at the CENTER FOR JEWISH HISTORY
Echoes of the Borscht Belt: Contemporary Photographs by Marisa Scheinfeld
presented by the Yeshiva University Museum (ended April 2015)
"From the 1920s through the 1960s, the Catskill Mountains, within easy driving distance of New York City, were a popular vacation destination for millions of Americans, many of them Jews. Known as the Borscht Belt, the resorts of Sullivan and Ulster County combined recreational activities with nighttime entertainment – especially stand-up comedy, which was born in the region's theaters and showrooms. At its peak during the post-WW II era, the region known as the Borscht Belt sustained more than six hundred year-round hotels, as well as over a thousand bungalow colonies and summer camps.
In this series of beautiful, richly textured, large-scale photographs, Marisa Scheinfeld documents the dramatic degradation of some of the most famous Borscht Belt hotels. The images reveal ghostly remnants of the glory years of the era, as well as powerful evidence of nature's claim on the resorts and their landscapes, and new uses to which the spaces have been put in recent years. Scheinfeld, who grew up in the region, began her documentary photo project in 2009; this exhibition marks the first time audiences can see her work on the large scale on which it was conceived. Echoes is complemented by original memorabilia and photographs from some of the Borscht Belt's most beloved hotels and resorts."
at YIVO INSTITUTE FOR JEWISH RESEARCH
PROFESSIONAL JOKERS: JEWISH JESTERS FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF AMERICAN COMEDY (ended May 2016)
"Once the bread and butter of stand-up comedy, jokes like this one were created by a generation of Jewish comedians who made their way from vaudeville theaters to nightclubs in Manhattan to the Catskills and beyond. Dozens of legendary comics from Groucho Marx to Henny Youngman to Milton Berle to Jerry Lewis to Joan Rivers, among many, many others, have earned a place in the pantheon of American comedy. It is no exaggeration to say that for much of the 20th century, Jewish comedians dominated America’s humor industry.
Birthed from the traditions of Jewish humor, from wedding jesters and the banter of talmudic study houses to the searing Yiddish satire of the 19th-century Jewish enlightenment, Jewish American comedians came of age during a period of post-immigration social anxiety for Jewish Americans. Still an ethnic minority with unique cultural and linguistic characteristics, mid-20th century Jews dealt with lingering antisemitism while trying to find their place in American society.
Engaging this outsider perspective, comedians expressed these anxieties via jokes that often functioned as humorous social commentary. Comedy was also a way to show that they had the same foibles as everyone else and served as a type of assimilationist impulse into larger American culture. The first wave of Jewish celebrities to enter American popular culture, comedians not only showed other Americans that Jews were just like them, but did so by making them laugh.
But these two are coming soon:
LAUGHTER IS STILL HEALTHY: SHOLEM ALEICHEM 100 YEARS LATER
at CENTER FOR JEWISH HISTORY
"One of the founding fathers of modern Yiddish literature, Sholem Aleichem (Sholem Rabinovitsh) was also one of its outstanding and most beloved humorists. Born to a family of Hasidic origin in Pereyaslav (Ukraine) in 1859, he absorbed the rich Yiddish culture of the shtetl, and used it to enrich his often satiric fictional tales of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Sholem Aleichem invented towns like Boyberik and Kasrilevke, and filled them with inhabitants like Menakhem-Mendel and his wife, Sheyne-Sheyndl, as well as the well-known Tevye the Milkman and his family, who would become the main characters of Fiddler on the Roof."
CLASSIC YIDDISH WRITERS IN CARICATURE
Yiddish newspapers and humor magazines contain dozens of caricatures of Yiddish writers, who were indeed major celebrities in the Jewish world. Sholem Aleichem dubbed Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Y. L. Peretz, and himself, the grandfather, father, and the son of Yiddish writing. These three authors helped bring high literary form into Yiddish during the 19th century, a time when most Jewish intellectuals looked askance at the language as a vehicle for either art or education. They were also a significant influence on younger Yiddish writers, who would follow their lead and create in the Jewish vernacular.
Stolen Heart: The Theft of Jewish Property in Berlin’s Historic Center, 1933-1945
"The exhibit tracks the rise of Jewish business and property owners in Berlin from the gradual integration of Jews into city life in the 19th century to the crucial economic, cultural, scientific, and philanthropic contributions they made until the 1930s. Nearly a quarter of the 1,200 properties in Mitte were owned by Jews before World War II. The story of five families in the period spanning before, during and after World War II are used to represent the totality of Jewish properties that were stolen."
“Stolen Heart” tells each family’s story through the lens of its property, documenting its original use and its confiscation by the Third Reich. The five families’ properties were used by the Nazis for various war-related purposes, such as the production of the Yellow Star of David, storage for “degenerate art” and a testing facility for gassing and euthanasia methods. The exhibit also traces the fates of the families and their descendents after the war. Unfortunately, to this day, only five percent of all Jewish owners and their descendants have received restitution."