few

Why Martha at the Jewish Museum?

When I was asked to work at the Museum, the powers-that-be of NMAJH called it an "intervention."  Of course you say "intervention" and I instantly think of those times when you had to sit Uncle Joe down with all the family present and tell him he needs professional help.  But no no!   Context clues! As part of their "Open for Interpretation" Series, the Museum is aiming, with this "intervention," to encourage a conversation between what is presented within the Museum walls and a living breathing artiste. 

My first reaction to the collection was that of being overwhelmed.  So much to absorb in the collection.  So much to talk about in relation to the Jewish story in America.  My own dear mother, Isadora Duncan Hines, is the product of Russian Jewish emigres*.  (*So I'm Jewish.)  And Emily August, my "handler" from the Museum staff and Director of Public Programs, really gave me free rein with regards to how the cabaret addressed all things Jewish and American.  But she did hand me a key that unlocked the themes of the cabaret for me.   

That key was a DVD called BROADWAY MUSICALS:  A JEWISH LEGACY.  And it really did blow my mind.  And bring back some foggy memories.  Without the Jews, where would Broadway be, I ask you?  Nowheresville.  The history of the musical in America is woven tightly to Jewish-American composers.  Many of whom I kissed; now's my chance to tell.

So I, Martha, like Scheherazade, will weave a tale in song, this cabaret narrating my own interventions in the history of 20th century musicals, the men who wrote them, and how I did my part to give them the best advice possible, in bed and out.  Whether it was telling Lenny (Leonard Bernstein) to name his protagonist in WEST SIDE STORY Maria and not Martha (as much as that flattered me) or giving Stephen Sondheim the rhyme "a matinee, a Pinter play" over Sunday breakfast, I will finally come clean about how important I have been, what an enormous impact I have made, in the forging of the American musical.  


For information on OPEN for Interpretation click here

Two Kinds of Rescues

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rescueI had the privilege of watching the documentary, “Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust” at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH). It tells a story of how the moral courage of an influential few saved the lives of 1,300 Jewish people in Nazi Europe in the days leading to World War II.

To be honest, I did not already know much about Jewish history aside from what I have read in the bible, and what I have seen in movies like Schindler’s List and The Diary of Anne Frank. So when I heard about the Philippines’ participation in this important and controversial piece of history, I was not sure what to expect. I just knew that I had enough curiosity and skepticism in my head. “Why do more non-Filipinos know more about this part of history than Filipinos? How come I’ve never heard about this? I don’t think any of my teachers talked about this in history class.”

vicky 2After watching the film, I had mixed emotions. I was moved to tears. In my own little way, I wanted to do my part and help spread this jewel of a film by showing it to my family and friends.

The Philippines' part in this humanitarian mission—a story that was not written in history books nor taught in schools—was astonishing. Despite the country’s struggles in gaining its own independence from the US during the WWII era, it was able to help Jewish refugees gain hope and freedom. It was truly an honor to learn more about the real-life story of these untold heroes, who inspired me their faith, courage, and humility. They came from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, but they worked together towards a common goal: to save lives, and to do the right thing.

If most people use their power, money, and influence the right way, would our world be a much better place? vicky 3

During the panel discussion, I found myself standing in the middle of a big crowd, sharing my thoughts and feelings about the film. I was surprised to hear a big round of applause. It was humbling. But what amazed me was how many people approached me and talked to me about how they were moved by my positive insights.

vicky 4I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Robert Levin, NMAJH’s Community Relations Liaison, whom I describe as a “modern-day rescuer”. In his own way, he continues to save Jewish history and culture by liberating the minds of youth, by bringing together the Jewish community and other surrounding communities., and by welcoming people from around the world.

He also gave me an opportunity to take a special tour of the museum with my father and my aunt who were visiting from the Philippines. Robert’s passion and knowledge are truly inspiring. I really got interested in Jewish contributions to our nation, their impact on the rest of the world, and the links that help bind disparate cultures. I believe the story of their journey, struggles, sacrifices, triumphs, and continuous contribution to humanity could inspire and enlighten many nations.

"Whoever saves one life saves the world entire." - the Talmud

By Vicky Faye B. Aquino, Master of Arts in Art & Design Education, The University of the Arts