April 13, 2024
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Holocaust Museum at Bruriah: From Its Beginning to the Promising Aftermath

The 75th anniversary of the founding of the JEC institution is being celebrated in various ways throughout this year. The 11th grade at Bruriah, the girls’ high-school division, is acknowledging the anniversary by integrating an impressive 75-year retrospective into its larger Holocaust Museum project.

This year’s museum, like the ones of previous years, should not be missed. Visitors all express they cannot believe the creativity, foresight and imagination that go into making the museum. A professor who toured pondered why he would take his children to the museum in D.C. when he could bring them to Bruriah? Parents of students are impressed at the depth of knowledge their daughters have about the content of each of the articles on exhibit.

From its inception about 15 years ago, the museum consumes the “junior” hallway for most of the month of February and part of March. Each grade of juniors transforms the hallway; complete with newspaper headlines, original works and audio and video installations. All installations are created for the sole purpose of creating this museum. Special Projects Coordinator Neshama Fournier of West Orange is responsible for making sure every piece in the exhibit is installed and ready for when the museum officially opens.

Like every curator before her, Ariela Chomski of Passaic, who is this year’s curator, had to be clear about what she envisioned the museum to be and how to direct her enormous staff to translate it into reality. When asked what she learned from being curator, Chomski felt that “getting people to do things for you is hard.”

The museum is assembled from scratch every year. There were no remnants from previous museums to build on and none will be left from this year for future juniors to build upon. A magnificent actualization of the museum’s visionary curator, the museum includes extensive exhibits that cover periods prior to World War II to the creation of the State of Israel and Jewish life thereafter.

Both Rivka Hirsch of Passaic and Ilana Markowitz of Bergenfield have a major role in curating the museum’s 75-year retrospective and the recently added 1.5 Project. The 75-year retrospective honors the founder of the JEC Institution, Rav Pinchas Mordechai Teitz, and his impact on local and global Jewry. “Putting the Pieces Back Together,” by Abby Leykin of Staten Island, is one of the exhibits a visitor will first see upon entering the retrospective. Additional pieces include a tribute to Bruriah’s principal for 37 years, Mrs. Chaya Newman. Mrs. Newman is a visionary for how a world-class institution should function and how to foster world-class Jewish young women to be productive contributors to both their local and global communities. Finally, visitors will see the Teitz family tree and how the legacy of Rav Teitz is being lived every day both inside and outside of the JEC institution.

Visitors are taken on tours by docents trained in their specific area of the museum. Michal Berger of Passaic, Gennifer Berko of Englishtown, Nechama Novick of Clifton and Ashira Pollack of Passaic provide tours for the main exhibit. This main exhibit includes events leading up to the Holocaust, World War II and the creation of the State of Israel. Ariella Adler of Springfield, Rivky Elberger of Elizabeth, Meira Sheffey of Teaneck and Rivky Terebelo of Passaic are the docents for the 75-year retrospective.

A typical tour starts at the designated entrance to the museum. Visitors make their way through black, paper-lined hallways where the laminated newspapers articles, original works and installation pieces are exhibited. The tour continues to the displays about the creation of the State of Israel and the 1.5 Project. The tour concludes in the lobby of Bruriah, where the 75-year retrospective resides.

The 1.5 Project was added several years ago to collect 1.5 million pennies, or $15,000, to remember the 1.5 million children who were murdered during the Holocaust. The money raised will continue to be donated to CRIB Efrat, Beit Elazraki Children’s Home and the JEC Scholarship Fund. Said Markowitz, “I have an official staff of helpers and an unofficial staff that help count the pennies and do all the work that’s involved.” Bina Davidson and Ashley Elyaszadeh of Elizabeth, Atara Goldstein of Bergenfield and Sapir Kent of Elizabeth are the docents for this exhibit.

The brainchild of esteemed history teacher Mr. Joel Glazer, the museum evolved after a near-private audience in 2005 with then-prime minister of Israel Ariel Sharon. On a group tour sponsored by the OU that included a meeting with Sharon, Mr. Glazer found himself seated next to the prime minister. In response to Sharon’s question, “Does anyone have any questions?” Mr. Glazer asked Sharon how he could deal with the way the media outlets portray Israel. Sharon replied, “We’re responsible to keep you safe, you’re responsible for getting out the truth.”

The museum is the response to Sharon’s request. What started as a small project for which each junior had to submit her own newspaper headline and article, has grown to include Ellie Rubin of Fair Lawn and Chanie Weinberger of Elizabeth’s concentration camp diorama complete with active smokestacks, Sasha Lutz of Passaic’s video “viewmaster” of a camp and Avigayil Ben-Yshay of Brooklyn’s hand-drawn micrographic portrait of Anne Frank that features the first 18 pages of her diary. The walls of the museum are lined with one piece of original work more creative and poignant than the next.

The twelve main staff members of the museum visited the national National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) a couple of months prior to when Chomski and her staff began planning theirs. Chomski was inspired by the use of timelines and the staff learned about curating directly from the curator of NMAJH.

On the rainy Tuesday on which this article was written, Chomski, Hirsch and Markowitz conducted a tour of the entire museum. Accompanied by Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz, Rebbetzin Rivka Blau, Mrs. Ellie Teitz Goldstein, Mr. Steve Karp and Mr. Andy Schultz, the curators led Mr. Edward Mosberg on a detailed tour. A survivor of the Holocaust himself, he recently donated to the JEC a Torah that was recovered from the Holocaust and that he had restored.

Said Mr. Mosberg of the museum, “It’s so inspiring to see Bruriah’’s students making the Holocaust relevant for both their classmates and the broader community. The thought and creativity that went into this is outstanding!”

On a subsequent tour, Paul Radensky, Ph.D., manager of education programs for the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park, NY, mentioned he was impressed with the breadth, depth and quality of material in the museum and specifically with Shana Devora Plotsker of Brooklyn’s wire diorama and Ben-Yshay’s micrographic portrait of Anne Frank. He added, “…not surprised. The museum reflects the girls at Bruriah. Smart, energetic, unstoppable.” Informal talks are underway for the possibility of exhibiting some of the museum in the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

In addition to Mr. Mosberg, Dr. Radensky and visiting students, guests include Ruth Lichtenstein, publisher of Hamodia and editor of “Witness to History.”

For general inquiries and information about arranging a tour of the museum, please call Bruriah at (908) 355-4850.

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