MSJE Acquires its Oldest Artifact – Seventeenth Century Kiddush Cup Pre-Dates City of New Orleans by 41 Years

NEW ORLEANS, March 6, 2024 – The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience is now displaying the oldest artifact in its collection: a silver kiddush cup made in the year 1677. The cup was recently donated to the museum by members of the Fraenkel family, in honor of Albert Fraenkel II (1928-2023) and his brother Francis “Shorty” Fraenkel. Albert had been the eighth-generation keeper of the family heirloom. 

Kiddush cups are used by Jews when saying a prayer for “the fruit of the vine,” or wine. While many kiddush cups are ornately adorned with grape or other Jewish motifs, the Fraenkel cup is a simple cylindrical beaker with a tapered form, embellished with simple bands and hammered dimples. It stands a modest 3.5 inches high and holds approximately four ounces. Its beauty resides in its simplicity and the stories it evokes.

Albert Fraenkel’s great-grandfather, Felix Fraenkel, the fifth generation to own the cup, brought it with him when he immigrated to New Orleans as a teenager from Rothbach, France, around 1852. Many Alsatian Jews immigrated to Louisiana in the mid-nineteenth century, seeking economic opportunity and an escape from antisemitic laws that had existed throughout Europe for centuries. Albert and his brother Francis “Shorty” Fraenkel both grew up in New Orleans. Albert, an avid researcher into his family’s genealogy, traced the generations of his family back more than 350 years in Alsace, France, and even traveled there to meet newly-discovered relatives.

Albert’s son Jeffrey Fraenkel, owner of the internationally-recognized Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, points out that one of the silversmith’s marks on the bottom of the cup is the symbol of the city of Basel, Switzerland. “I took the cup to Basel a few years ago and showed it to a silver dealer, who was really impressed,” says Jeffrey. “It amazes me that the cup originated there and, through the Fraenkel family, somehow found its way back to Basel some 340 years later.”

The museum’s 5,000-piece collection of Southern Jewish items includes many artifacts that immigrants brought with them from the “old country.” Most of these date to the mid-to-late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, according to Kenneth Hoffman, the museum’s executive director. “That an immigrant took pains to pack a religious item like this kiddush cup for a trip into the unknown, tells us a lot about the importance of tradition, religion, and community,” says Hoffman. “We are grateful to the Fraenkel family for this most meaningful donation.”

The Fraenkel kiddush cup is currently on display in the museum’s From Immigrants to Southerners gallery.

Images:

  1. The Fraenkel kiddush cup
  2. Cup bottom detail
  3. Albert Fraenkel (1928-2023) shows photos of his family’s kiddush cup
  4. Kiddush cup on display at MSJE

A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools that Changed America

New Exhibit Shines Light on South’s Rosenwald Schools and Progressive Era-Partnership of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington

NEW ORLEANS, October 26, 2023 –  A new Special Exhibition, A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools that Changed America, will open at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE), in New Orleans, on November 17, 2023, and run through April 21, 2024.

Through photographs taken and stories collected by photographer Andrew Feiler, a fifth-generation Jewish Georgian, the exhibit tells the unique history of how Sears, Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald and Tuskegee Institute principal Booker T. Washington conceptualized and implemented a plan to provide better educational opportunities for Black children across the South in the early 20th century through the network of Rosenwald schools. Feiler tracked down and photographed more than 100 of the 500 schools still surviving across fifteen Southern states.

The Rosenwald-Washington partnership marks one of the earliest between the Jewish and Black communities. The two visionaries met the unique challenges of institutionalized segregation with originality and innovation, establishing one of the first public-private partnerships between local communities, donors, and the state. Between 1917 and 1932, 4,977 schoolhouses were built; each was supported by multiple sources, including the Rosenwald Fund, local school boards, and local Black communities. In this way, Rosenwald and Washington promoted collaboration between Black and white communities and established a high standard for Black-Jewish relations, which was later carried over into the Civil Rights era. Between World War I and World War II, the persistent Black-white education gap that had plagued the South narrowed significantly, largely thanks to Rosenwald schools.

Counted among the thousands of African American graduates of Rosenwald schools is poet Maya Angelou, civil rights leader Medgar Evers, Little Rock Nine pioneer Carlotta Walls LaNier, and Congressman John Lewis. 

Feiler believes the story of the Rosenwald schools is particularly resonant now. “In deeply segregated 1912 America, Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington reached across divides of race, religions, and region and fundamentally changed this nation for the better,” he notes. Feiler adds, “It’s especially fitting that these photographs and stories that bring people into this history are being hosted by the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.”

Despite their large impact in the South, the story of the Rosenwald schools is not widely known. Through Feiler’s exhibition, the Museum hopes to change that. “MSJE is proud to be part of bringing this story in front of the public eye. The history of the Rosenwald schools is also the history of the South and the many diverse people and actors who have shaped it,” says Kenneth Hoffman, Executive Director of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.

MSJE will run a full program of events centered around the exhibit, including a talk by Feiler; multiple screenings of Rosenwald, a documentary film produced by Aviva Kempner; a lecture by Stephanie Deutch, author of You Need a Schoolhouse; and a panel discussion with Rosenwald School graduates. A bespoke field trip has been designed to introduce students to this important part of American history. A full list of the event schedule can be found here.

This Special Exhibition is made possible thanks to support from Bill & Susan Hess and the Cahn Family Foundation. The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH) is a media partner.

Images:
1. Exhibition poster
2. Exhibit image. Pleasant Plains School in Hertford County, North Carolina; in use 1920-1950. Attribution: Andrew Feiler
3. Exhibit image. Julius Rosenwald & Booker T. Washington: Quilt Celebrating Restoration of the Pine Grove School. Attribution: Andrew Feiler
4. Exhibit image. Students and teachers at Jefferson Jacob School, circa 1920s. Attribution: Andrew Feiler/The Filson Historical Society

New Exhibit Shines Light on South’s Rosenwald Schools and Progressive Era-Partnership of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington

Press Release

NEW ORLEANS, October 26, 2023 –  A new Special Exhibition, A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools that Changed America, will open at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE), in New Orleans, on November 17, 2023, and run through April 21, 2024.

Through photographs taken and stories collected by photographer Andrew Feiler, a fifth-generation Jewish Georgian, the exhibit tells the unique history of how Sears, Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald and Tuskegee Institute principal Booker T. Washington conceptualized and implemented a plan to provide better educational opportunities for Black children across the South in the early 20th century through the network of Rosenwald schools. Feiler tracked down and photographed more than 100 of the 500 schools still surviving across fifteen Southern states.

The Rosenwald-Washington partnership marks one of the earliest between the Jewish and Black communities. The two visionaries met the unique challenges of institutionalized segregation with originality and innovation, establishing one of the first public-private partnerships between local communities, donors, and the state. Between 1917 and 1932, 4,977 schoolhouses were built; each was supported by multiple sources, including the Rosenwald Fund, local school boards, and local Black communities. In this way, Rosenwald and Washington promoted collaboration between Black and white communities and established a high standard for Black-Jewish relations, which was later carried over into the Civil Rights era. Between World War I and World War II, the persistent Black-white education gap that had plagued the South narrowed significantly, largely thanks to Rosenwald schools.

Counted among the thousands of African American graduates of Rosenwald schools is poet Maya Angelou, civil rights leader Medgar Evers, Little Rock Nine pioneer Carlotta Walls LaNier, and Congressman John Lewis. 

Feiler believes the story of the Rosenwald schools is particularly resonant now. “In deeply segregated 1912 America, Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington reached across divides of race, religions, and region and fundamentally changed this nation for the better,” he notes. Feiler adds, “It’s especially fitting that these photographs and stories that bring people into this history are being hosted by the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.”

Despite their large impact in the South, the story of the Rosenwald schools is not widely known. Through Feiler’s exhibition, the Museum hopes to change that. “MSJE is proud to be part of bringing this story in front of the public eye. The history of the Rosenwald schools is also the history of the South and the many diverse people and actors who have shaped it,” says Kenneth Hoffman, Executive Director of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.

MSJE will run a full program of events centered around the exhibit, including a talk by Feiler; multiple screenings of Rosenwald, a documentary film produced by Aviva Kempner; a lecture by Stephanie Deutch, author of You Need a Schoolhouse; and a panel discussion with Rosenwald School graduates. A bespoke field trip has been designed to introduce students to this important part of American history. A full list of the event schedule can be found here.

This Special Exhibition is made possible thanks to support from Bill & Susan Hess and the Cahn Family Foundation. The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH) is a media partner.

Texas Painter Unites Religion and Art in Images Inspired by Jewish Life in the South

By John Pope / The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate

Like any other artist, Maurice Schmidt has found inspiration wherever he goes — in landscapes, at rodeos, in depictions of farm life and in whatever he might see when he walks around town with his sketchbook in hand.

But for Schmidt, 86, what he has seen throughout his life in Texas are more than mere objects to depict on canvas and in woodcuts.

In a video by the San Angelo (Texas) Museum of Fine Arts, Schmidt, who is Jewish, speaks about seeing elements of the divine in what he creates.

In his depictions of farm life, for instance, Schmidt says he sees agriculture as “a union of labor between God, who brings the sun and the rain, and man.

“This helped me bring about the union between my art and religion. You read the Torah and the Bible. It’s all written in metaphors in terms of agriculture. … You don’t have to be a religious person … to appreciate it.”

This philosophy explains why 24 of his pieces are on display in the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, 818 Howard Ave., through May 31.

Click here to read the full article.

TRAVELMAG: 12 FUN THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND NEW ORLEANS

While most Jewish emigres to the US have wound up in large East Coast cities, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience examines the lives of those who transited through predominantly Christian port towns, like New Orleans. Many started prosperous farms in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachian mountains and went on to win elections as mayors, sheriffs, council members, and civic leaders. Through a wide range of exhibits, collections and programs, the museum traces the history of Jews in the American South, exploring the many ways that they’ve influenced – and were influenced by – the region’s distinct cultural heritage.

818 Howard Avenue / Weds-Mon 10am-5pm Closed Tues 

BY PAUL JOSEPH TRAVELMAG

Click here to read the full article

The New York Times: A New Showcase for the Story of Jews in the South

/ The New York Times

Some of the artifacts may seem mundane for display in a museum: a steamer trunk, a peddler’s cart, a cash register from a men’s clothing store. But they reflect the little-known 350-year history of Jews in America’s Southern states, which is the focus of the new $5.5 million Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience here.

“This all about how Jews came to the South, where they might have experienced a difficult welcome and where they succeeded at building loving relationships with
their largely Christian neighbors,” said Jay Tanenbaum, an Atlanta-based investment banker and the chairman of the museum’s board. “It’s about toleration and
acceptance.”

Kenneth Hoffman, the museum’s executive director, said the Southern immigrants had “very different experiences” from their Northern counterparts.

“We’re excited to tell our story to non-Jewish people and to Jews who don’t know Southern Jewish history,” said Mr. Hoffman, a Tulane-trained historian. “Ours is a universal story about how people navigate whatever environment they find themselves in.”

Though a small minority, Jews played a key role in the economic development of the South, creating businesses and shops in hundreds of rural towns. Today, many of their descendants have moved to large urban centers like New Orleans and Atlanta, with many involved with the arts, philanthropy and civic life. As newcomers to America, theirs was not the Ellis Island and Lower East Side narrative usually associated with the migration saga. Some came to the South as early as Colonial times and later from Germany, France and Eastern Europe.

Instead of working in sweatshops and living in crowded urban ghettos, the newcomers frequently moved to the frontier, supporting themselves as itinerant peddlers. In the loneliness of the rural South, the vendors were welcomed for much needed goods and news. Some settled into hospitable communities and established shops or bought land, something that had often been prohibited in the old country. Often, they would be the only Jews in the region.

Click here to read the full article.

The Uncomfortable Truths of Jewish Life in the U.S. South

A New Orleans museum that opened last month sheds light on surprising aspects of Jewish life in the 13 Southern states since the mid-1700s

An advertisement in North Carolina’s Wilmington Journal in 1847 reveals a stain on local Jewish history. Ansley Davis, who came from Petersburg, Virginia, published the ad under the heading “Negroes Wanted.” The text stated: “I wish to purchase a large number of Negroes of both sexes, from the age of 14 to 30, for which I will pay the highest cash market price.” Davis, whose family owned one of the largest Jewish-run slave-trading companies in the entire South, would tour the region every summer seeking new slaves, which he later sold.

A newspaper ad from the 19th century published by a Jewish man, seeking to hire African Americans slaves.
A newspaper ad published by a Jewish man in the 19th century, seeking African American slaves, ‘from age 14 to 30.’Credit: MSJE

Davis was not the only Southern Jew who made a living in the slave trade prior to the Civil War. David Wise of New Orleans also put up slaves for sale at the time, working out of a depot on the city’s Baronne Street. “Has always on hand a large number of slaves, which will be sold for cash,” according to an ad that he placed in a paper. “A fine lot of young, likely, able-bodied negroes – girls and men – excellent field hands.” By the time the war broke out, New Orleans was the largest slave-trading city in the South.

The stories of Wise and Davis are presented on the website of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, which opened in May in New Orleans. MSJE, as it is called, showcases the culture and heritage of the Jews who lived in the 13 southern states over a period spanning some three centuries: from colonial America through the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement and up to this day. Some 4,000 exhibits have been collected from Jewish communities and families in small towns, before they disappeared from the map.

Click here to read the full article!

For those who are able to offer financial support, visit msje.org/support.

For regular updates, follow MSJE on Facebook or Twitter, or subscribe to the monthly newsletter

Inside the new New Orleans museum telling the stories of Southern Jews

Often excluded from the narrative of American Jewish life, Southern Jews finally get their due in a museum designed to welcome visitors of all faiths

By Gabby Deutch

When Jewish immigrants first arrived in the U.S. from Europe, their first stop was Ellis Island — or at least that’s how the narrative goes. But for many, their first sighting of American shores was Galveston, Tex., a port city that welcomed thousands of Jewish immigrants who would settle across the American South. In cities and towns from Dallas to Vicksburg, Miss., to Charleston, S.C., Jews created community and became part of the fabric of this complicated region.Now, a new museum in New Orleans wants to teach locals and tourists alike the story of America’s Southern Jews, a story that does not always make it into the collective memory of American Jews in big cities like New York or Los Angeles.

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE), which opens on Thursday, had originally planned to open its doors last October but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The opening is now timed to coincide with Memorial Day weekend, though a larger grand opening celebration is set to take place this fall.

“We want to expand people’s understanding of the South,” Hoffman explained. “People think of the South in terms of black and white, racially, and that’s understandable. It’s correct. That is the blanket that covers all of Southern history and really all of American history, the racial issues. But they’re not the only stories.”

On an exclusive tour previewing the museum last week, executive director Kenneth Hoffman told Jewish Insider that the institution aims to fight a common misperception: that people “didn’t know there were Jews in the South.” The notion mostly comes from “Jews who aren’t from the South, because for them, the center of their universe is their own community, New York or Cherry Hill, N.J., or whatever,” said Hoffman, who grew up in Baton Rouge, La. “When people think about immigration, they think about Ellis Island. When people think about Jewish communities, maybe they’re thinking about Brooklyn.”

The new museum makes the case that understanding the experiences of Southern Jews is essential to understanding the broader story of American Jews — essential, even, to truly understanding the history of the United States, a country of immigrants.

“We want to expand people’s understanding of the South,” Hoffman explained. “People think of the South in terms of black and white, racially, and that’s understandable. It’s correct. That is the blanket that covers all of Southern history and really all of American history, the racial issues. But they’re not the only stories.”

The museum is on the edge of New Orleans’s central business district, down the street from the city’s acclaimed World War II Museum and less than a mile from the French Quarter. Visitors enter through a small storefront across the street from the streetcar line. “We’ve got a very small footprint,” Hoffman noted. The museum’s three permanent exhibitions are on the first floor, with a temporary exhibition space on the second floor. The top three floors of the building house apartments.

MSJE’s arrival in New Orleans is a long time coming. The museum itself dates back to the mid-1980s, when it started as an exhibit at the Henry S. Jacobs Camp, a Union for Reform Judaism Jewish sleepaway camp outside of Jackson, Miss. The early MSJE began as “a repository for all the small-town congregations that were disappearing,” said Hoffman. People from small towns across the South who had attended Jacobs Camp would ask Macy Hart, the camp’s then-director, “‘I’m the last Jew, we’re selling the building to the Baptist church. What do I do with the Torahs?’” Hoffman, who interned at the museum when it was at the summer camp, recalled. “Macy said, ‘Bring them here. We’ll keep them.’”

For those who are able to offer financial support, visit msje.org/support.

For regular updates, follow MSJE on Facebook or Twitter, or subscribe to the monthly newsletter

Click here to read the full article!

Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience to Open in Early 2021

NEW ORLEANS (press release) – Earlier this year the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) announced that it would open in New Orleans in the fall of 2020. Due to construction delays and a drastically slowed tourism economy from the effects of COVID-19, Museum officials have decided to push back plans to open until early 2021.

“We feel this will allow us to give the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience the robust welcome that we’ve been planning for,” said Jay Tanenbaum, Chairman, MSJE. Tanenbaum also cited the need to give business and tourism time to recover in New Orleans and ensure the safety of all staff and visitors.

Museum staff remains hard at work in conjunction with design and fabrication partners, Gallagher & Associates, and Solomon Group toward completion of its exhibit space at the Museum’s future home, 818 Howard Avenue in New Orleans.

The new museum will explore the many ways Jews in the American South influenced and were influenced by the distinct cultural heritage of their communities, covering 13 states and more than 300 years of history – including Colonial, Civil War, World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.

Curators are still also accepting artifact donations. With many people still at home, now is a good time to cull family archives and to speak with older relatives to collect personal family stories. Visit msje.org/our-collection for more information.

For those who are able to offer financial support, visit msje.org/support.

For regular updates, follow MSJE on Facebook or Twitter, or subscribe to the monthly newsletter

Click here to read the full article!