Museums prep for grand re-opening Feb. 21

The new entrance of the Holocaust History Center, sharing a plaza with the Jewish History Museum, will allow for easy traffic flow from one museum to the other.

In just over two weeks, Tucsonans will get their first look at the Rose and Maurice Silverman Jewish History Museum Campus, home to the newly expanded Gould Family Holocaust History Center as well as the Friedman Family Jewish History Museum, which also has been refurbished.

The grand re-opening on Sunday, Feb. 21, will begin with a gathering in the courtyard at 564 S. Stone Ave. at 1 p.m. Museum doors will open at 1:30 p.m.

Rabbi Israel Becker of Congregation Chofetz Chayim, who will be one of the speakers at the opening, is eager to see the new Holocaust History Center.

“My understanding is that one of the major aspects is the recording of personal stories of people who survived and rebuilt their lives,” he says. The first, 400-square-foot iteration of the center, which opened in October 2013, included a photo display of more than 100 survivors who lived in Tucson in the years since the Holocaust. While that exhibit was powerful, the new center, which increases the space fivefold, will go further, with a large collection of local survivor testimonial videos. Many were produced by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, which partnered with the museum to raise funds for the renovation, while others were recorded by the USC Shoah Foundation.

Learning about the lives of survivors “can inspire us to achieve, no matter what we go through,” while also connecting us emotionally to those who died, says Becker.

“I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust,” he says. His grandparents were killed, as were many other relatives, including siblings from his father’s first marriage. His parents, both from Poland, survived.

“It’s amazing when I look back — I was born in ‘49, four years after the Holocaust. I remember my parents as vibrant, as happy, and really working very, very hard to make things work for their family.”

Barbara Brumer, president of the board of the directors of the Jewish History Museum Campus; Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild; Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO; and Bryan Davis, executive director of the Jewish History Museum Campus also will speak at the opening.

“The establishment of the Holocaust History Center at the Jewish History Museum adds an essential educational component to our city. This will be a place where children and adults can learn, meditate, and appreciate events in a dark chapter of our history that cannot be forgotten,” says Rothschild, whose wife, Karen Spiegel Rothschild, is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors.

The campus and museums now bear the names of benefactors.

“The Gould family, who gave a lead gift that named the Holocaust History Center building, have been involved with Holocaust education and remembrance since they arrived in Tucson, and they have a particular sensitivity to the way that war and genocidal violence impact children,” says Davis.

Barry and Madeline Friedman have been longtime supporters of the Jewish History Museum, where Barry served as president of the board for many years.

To pay tribute to Julie Konigsberg and her family’s early support of the project, says Davis, the Jewish History Museum is naming the Rose and Maurice Silverman Jewish History Museum Campus in blessed memory of her grandparents.

For Brumer, having the two museums on a single campus provides an important balance. The Jewish History Museum, she explains, allows us “to recognize the contribution that the Jews have made to this part of the world, from the late 1800s, [such as] the number of mayors that have been Jewish, how we helped build the first library, the first school.”

Presenting those accomplishments “on the same landscape as a building dedicated to a part of our history that’s not celebrated but still shows the strength of the people, and the contribution they make as survivors … with a garden in between, to bridge it all, I think is poetic,” she says.

One of the exhibits in the Holocaust History Center will depict the eight stages of genocide, starting with “classification” and ending with “denial,” says Julie Lauterbach-Colby, the center’s director of operations. Visitors will be asked to broaden their definition of genocide, she explains, becoming aware that, many times, “the atrocities of genocide take place even before they are labeled as such.” This exhibit will include Yizkor books memorializing lost Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, created with the help of Tucson genealogist Joel Alpert (see related story).

Guest curator Zachary Levine, a member of the board of the Council of American Jewish Museums, has been working with the Jewish History Museum’s collections.

“As an East Coaster with a background in European history, I’m happily overwhelmed by Southern Arizona’s Jewish story, especially as a contrast to other histories,” he says. “I’ve become immersed in stories of the region as a rugged frontier destination for Jews and people of all stripes in search of fortune, freedom, and opportunity. I’m especially fascinated by how this frontier heritage remains so ingrained in the region’s contemporary identity.

“I’m enamored by the many stories of Jewish merchants, miners, and others who became civic leaders. Their stories hold important lessons about how communities form and the kinds of opportunities the West — and the United States more broadly — offered to Jews.”

Brumer notes that Levine has invited Davis to the annual meeting of the Council of American Jewish Museums “because he believes that what we’re doing is leading what Jewish museums in particular, but small museums in the United States, should be doing,” including outreach to the community, such as a Jewish writers lecture series and monthly Downtown Shabbat services (sponsored by Temple Emanu-El, the next is scheduled for Feb. 12 at 9:30 p.m.).

“So it’s not just wonderful things to look at, but it’s bringing the community in today, to view today’s history,” Brumer says.