July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

We Created a Museum!

We created a museum. How many high school classes have had the opportunity to say that they constructed a museum from the ground up? Every year, the 11th grade at the Jewish Educational Center’s Bruriah High School enacts a Holocaust Memorial Museum. This process is a tremendous undertaking for all involved, not only because of the physical effort it requires but also because of the weighty significance it is meant to convey. As Museum Curator, I had the unique privilege to work with four incredible docents from each of four classes to consolidate a large variety of artwork, 3D models, and other assorted exhibits into a single cohesive whole.

The museum begins with the Treaty of Versailles, marking the official end of World War I. As world leaders gathered to sign the historic document, they all assumed that this would be the war to end all wars; never again would such tragedy transpire. But their hopes dissipated as the 1930s progressed into the early 1940s. Our museum conveys the road to war, Hitler rising to power in Germany and crushing political oppression. We display the book burnings with a stack of tomes going up in cellophane flames. We transition to Kristallnacht with a mural of broken glass, a symbol of the first organized violence against German Jews. Then, a handmade railroad track leads visitors under a wire replica of the Auschwitz sign, ARBEIT MACHT FREI, and into the next section of the museum: World War II, soon known as the Holocaust.

Here we depict the crematoria, accompanied by the piles of clothes and shoes that documented the tremendous loss of human life. We shudder with a collage of Joseph Mengele’s twin victims and seek comfort in the presence of thriving Jewish twins in our own grade today. We see Anne Frank, the iconic symbol of potential that was lost during the war, one of many lives that was terminated before it was truly lived. And we conclude with testimonies of the war, a reminder that we are all the same. Birth is arbitrary; this could easily have been us, but we are instead left looking back, remembering, and constructing the future. A quote from survivor Elie Wiesel transitions into the Aftermath section, reading, “It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.” With these words, Mr. Wiesel expresses the quick escalation of horror that led to the war and the indelible mark that the war has engraved upon history.

After the terrible war came to a close, the world was left somewhat stymied. Evil incarnate had emerged onto the world stage; how would leaders of civilized society react to the perpetrators of the horrible crimes against humanity? We display the Nuremberg Trials, a systematic judgment of high level Nazi criminals who were later condemned to hang. Some Nazis were jailed, locked away from the world that was struggling to reclaim its footing. And some Nazis walked free, escaping with their lives instead of accounting for the lives they had taken. Only years later did Israeli forces manage to locate escapee Adolf Eichmann and bring him to Jerusalem for trial; Eichmann had run the train and cattle car system, condemning countless Jews to death without physically lifting a finger against them. We commemorate this historic case with a model of Eichmann himself, enclosed in a protective “glass” box to prevent the premature vengeance of long-furious sufferers. With Eichmann’s eventual execution, the world patted itself on the back for eradicating the last dregs of evil and promised itself that such genocide could never reoccur. Yet our museum questions the so-called “never again” resolution with an expose of seven separate genocides that have transpired since the end of the Holocaust. The genocidal ideology is still at large, still able to corrupt those leaders who seek totalitarian supremacy. So we close the Aftermath section with a full-length mirror, adorned with the very same Jude star that graced the lapels of German Jews throughout the years of the Holocaust. This is our ultimate statement; in order to truly ensure that the Holocaust never happens again, in order to fully extirpate the tainted philosophy that drives mass genocide, we must consider the fight to be a personal battle. Each one of us carries the legacy of a Jew lost in the war. It is therefore incumbent upon us to accept the mantle of responsibility and ensure that “never again” becomes a reality.

Finally, our museum concludes with the creation and development of the modern State of Israel. From the moment Israel was declared a Jewish State, it became subject to tremendous controversy and struggle. We follow the course of Israeli history since 1948, from the War of Independence to the Six Day War to the Yom Kippur War to the current Gaza-Israeli conflict. Yet all too many people look at Israel and see a war zone. We instead highlight the virtue of Israeli courage, the monumental hope and belief that is conveyed through the national anthem of “Hatikvah,” literally, the hope. Israel is the culmination of years of prayer and passion; fight, yes, but mostly joy. As the museum draws to a close, the visitor is led toward a reconstruction of the Kotel, the seemingly simple Western Wall that brims with the aspirations and dreams of the Jewish people.

This year, our 11th grade class wondered “now what?” We were commemorating the war, we were mourning for the lives lost, but we wanted to take action to ensure a better future. Now, we intend to come full circle and literally pay it forward. In recognition of the 1.5 million children lost throughout the Holocaust, we are launching an initiative to collect 1.5 million pennies. These pennies, amounting to approximately $15,000, will be donated to three separate charities which support modern-day Jewish children throughout three stages of life. First, we will give to Crib Efrat, an organization which provides an expectant mother with the funds necessary to support her child through the first year of life. Before Crib Efrat, Israel had one of the highest abortion rates worldwide; today, Crib Efrat’s monetary contribution is often sufficient impetus to convince a woman to carry her pregnancy to term. Since its founding, Crib Efrat has saved over 40,000 Jewish children and continues to do so on a daily basis. Next, we will be donating to Bet Elazraki, an organization which provides a “home away from home” for children with precarious family life situations. Whether the home is marked by alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse, or neglect, Bet Elazraki intervenes to ensure that the child receives the care he or she so desperately craves. Lastly, we will be contributing a portion of our funds to educational scholarships. The children lost in the Holocaust never had a chance to complete their educations; today, thousands of children may forgo a formal education simply because they cannot pay the tuition bill. By preserving the education of the next generation of Jewish children, we are in essence safeguarding the continuity of the Jewish people as a whole.

This museum would never have been possible without my four outstanding docents, each of whom coordinated the design of her section from beginning to end. Meira Leiter created the road to war segment, Kayla Garb the actual war, Devora Berman the aftermath, and Esther Seif the Israel section. They all put in tremendous effort, and their creativity and artistic flair has enhanced the museum immeasurably.

I would also like to thank the Bruriah administration for supporting this project and allowing us to literally commandeer the school hallways for a couple of weeks. A big thank you to Mr. Joel Glazer, who dreamed up this project in the first place and managed to turn it into a reality.

The museum is open for public viewing. Please call the Bruriah office at 908-355-4850 to arrange a tour.

By Avigail Goldberger, Bruriah 11th Grader

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