Encouraging new understanding and appreciation for identity, diversity, and acceptance.
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.
Have you done a feasibility study to support the operating and financial assumptions underlying the Museum?
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 $9.7 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.