What’s a Non-Jew Doing Working at a Jewish Museum?

goyfromillinois By Lisa Rimmert, Director of Marketing

When I accepted this position at the Mizel Museum in July 2013, I was incredibly excited about the work. As with any news I’m remotely excited about, I told everyone who would listen. After hearing I’d be working for a Jewish museum, the first question people would ask was a variation of, “Wait, are you Jewish?” I would say no, and their expression would remain a perplexed one. Of course I knew what they were puzzled by: what’s a non-Jew doing working at a Jewish museum? Are you allowed to do that? Do they know you’re not Jewish?

It seems silly looking back, but before I began interviewing for my job at the Mizel Museum, I – like many of my friends – wouldn’t have known that a Jewish museum would hire a non-Jewish person, or even that a non-Jewish person would have interest in working for a Jewish museum. Not because of any negative feelings or even lack of interest, but because it may not have crossed either party’s mind as an option needing consideration. I mean, it makes perfect sense that Jewish organizations would employ mainly Jewish staff. They’re more likely to be familiar with the culture, the lingo, the people, etc.

So, get to the point, Lisa. What am I doing working at a Jewish museum? From my perspective, I was (and remain) enthusiastic and acutely interested in the work of this particular institution. Without much prior knowledge of Jewish culture and values, what I knew about the Mizel Museum was that civic engagement, social justice and bridge-building were key tenets of its work. I have an activist’s mind (which is, I think, a nice way to say I’m preachy), so this really resonated with me. I remember perusing the Museum’s website and seeing, for example, programs that enabled kids to interpret the lessons of the Holocaust into contemporary action items, like not being a bystander when bullying occurs. My eyes lit up. This is such important work.

From the museum staff’s perspective (and, yes, I’m putting words in their mouths; if they’re reading, they can correct me where I’m wrong), I offered a fresh viewpoint and approach to understanding and interpreting the work of the Museum. The artist who worked on our core exhibit, 4,000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks, is also not Jewish, and the staff felt he brought a unique voice that contributed greatly to the accessibility and wonder of the exhibit. As the marketing director, I am interested in translating complex ideas into clear and easy-to-understand content for potential audiences of all backgrounds. As someone who is new to Jewish culture, I am in a good position to relay information about programs and exhibits to a broad audience. I’m constantly inquiring about programs, ideas, assertions, even words that are new to me, and I feel I do so not only on my behalf but as a stand-in for others who will inevitably entertain the same questions.

What I’m trying to say is that the Mizel Museum is open to everyone – Jewish or not. The foundational values and ideas of our exhibits, programs and events are universal. You don’t have to be Jewish to work at or visit this Jewish museum, and you certainly don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it!

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