Museum Appoints Senior Judaic Advisor

Nationally-recognized Jewish educator Rachel Stern to help craft unique gallery in the Museum’s soaring atriums.

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience has contracted Rachel Stern to serve as its Senior Judaic Advisor to provide expertise and guidance in the presentation of Jewish beliefs and practices throughout the Museum’s exhibits.

Rachel Stern holds master’s degrees from Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion in Jewish Education and Jewish Non-Profit Management. She has worked in the Jewish non-profit world for over twenty years serving federations, synagogues, seminaries, and beyond. Rachel most notably served as the first full-time Director of Education for the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life for over 13 years and recently became the Inaugural Director of the Rapoport Center and the Chief Learning and Engagement Officer for Shalom Austin. Rachel and her husband Scott are parents of four college students, Gabe, Lainey, Maddie, and Charlie.

“I can think of no better person to help us interpret the religious aspects of exhibits,” said Museum Executive Director Kenneth Hoffman. “Rachel has such wonderful experience creating educational curricula that is not only informative, but accessible and engaging.”

“As a Jewish educator I’m always looking for new ways to connect people to Judaism,” said Stern. “I’m thrilled to be part of this project and utilizing the museum as a platform to teach and celebrate Judaism.”

Many of the Museum’s exhibits will be historical in nature, tracing Southern Jewish involvement in local, regional and national events. The Museum is also planning a unique gallery where visitors can explore Judaism—its fundamental beliefs, branches, life cycle events, and holidays—using a rich collection of artifacts that were used by Southern Jews over the past two hundred years. Highlighted items will include a Torah from El Dorado, AR, a seder plate recovered from a Hurricane Katrina-flooded home, tefillin (phylacteries) from Demopolis, AL, a ketubah (marriage certificate) from Portsmouth, VA, and a 19th century chevrah kedusha ledger (burial society) from Vicksburg, MS. Visitors will also be able to learn about Jewish practices and even quiz themselves through an interactive multimedia display.

The gallery will be housed in the Museum’s soaring four-story atrium showered with natural light. The setting will be both beautiful and contemplative. “The purpose of this gallery is not only to display many of our beautiful ceremonial objects,” Hoffman explains, “but to give our many non-Jewish visitors a ‘Judaism 101’ lesson in customs and beliefs.”

Museum Appoints Senior Historical Advisor

Award-winning historian Michael Cohen joins Museum’s efforts to create meaningful, accurate, and engaging exhibits.

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience has contracted Dr. Michael Cohen to serve as its Senior Historical Advisor as it researches, designs, and installs its exhibits, ahead of its 2020 opening in downtown New Orleans. Cohen chairs Tulane University’s Department of Jewish Studies, where he holds a Sizeler Professor. He earned his A.B. with honors from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Brandeis University. He is the author of Cotton Capitalists: American Jewish Entrepreneurship in the Reconstruction Era (New York University Press, 2017), The Birth of Conservative Judaism: Solomon Schechter’s Disciples and the Creation of an American Religious Movement (Columbia University Press, 2012), as well as several articles.

Professor Cohen lectures widely throughout the country and across the globe, including cities such as London, Sydney, Cape Town, New York, Tokyo, and Jerusalem. He chairs the Association for Jewish Studies’ Directors Group, where he is also the Division Chair for Modern Jewish History in the Americas. He serves on the Executive Committee of the Academic Council of the American Jewish Historical Society and is an academic advisory board member for the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture. Professor Cohen is also a board member of the Southern Jewish Historical Society, and he has served as a scholar-in-residence for the American Jewish Archives “Travels in American Jewish History” program.

“We’re delighted to be working with Michael on this exciting project,” said Museum Executive Director Kenneth Hoffman. “Michael has been advising us on a volunteer basis for two years; now he will take a more active role in helping us develop our exhibits. As we strive to tell a complex and often-overlooked story, Michael will guide our historical thinking and serve as our connection to scholars and historians across the country.”

“I am thrilled to formalize my relationship with the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience,” Cohen said. “Southern Jewish history is an important story that needs to be told, and I am excited to partner with the Museum to share that story.”

The Museum is also working with world-renown exhibit designers Gallagher & Associates, who helped create the exhibits at The National WWII Museum, The National Museum of American Jewish History, and at scores of institutions across the country and around the world. Together with Gallagher and Dr. Cohen, the Museum’s staff and board of directors will create exhibits that give a broad overview of Southern Jewish history in thirteen states, highlight a unique collection of artifacts, and provide opportunities for all visitors—Jewish and non-Jewish alike—to gain an expanded understanding of what it means to be a Southerner, a Jew, and ultimately, an American.

The Museum already has a strong relationship with Tulane University. Board members Jay Tanenbaum and Rusty Palmer, as well as Kenneth Hoffman, are alums, and board member Morris Mintz has a long history of support for the university. The Museum has established an active internship program that provides Tulane students opportunities to gain real-world experience in the museum field. Working with Dr. Cohen further strengthens that relationship.

Meet Our Designers

Learn more about the award-winning team behind the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience’s exhibit design.

We are pleased to be working with Gallagher & Associates, the renowned design firm that developed creative exhibits at The National WWII Museum, The National Museum of American Jewish History, The National Archives Museum, and many other museums around the world. In January 2019, we hosted Gallagher & Associates for a site visit to review the future home of the MSJE at 818 Howard Avenue in downtown New Orleans.

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 are designing exhibits that tell the overall arc of Southern Jewish history through carefully selected stories. These stories will personify specific events, attitudes, and experiences in a way that best educates, engages, and entertains our visitor.

During Gallagher & Associates’ visit to New Orleans, the Museum team discussed ways to engage visitors of diverse backgrounds to create an interactive and meaningful environment. While we have concluded the initial site visit with Gallagher & Associates, your perspectives are vital to the success of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience. Click here to take our survey and join the MSJE team.