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  • Writer's pictureTamanna Mohapatra

American Jewish Museum NYC

Hidden in the upper east (at least to my eyes) is a jewel of a museum.  I pride myself to being a very secular person even though I have my own faith and spiritual beliefs; yet I didn’t know so much basic details about such a major world religion. The visit was quite an eye opener.

Here are a few things I learnt:

They had a beautiful artist exhibition by a famous Brooklyn Jewish artist called Ezra Keats. I am sure many of us are familiar with his work if not with him. He’s the best selling author of The Snowy Day , one of the most important children’s literature authors and illustrators of the 20th Century. He is best remembered for introducing multiculturalism into mainstream American children’s literature and for using an urban setting for his stories.

The three floors of the museum covered the birth of the jewish religion all the way to it’s modern day values and importance. Each of the halls was a gift from a famous NY jewish personality such ranging from mayor Bloomberg to Jordan Weissman.

Some of the key terms I learnt on the jewish religion that I wasn’t aware of earlier includes:

  1. Shabbat: It’s the concept of granting every man, woman and child (no matter what the social status), one day of leave in every seven. It’s one of Judaism’s great legacies. It’s time set aside to seek spiritual renewal through prayer.

  2. Synagogue: Did you know how it’s separate from a temple? I always thought it was the jewish equivalent of a temple. It was basically created to be a place for communal reading of the Torah. Temples were where the priests performed rituals and sacrifices on behalf of a population.

  3. Torah: It’s the source of jewish history and as well as the laws governing every aspect of life. Rabbis are the Torah’s scholars, teachers and interpreters.

  4. Hannukkah: Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is one of the most joyous times of the Jewish year. It is celebrated by lighting a menorah for eight nights with olive oil or wax candles; one on the first night and an additional one each succeeding night, so that the last night

  5. Menorah: it’s the pretty jewish candle stands that holds eight candles, used in celebrating Hanukkah.

  6. Exodus, Covenant, Law and Land : These are the four fundamental themes on which jewish history rests.

The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951 at the Jewish Museum This gem of a show features the work of photographers affiliated with the Photo League, an organization founded in New York in the 1930s that sought to pull photography away from purely aesthetic concerns and into chronicling issues related to poverty and inequity. The exhibition could not be more timely. It kicks off with a 1930s newsreel that shows laborers demanding unemployment as a title card reads: “Two billion dollars of relief for the bankers and industrialists.” (Sound familiar?)

There was another very inspiring photography exhibit of photos of a gone era taken by famous photographers of jewish descent. Did you know of Sid Grossman? If so, good for you and good for me, because now I do. Each of the 150 black-and-white photographs, the exhibit chronicles the grinding poverty of the Depression, daily life during World War II and the rise of 1950s consumerism as viewed through the eyes of everyday people. The group had to disintegrate because they were thought communist by nature and therefore cold war regime targets. Fun learnings.

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