By Ellen Premack, Executive Director
Peering back into our archives to June 2002, the year the Mizel Museum of Judaica celebrated “freedom of expression in the arts” at our 20th anniversary gala dinner, I realized that I have been sitting at this desk at the Mizel Museum for 18 years! The faces, places, and stories have been such an important part of my life. What surprises me, I guess, is the way the museum and my complicated self have grown and intertwined through exploration of diverse cultures: the beauty and wonder of the arts and artists, art history, theatre, music, community, and being Jewish.
From 1982 to 2002, the Mizel Museum of Judaica was located at BMH-BJ Congregation in a single room where we displayed Jewish art and artifacts. We started out like any other American Jewish museum with the obligatory pretty menorah exhibition. The need for space grew as the number, size of our exhibitions, and our reputation grew. The museum became a destination for culture lovers to expand their insight into Jewish history.
In 1994, the museum developed Bridges of Understanding, an exhibit that showcases Native American, Muslim, African American, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish cultures. The exhibit brings communities and students together, teaching tolerance, understanding, ancestry, and the idea that people aren’t that different—we do many of the same things, just in different ways. It was viewed as a giant leap forward for a museum because it initiated and welcomed community involvement and inclusivity. The essence of community changed as we stepped into the future, reaching large multicultural audiences, and a fresh excitement permeated all of our future exhibitions.
In 2004, “Judaica” was dropped from our title when we relocated to the original Rodef Shalom Synagogue, simply so that we could expand our mission while at the same time not sacrifice our Jewish character. Once again, we experienced a new beginning, and the museum now existed in the form of three entities: the Mizel Museum, The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (The CELL), and we took on the stewardship of Babi Yar Park. This year, The CELL will open a new exhibition built around the eight signs of terrorism, and Babi Yar Park will expand its teachings, grounded in the Holocaust, to include the September 11 Memorial, incorporating steel from the remains of the World trade Center. The missions of each site complement each other and give us the ability to ground ourselves in multiple, salient 21st century issues.
In 2009, thanks to our staff’s ingenuity, 4,000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks was built, and will remain the museum’s centerpiece for two years. Museum programs stem from the 17 subjects that are encompassed in the exhibit. Our education department has devised new approaches to teaching the Holocaust, immigration, Jewish life and culture and global issues. The Community Narratives Project, which currently includes 50 stories, enhances the exhibition and programming by illustrating meaningful, life changing personal experiences through an audio/visual format.
Now we celebrate the museum’s 30th Anniversary throughout the year and look back at all the good—exhibitions, events, performances, and community gatherings generated by the hard work, creativity and imagination of our dedicated staff and board. Even as I reflect back, I look forward to many more years in a new home where we can continue to grow! I would like to thank Rabbi Stanley Wagner for his foresight and Carol and Larry Mizel for their mentorship, commitment and involvement through the years. Happy 30th birthday to the Mizel Museum!