HISTORY & MISSION

Our Mission:
The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience explores the many ways that Jews in the American South influenced and were influenced by the distinct cultural heritage of their new homes. Through exhibits, collections and programs focused on the unique and remarkable history of Southern Jews, the Museum encourages new understanding and appreciation for identity, diversity, and acceptance.

Our History:
In 1986, the original Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) opened at the Henry S. Jacobs Camp, in Utica, MS, a summer camp for Jewish children. This project was the vision of camp director Macy B. Hart, along with a group of like-minded supporters. The Museum served as a location supporting the preservation of Jewish culture in the deep South.

In 2000, the Museum expanded its mission to become the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL). In addition to maintaining the Museum and preserving historical documents and artifacts, the Jackson, MS, based ISJL, works to provide Judaic services and cultural programs to Jewish communities across a thirteen state Southern region.

The Jacobs Camp site was closed in 2012 in part due to its inaccessibility to the general public. A search was undertaken to identify the best location to relocate the Museum, with an eye toward reaching more people, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. New Orleans was deemed that ideal spot. With a city selected, the ISJL board passed a resolution separating the Museum from the Institute to ease its relocation and provide the proper breathing room to grow into its own potential as an educational and cultural institution.

Today, the Museum is poised to become a popular tourist destination, an important educational facility, and a vibrant center for cultural exploration and understanding.

FAQs

Yes and no. The original Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, which was established in 1986 at Jacobs Camp, in Utica, MS, was shuttered in 2012. While it served as a wonderful teaching tool for summer campers and as a repository for artifacts from disappearing Southern Jewish communities, its location made it difficult for the public to visit.

The board of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, in Jackson, MS, resolved to find a more accessible location for the Museum. In 2017 it separated the Museum from the Institute, giving it the flexibility to re-establish and re-energize itself in New Orleans. The new Museum is an interactive experience that will be engaging, educational, and entertaining to Jews and non-Jews, Southerners and non-Southerners alike.

The original Museum actually gave birth to what is now the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. But as the ISJL mission broadened and diverged from the Museum, a decision was made to separate into two entities, each with its own management, boards, and funding. The MSJE and ISJL continue to work cooperatively on certain projects, and promote cooperation using some cross-board representation. The MSJE is a new Louisiana non-profit corporation. Gifts to the MSJE will be used only to support the capital needs and operating expenses of the Museum and to deliver on its mission.

There are many differing views on what constitutes “the South.” The Museum covers a geographical area that includes these 13 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

A planning committee looked at several cities across the South. The qualifications they were seeking included a city with a vibrant Jewish population, one with a healthy tourism economy, and one that did not already have a Jewish-themed museum or other cultural attraction. New Orleans fit the bill to a tee. Tulane University’s strong Jewish student population and growing Jewish Studies program adds exciting opportunities for research, internships, and reunions for students, faculty, and alumni alike.

Yes. Working with Gallagher & Associates’ economic development team, we conducted a thorough feasibility study, which compared our plans to other Jewish museums across the country and to other similar sized museum destinations in New Orleans. The study looked at expected number of visitors, income, expenses, and short and long-term growth. The study found that our planned museum has the ingredients to be a success.

Our feasibility study predicts an annual attendance of 35,000. We have based our operating budget on 30,000 visitors a year.

Before the Campaign went regional and national, it quietly raised about one-third of its goal from donors—individuals and foundations—in New Orleans. It is important, we know, to have strong support from our host city. These early leadership gifts confirmed the appropriateness of New Orleans as the home of the Museum.

Before we raised our first dollar, we approached the New Orleans tourism and business community seeking support. We have strong letters of support from the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Office of the Mayor, Tulane University, the National WWII Museum, and the Historic New Orleans Collection, among others.

There are many Jewish museums across the country, even a few in the South, like The Breman Museum, in Atlanta, and the Holocaust museums in Houston and Dallas. The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience distinguishes itself by focusing on the entirety of Southern Jewish history, across many years and across many states. Of course, no museum covers its subject exhaustively. But our Museum serves as a historical and cultural entrée into why Jews came South, how they were received, their triumphs and tribulations, and their unique stories and accomplishments.

The Museum created a Historical Advisory Committee of more than thirty historians, writers, and researchers, to provide guidance and content. Exhibits topics include Colonial Jewry, Jewish immigration waves, Jewish businesses, Jews and the Civil War, Jews and the Civil Rights Movement, famous Southern Jews, and unique Southern Jewish folk and food-ways, among others. This committee worked closely with the Museum’s staff and our exhibit designers. Do you have a story to tell? Share it here.

The Museum has the challenge of presenting more than 300 years and 13 states’ worth of Southern Jewish history in about 9,000 square feet of space. To do this, we designed exhibits that tell the overall arc of the history, with selected stories of individuals and families that personify specific events, attitudes, and experiences. Stories were selected that best educate, engage, and entertain our visitors. Many, but not all, are tied to artifacts in the Museum’s collection that provide a meaningful visual connection to the past. The Museum is actively adding to its collection for the purpose of exhibit design. So, while no one family will be fully explored, should a donor’s story happen to fit the criteria above, it may very well be included in our exhibits. Do you have a family story to tell? Share it here.

No, but we do include exhibits about how Southern Jews reacted to the Holocaust and stories of Holocaust survivors who remade their lives in the United States after moving to the South.

Yes. The Museum offers a wide range of public programs and programs for students. With music, food, film, speakers, workshops, and field trips, the Museum offers exciting opportunities for people to learn, experience, share, and socialize.

Yes and no. With limited space and curatorial resources, the Museum cannot serve as a repository for every item people want to donate. The Museum seeks out artifacts that fill the gaps in its collection or that hold special importance for better understanding the Southern Jewish experience. It is very important that the Museum have the flexibility to accept those artifacts and archives that it deems appropriate to its mission. For artifacts offered that the Museum cannot accept, it works with other museums and archives across the country to find suitable homes. Learn more about donating artifacts here.

Yes. Help us spread the word to friends and colleagues who share your interest in Jewish history, Southern culture, museums, and New Orleans. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Volunteer at the Museum once we are open. Become a Museum member and take advantage of all of our membership benefits.

The Museum has a capital campaign goal of $10 million. As of April 2021, we have raised $8 million and, with the support of hundreds of people throughout the South and across the country, we are on our way to accomplishing our fundraising goal.

WHO WE ARE

BOARD

Jay Tanenbaum, Chair (Dumas, AR/Atlanta, GA)
Morris Mintz, Vice-Chair (Monroe, LA/New Orleans, LA)
Rusty Palmer, Vice-Chair (Selma, AL/San Antonio, TX)

Deborah Lamensdorf Jacobs (Cary, MS/Atlanta, GA)
Keith Katz (Starkville, MS/New Orleans, LA)
Morris “Lew” Lewis (Indianola, MS/Caldwell, NJ)
Rachel Jarman Myers (Jackson, MS)
Janis Rabin (New Orleans, LA/Los Angeles, CA)
Robert Roubey (Baton Rouge, LA/Chapel Hill, NC)
Mark Stein (New Orleans, LA)
Steve Strauss (Little Rock, AR/Forest Hills, NY)

Kenneth Hoffman, Ex-Officio
(Baton Rouge/New Orleans)

STAFF

Kenneth Hoffman, Executive Director
kenneth@msje.org
504-384-2480, 101

Anna Tucker, Curator
anna@msje.org
504-384-2480, 102

Emma Storm Herr, Director of Development
emma@msje.org
504-384-2480, 103

Abbey Lewis, Visitor Services Manager
abbey@msje.org
504-384-2480, 104

Krista Toussant, Membership & Marketing Coordinator
krista@msje.org
504-384-2480, 106

JOIN OUR TEAM:

There are currently no open positions at the museum. Check back for future opportunities.

ADVISORS

Michael Cohen, Ph.D., Senior Historical Advisor
Chair of Jewish Studies Department, Tulane University

Rachel Stern, Senior Judaic Advisor
Chief Learning and Engagement Officer, Shalom Austin

INTERNSHIPS

The Museum’s Charles D. Zucker Jewish Studies Internship Program provides opportunities for college and graduate students interested in gaining museum, non-profit, and Jewish community work experience. Internships are generally one semester or summer in length. Duties vary based on the needs of the Museum and the skills and interests of the interns. Intern projects can involve research, writing, artifact care, business organization, and event and program planning. Modest stipends are available. Interested college students can contact the Museum at info@msje.org to inquire about availability.

The Zucker Internship Program is made possible by a generous grant from the Charles D. Zucker Advised Fund of the Louisiana Jewish Endowment Foundation.

VOLUNTEERING

The Museum offers a variety of volunteer opportunities, including gallery attendants, field trip docents, collections researchers, and office assistance. Let us know if you are interested in volunteering at info@msje.org.