Officials with the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) announced that the new museum will open in fall 2020 in New Orleans.
Exhibits 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.
“This will be the only museum in the country to focus exclusively on the history and culture of Jews across the South,” said museum chairman Jay Tanenbaum.
Multimedia exhibits will illustrate how Jewish immigrants and succeeding generations adapted to life in the South, forming bonds of deep friendship and community with their non-Jewish neighbors. The museum will also address issues of race and anti-Semitism, and the ways Southern Jews navigated such challenges at different times.
“Southern Jews have more often been a part of their communities, rather than apart from them,” says executive director of the museum Kenneth Hoffman. “This contrasts with America’s urban immigration centers where Jews formed more insular enclaves. The contributions they made and the acceptance they received attest to something unique in the Southern heart.”
Bess Nissenbaum (likely) in Yazoo City, Miss., c. 1930. She would later marry Saul Kaufman, native of Birmingham, Ala. They eventually moved to Atlanta, where Saul served as president of the Progressive Club. Credit: The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.
New Orleans was chosen as the home of museum based on the city’s vibrant tourism economy, long Jewish history and the historical connection to the broader southern region. MSJE will be located in the city’s popular “Museum District,” in proximity to the National World War II Museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the Contemporary Art Center on the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, and the walking path between the museums and the Oretha Castle Haley redevelopment.
The museum’s collection of 7,000-plus artifacts was transferred from the original Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience established in 1986 at Jacobs Camp, in Utica, Miss., and shuttered in 2012.
MSJE is working with Gallagher & Associates, an internationally recognized museum planning and design firm, responsible for award-winning experiences at scores of international projects including the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, the National College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, and in New Orleans, the Sazerac House and the National World War II Museum.
Krewe du Jieux Bagel. Credit: The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience.
The museum is expected to appeal to a wide array of visitors.
“You don’t have to be Jewish and you don’t have to be Southern to relate,” said Hoffman. “Our hope is that visitors come away with an expanded understanding of what it means to be a Jew, what it means to be a Southerner, and ultimately, what it means to be an American.”
Museum officials are encouraging members of the public to consider donating relevant artifacts to the collection. Curators are especially interested in items from early Jewish history (1800s), items related to the stories of women and people of color, and any item with a strong connection to a personal story of Southern Jewish life.
Learn about the artifact donation process at: www.msje.org/our-collection.