The sound of voices filled the air, followed by the scraping of shoes shuffling on the cement floor. Three old women entered the historical art gallery still immersed in their conversation. One of them, who wore a black coat with buttons on the side, raised her hand to reposition the glasses resting on the bridge of her nose. As she and her friends entered the establishment, they came across one of the first objects on display in the room.
A long denim jacket hung on a rack facing the entrance, decorated with rainbow patches sewn all along the different sides of the piece. Shifting around the cloak, the viewers caught a glimpse of the inscription on the back of it that had been woven into it with yarn.
“Dreaming a future/ singing soul/becoming radically engaged/healing/ searching for wonder/ nurturing creativity.”
The Greensboro Contemporary Jewish Museum displays artifacts donated by Jewish residents of Greensboro and opened at the Greensboro Project Space at the end of February. The objects that are on display aren’t all that uncommon, but rare in the sense of the sentimentality imbued within them.
“My objects would have been two mis-matched candlesticks,” said Judith Rosenstock Hyman, the 85-year-old woman wearing the black coat. “Because, my grandmother and her sister somehow got separated, and one took a tall candlestick and the other took a short one. We celebrate shabbat every Friday night, with challah, you know the twisted bread and wine and light the candles.”
Shoshana Gugenheim Kedem is an interdisciplinary artist, Torah scribe and educator. She’s also the founding artist of the Greensboro Contemporary Jewish Museum.
“It’s very unlikely there would ever be a contemporary Jewish museum [in Greensboro],” Kedem said in an interview. “There is a Jewish identity museum in Atlanta and there’s one in Mississippi. This project gives the Greensboro Jewish community the cultural agency to create their own Jewish museum without a fundraising campaign or a board of directors to tell them what to do. It provides a unique way for the community to reflect upon what it means to be Jewish in contemporary Greensboro.
“And for me,” she continued, “What was really important was that the creation of this museum happened through the people that live here.”
Rather than collecting historical artifacts that get displayed behind bulletproof glass, the exhibit honors and highlights everyday objects that those within the Jewish community find to be significant to them and their Jewish identity.
“This show is very much about contemporary Judaism,” said Adam Carlin, director of the Greensboro Project Space, an off-campus contemporary art center funded by UNCG. “It’s like people’s own connections to it. And for some people it is that history, you know, like Joseph and the technicolor coat, and for other people that might be connected to a mug or a Tupperware container.”
One of many objects on display, was an open book that lay on a shelf to one side of the room. Inside were small, flat, intricate square-shaped pieces of paper that depict colorful illustrations of outer space.
“For me, I put an object in there and it’s a space stamp collection that I inherited from my dad,” said Carlin. “And so, for me, my connection to Judaism isn’t really anything biblical but sentimental value.”
Carlin stated that his father is a big Star Trek fan and his interest in the series led him to collect stamps connected to outer space for years.
Near the technicolor jean jacket and a wooden seat with the words “Mensch Bench” carved into it, sat a hot pink hexagonal table made entirely out of wood, its shape resembling the six-pointed Star of David.
Ellen Haskell, the Director of Jewish studies and a professor at UNCG, said that while the exhibit primarily centers around Judaism and the Jewish community, non-Jews are also encouraged to attend the exhibition.
“I think mostly I want people to come away with new broader ideas about what the Greensboro Jewish community is,” Haskell said. “I want people to think about what defines them and what’s important to them.”