Object Lessons in Jewish History

August 26, 2015

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


Consider a pastrami sandwich, a tallit, and a pot and ladle. Now connect the dots. A group of Jewish educators from across the country recently gathered at the Tenement Museum in Lower Manhattan to do just that while immersing themselves in a new educational project focused on the Jewish immigrant experience. There is a common denominator. Seemingly random objects – collectively or singularly – can map a journey toward personal identity and family history, and link to the greater Jewish-American narrative. The Tenement Museum is seizing on that reality with a major new initiative that embraces objects as a portal to teaching history and heritage, leading students to define their present-day identity.


The Tenement Museum is poised to launch Your Stories, Our Stories, a new project embracing an objects-based approach to teaching the immigration story with a direct link to history, heritage and identity. The focus is on religious and ethnic groups, including Jews, who have defined the museum’s historic Lower East Side neighborhood through its multiple incarnations.

About 20 Jewish educators convened by the Tenement Museum, with the support of The Covenant Foundation, attended a two-day retreat to explore the immigrant history of the Lower East Side, delve into the past and present Jewish footprint there, and gain exposure to the new initiative in order to pilot it in classrooms beginning this fall.

Central to the project is a Tenement Museum website, going public in the fall, which is a digital extension of the museum itself. Hundreds of images of objects and stories about them submitted by students in New York City public schools already populate the site and represent a cross section of immigrant waves to America.

The outreach to Jewish educators creates an opportunity to bolster strong Jewish content and create an open-sourced educational approach specific to Jewish classrooms, museum officials said.

The Museum is encouraging Jewish educators to use their classrooms as living extensions of Your Stories, Our Stories – engaging multiple generations, using primary source materials, studying family stories and objects that reflect Jewish identity and history – and empower students to become contributors to what is, in essence, a limitless digital archive and museum.

Jewish educators said the initiative is appealing on a variety of levels, not least among them the fact that it connects their classrooms to the resources and counsel of a world-renowned museum and study center, and offers them an opportunity to create and share best practices.

Read the entire post at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Sep. 16, 2015