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Partnerships help Jewish History Museum thrive in digital space

Tucson’s Jewish History Museum closed its doors this spring to maintain physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, but the staff has been busy forging new partnerships to help it grow its offerings and its audience in the digital world.

“In a time of constricted resources, the Jewish History Museum is deepening its work of seeking out partnerships with organizations whose work aligns with ours in various ways,” says Bryan Davis, executive director.

Through its involvement with the Council of American Jewish Museums, the JHM has had opportunities to highlight its work before national audiences and build relationships with Jewish museum professionals across the country.

Davis has been talking with the executive directors at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, located in Portland, Oregon’s largest city, for several years.

“The move to remote museum work with its emphasis on digital programming and engagement has helped us accelerate these conversations and find immediate ways of collaborating,” he says. “Our first formal collaboration is a four-part series of digital programs. Each museum is organizing one program and the series will culminate on June 10 with a program that we are all developing together that will address anti-Semitism before and after COVID-19 with special guest presenters Michael Berenbaum and Steven Wasserstrom.”

Berenbaum, now a professor and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University, was the project director overseeing the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He later served as president and CEO of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Wasserstrom is The Moe and Izetta Tonkon Professor of Judaic Studies and the Humanities at Reed College in Portland and has lectured and consulted at universities around the globe.

“The possibilities for expanding this partnership of Western U.S. Jewish museums is limitless,” Davis says. “We are eager to begin exploring ways that we can share educational resources as the landscape for school visitation to museums shifts, along with everything else within formal education.” Davis is particularly excited about the possibilities for growing the museum’s audience into the Los Angeles and Portland communities.

The JHM also is partnering with several organizations on its “Raw Materials” project, which is archiving Jewish experiences of COVID-19 in Southern Arizona. The museum has been receiving messages on its oral history hotline, written texts, photos, drawings, and videos submitted via email. It was among the first Jewish museums in the country to formalize such an archive, Davis says.

“We have developed a team of people including scholars, researchers, teachers, artists, and archivists who share our interest in living archives: archives of the present,” Davis says. “We are meeting through Zoom and discussing the intricacies and complexities of documenting the present, particularly when the present is fraught with so much loss. This working group includes people living in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, and Texas.

“When I spoke about this initiative on a national call of Jewish museum professionals shortly after we moved to working remotely in mid-March, there was an eagerness and enthusiasm for collaboration across the field. The Council of American Jewish Museums is now working with our museum, the Jewish Women’s Archive, and the Yiddish Book Center to develop what was initially a regional initiative into something much more far-reaching,” Davis says.

It is too soon to tell whether the museum will be open to visitors at its campus at 564 S. Stone Ave. in the fall, Davis says.

“We are planning for the likelihood of a hybrid fall with in-person programming, if it is safe to have it at all, limited to smaller numbers of people with added investment in making the programs accessible online with higher production quality than we have ever had in the past,” he says.  

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