Museum materials note that it’s “a setting for children of all faiths and backgrounds to gain a positive perspective and awareness of the Jewish heritage, fostering tolerance and understanding.” The diversity of Jewish culture is well-represented by a giant face on the front of the museum — a composite of smaller photographs of vastly different faces.
The museum has welcomed more than 500,000 visitors since opening in April 2005 — and is “dedicated to the memory of Ari Halberstam, the 16-year-old Yeshiva student who was shot and killed by a terrorist on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994.”
I toured all but the fourth floor during a recent visit to NYC, because new “Voyage through Jewish History” exhibits were under construction. They’ll debut during an April 9 grand opening celebration. These new exhibits include “Patriarchs and Matriarchs,” “Mount Sinai Experience,” “Temple and Tabernacle,” “Land of Israel,” “Sages through the Ages,” “Jewish World Today,” “The Holocaust” and “One Good Deed.”
I first explored the second floor, where dozens of elementary-age school children with chaperones were enjoying interactive activities. While there, I lingered to admire the remarkable details of a 20-foot original mosaic by Chassidic artist Michoel Muchnik – plus a Michael Schwartz work featuring 387,000 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.
Next I headed to the third floor, home to exhibits titled “6 Days of Creation,” “Shabbat,” “Kosher Supermarket,” “Kosher Kitchen” and “World of Good.” Also “Jewish Holidays” — where I walked through the replica of an old-fashioned shtetl (village) in which children explore the Jewish holiday cycle through hands-on activities like retelling the Purim story with puppets or reading about Passover while exploring a giant Seder plate.
Finally, I made my way to the fifth floor, where I discovered a miniature golf area dubbed “Six Holes of Life” and a “Gallery of Games” with giant wall-mounted activity boards that let children search for hidden Jewish treasures, create images of Jewish objects with light and more.
The Jewish Children’s Museum makes clear the power of coupling education with entertainment in the service of understanding and appreciating history, culture and tradition. I can’t help wondering what it might be like to explore a children’s museum spotlighting the art, history, beliefs, practices and people of all the world’s religions.
Note: The Jewish Museum New York invites you to celebrate Passover by exploring their online collection — which you can click here to enjoy.
Coming up: Quilting for justice, What’s new at Valley museums?