Have you been to the Museum of Jewish Heritage lately? Most visitors head to the museum’s core exhibition which focuses on Jewish heritage from the 20th century. It’s a wonderful collection, but last time I was there I skipped the core (shhhh, don’t tell my professors!) and took the elevators to the third floor. A few months ago the museum opened their Keeping History Center –- a space that is vastly different from the rest of the museum. As I walked down a long hallway I was greeted by a staff member who handed me an iPod touch accompanied by a huge set of noise-reducing headphones. Although I was wondering why the museum would trust me with such precious cargo, I certainly wasn’t complaining.
I am, admittedly, technologically challenged in comparison to the rest of my generation and was a bit confused by the iPod. I put on the headphones and thankfully a recording gave me a brief tutorial on how to approach the Keeping History Center. I didn’t have to touch a single button! The center allows you to wander around the room while listening to the experiences of those who have immigrated to the United States during the last 60 years. Some of the stories are humorous -– a Czechoslovakian immigrant who came to the United States in 1946 talks about being the biggest Brooklyn Dodgers fan in the country, while some are incredibly emotional –- a young woman from Rwanda describes the difficulty of her journey and her fears of learning to adapt in a new country.
The room is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that face the southern tip of Manhattan. As I stared out at the breathtaking view of the Statue of Liberty I found myself mesmerized by these stories. As a first generation American, I felt as if I had been transported back to my grandmother’s dinner table listening to my own family members tell me stories about their journey to America in the 1960s.
The center is incredibly interactive and encourages visitors to leave their own stories about arriving in America for the first time. The stories are then posted on the museum’s Web site and are periodically transferred to the center’s iPods for future visitors to read.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage has combined history, memory and technology into an amazing interactive exhibit that tells us the story of the everyday American. Next time you are near the New York Harbor be sure to stop into the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The Keeping History Center is included in your museum admission and best of all, they offer free hours every Wednesday from 4pm–8pm. I hope to be reading about your story next time I visit!