Exploring New York’s Jewish past and present

Exploring New York’s Jewish past and present

Neil Silver visits the Big Apple's new Museum of Jewish Heritage, listens to interactive survivor testimony and takes a trip to the Statue of Liberty

The six-sided Museum of Jewish Heritage
The six-sided Museum of Jewish Heritage

The collection of artefacts and exhibits at London’s Jewish Museum will receive a massive boost once a collaboration with New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage comes into effect.

Michael Glickman, president of the New York museum, is keen to partner with London in a “robust way”.

Michael revealed this exciting news to me when I visited the museum during a long weekend in the Big Apple.

He said: “We are in the early stages of working out which content would be most valuable to be shared with London and we’d love to partner with London in a robust way.

“We share information and research with institutions around the world, and artefacts are shared for exhibitions.

“It is about looking at what is unique about these institutions and figuring out where we can collaborate.

“We are also creating the Holocaust curriculum which will be made widely available to communities around the world. It will show schools how to teach the Holocaust and provide them with materials to assist the process.”

The Museum of Jewish Heritage, which has just celebrated its 20th year, is a museum of Jewish History rather than a Holocaust museum. It does have an entire floor devoted to the Holocaust, but its main aim is to show visitors what being Jewish looks like.

The building is six-sided to commemorate the Star of David, and honour the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, and it occupies a fantastic location just across the Hudson River from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The museum boasts 30,000 artefacts, photographs, documentary films, and survivor testimonies, and I was excited most by an interactive innovation entitled New Dimensions in Testimony. If this is shared with London then we are in for a special experience.

The New Dimensions in Testimony interactive exhibit

You walk into a room with two giant rectangular screens and sitting there looking back at you on one of them is Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s stepsister; on the other is fellow Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter.

It looks as if these two people are in a room next door, and you press a microphone button and ask them any question you like. Within a matter of seconds, they answer it, and it is as if they are having a live conversation with you.

This innovation is in its early stages. A number of days were spent with a selection of Holocaust survivors asking them dozens of questions, so that these “virtual conversations” offer personal reflections about life before, during, and after the Holocaust.

I was amazed that every question asked by a visitor was recognised and then answered promptly, and it felt heart-warming to know that this is what Holocaust education will look like in the future.

Being so close to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island, I was not going to miss the opportunity to hop on the ferry and get up close and personal with both, and this was a real highlight of my trip, especially as I learnt about the experience of those early immigrants who fled to the land of opportunity to escape the Nazis.

Neil gets up close to the Statue of Liberty

Of course, while in New York I had to cram in as many of the iconic sights as I could, and I did this by utilising the New York Sightseeing Pass.

This excellent pass offers you admission into almost every must-see attraction, and one of the best things about it is that you can use the Hop-on, Hop-off buses to get to them – which is just what I did.

It also helped that my hotel, the Omni Berkshire Place, was in a fantastic mid-town location, making it easy to walk to a number of attractions.

A final highlight for me was a visit to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, as I was able to take a guided tour of an original Concorde aircraft, and marvel at the fact that you could once fly from New York to London in less than three hours if you had the right wind behind you.

My flight home was more than double that length, but at least it gave me plenty of opportunity to reflect on many memories that will live with me for a long time.

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