When I tell people where I work I get one of two responses depending on the audience. If the audience is Jewish I am immediately asked if I am Jewish. On the other hand, if the audience is not Jewish I am immediately asked why I work at a Jewish museum if I myself am not Jewish. I believe that these responses are a symptom of a larger issue. Why should cultural museums only appeal to the culture that they are depicting? The point of a cultural museum should be to celebrate that culture, illustrate a full and complete picture of that culture, and to bring that culture to others.
Since I can remember I have been more interested in Judaism as a religion than the religion I was brought up in. While attending my Masters program at GWU I took many Jewish studies classes and expanded my interest from Judaism as a religion to Jewish culture. The books I read and discussions I had in class as the only non Jew showed me a world rich with history and promise for the future.
While working for CJM I have been able to participate in the creation of a museum that explores the intersection of Jewish culture and American democracy. I love the innovative exhibits that our team is creating. I think visitors will be wowed and excited to learn. In particular I am excited about our Interactive Conversation Table. The idea is that visitors will sit down together, and through a series of exploratory videos and educational explanations, they will learn about a moment in time where a decision was made. They will learn about the actors involved and the wider context of the history. The experience will then present the visitors with a series of situations to decide how they would react. Visitors will also have the opportunity to discuss decisions with each other and have the opportunity to change their minds as a result.
I love that this inherently Jewish value of debate and conversation is used as the tool through which we can educate our visitors. I also see this as an opportunity for true participation and interaction. The museum will be able to learn from our visitors, and continue to update the experience. This is the future of museums. And to be able to move the museum into the future while also keeping the foundation firmly in Jewish cultural traditions has been the most rewarding thing for me to see as our exhibits move towards museum opening!