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

God, Goats and Pickup Trucks: Visions of Maurice Schmidt’s Texas

“God, Goats and Pickup Trucks: Visions of Maurice Schmidt’s Texas”
Art Exhibit to Open at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience

NEW ORLEANS, January 9, 2023 – A new Special Exhibition featuring the works of Texan and Jewish artist Maurice Schmidt will open at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) on January 26, 2023, and run through May 31, 2023.

Titled “God, Goats and Pickup Trucks: Maurice Schmidt’s Visions of Texas,” the exhibition features 23 artworks, including paintings, sketches, prints and sculpture, colorfully depicting scenes both rural and religious, created over Schmidt’s long career. A centerpiece of the exhibition will be the painting, “Herdsmen are we, both we and thy fathers,” a large oil on canvas work that is being donated to MSJE by Schmidt.

Schmidt states that his work, though often illustrating pastoral, workaday scenes such as cows grazing in fields and farmhands transporting livestock, is always in reference to the divine. “There are holy spaces between the soil and the tractor above, between trees and their shade,” the artist has said, noting, “Art that would praise God must touch the human heart.”

Several of the works on display portray more explicitly religious and Jewish subject matter, such as a stark Biblical print entitled “Daniel in the Lion’s Den,” and a vibrant painting of three men draped in prayer shawls, carrying Torahs.

“This is the first collection of fine art paintings that we’ve exhibited,” said Kenneth Hoffman, MSJE Executive Director. “It gives us another way to explore Southerness, Jewishness, identity and community – this time through the lens of one man’s creativity and talent.”

Schmidt was born into a Jewish family in 1936 and grew up in New Braunfels, Texas. He studied art at the University of Texas at Austin and at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and taught in the Art Department at Texas A&M University for over forty years. His work has been shown throughout the US and internationally, including in an exhibition in Tel Aviv.

The museum will present several public programs and art activities while this exhibition is on view. See the events page for more.

The Maurice Schmidt collection is on loan to MSJE from the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts in Texas.

Images:
1. Exhibition poster
2. Herdsmen are we, both we and thy fathers. Maurice Schmidt, 2012. Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.
3. Torah Reading. Maurice Schmidt, 1986. San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts.

Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience receives USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award

Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience receives USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award
MSJE voted by the public as a top five winner in the Best New Attraction category

NEW ORLEANS, January 3, 2022- The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) is pleased to  announce that they have been awarded the fifth spot in the Best New Attraction category for the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel awards. Twenty nominees were chosen by a panel of relevant  experts and the public was allowed to vote for the attraction of their choice.

The Best New Attraction category had a diverse list of nominees from across the country, from skate  parks and adventure centers to museums and immersive experiences. MSJE, located in New Orleans,  Louisiana, took the fifth spot in the top ten list, was the contest’s highest ranked museum, and the only  nominee in Louisiana. The Museum investigates the diverse experiences of Jews in the American South  from Colonial times to present day. Through interactive exhibits, artifacts, and stories, the museum  dives into a wide array of themes that connect visitors of all backgrounds.

“This award is a huge accomplishment for the Museum to receive within such a short time frame from  when we opened in May 2021,” said Kenneth Hoffman, Executive Director. “Despite opening in the  middle of a pandemic, MSJE has quickly gained recognition as an important center for cultural  exploration and a vibrant tourist destination. The Museum appreciates the support it has received from  the people of New Orleans, supporters from across the South, and thousands of visitors from around  the world.”

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