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
“Dreaming a future/ singing soul/becoming radically engaged/healing/ searching for wonder/ nurturing creativity.”
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
“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.”
The Contemporary Jewish Museum is showing from Feb. 20-March 19. For more information check out the project’s website.
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