Museum Exhibit Focuses on Jewish Life
The exhibit “Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina” is open at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh, the first city of its statewide tour.
The traveling exhibit is part of the first major effort to document and present more than 400 years of Jewish life in North Carolina. Produced and organized by the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina (JHFNC), “Down Home” chronicles how Jews have integrated into Tar Heel life by blending their own traditions into Southern culture, while preserving their ethnic and religious traditions. Admission is free.
This compelling exhibit is part of a major, four-part multimedia project, also titled “Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina,” organized by the JHFNC.
“The exhibit ‘Down Home’ brings to life Jewish values — family, faith, work and study,” says Leonard Rogoff, exhibit curator, historian and author of the companion book. “It challenges stereotypes both Southern and Jewish.”
Enhanced with artifacts and re-created environmental settings depicting scenes of Jewish life, “Down Home” recounts the personal stories of hard work, dreams and challenges of Jewish immigrants who became Southern, while struggling to maintain their cultural and religious lives in a new land. Additionally, the exhibit highlights the remarkable Jewish contributions to North Carolina’s economic, social, cultural and educational welfare.
“Down Home” will close temporarily between July 11 and Aug. 1 but will reopen Aug. 2 and run through March 7. After “Down Home” closes in Raleigh, it will travel to Greensboro, Wilmington, Charlotte and Asheville.
The exhibit presents a historical overview of Jewish immigration and acculturation. It conveys how Jews, through a process of struggle and negotiation, became integrated into Southern society and help build a New South.
“Just as the New South welcomed the Jewish peddler, merchant and industrialist,” says Rogoff, “so, too, has the Sunbelt invited the Jewish professor, doctor, engineer and entrepreneur.”
Four re-created environments will draw visitors into the experience of being Jewish in North Carolina. These settings focus on the Jewish values of religion, family, community, education and work. A brief description of each follows.
n “A Love of Learning” focuses on the intellectual and cultural accomplishments of Tar Heel Jews. The setting re-creates the study from the Charlotte home of civil rights activist Harry Golden, who published the newspaper Carolina Israelite from 1942 to 1966. Among the items are Golden’s desk and typewriter.
n “Keeping the Faith” features a reconstructed synagogue sanctuary with religious ritual objects from a synagogue in Winston-Salem. These items include a Torah; a Torah ark; mezuzahs; spice boxes; and a scroll of Esther (Megillah), which is read on the holiday of Purim. Congregation members use their synagogue not only for worship, but as a place to study, reflect, socialize and educate their children.
n “Building Businesses: Creating Communities” includes an authentic dry-goods store stocked with vintage merchandise and artifacts from family stores in Whittakers, Lincolnton and Greensboro. Since Southern Jews found the doors closed to many professions, they depended on the retail trade for survival. They established themselves as dry-goods-store owners, and some ultimately became industrialists. Following the Jewish tradition of tzedakah (acts of righteousness and charity), some merchants became leading philanthropists, contributing to health, education and civic resources in their communities. They helped build hospitals, art museums and more.
n “Family Comes First” centers around a multimedia dining table set for a Friday night Sabbath dinner, allowing exhibit visitors to experience a Jewish Sabbath. To North Carolina Jews, family is both an enduring value and a refuge — a connection to timeless tradition and a source of identity within a largely Christian mainstream culture.
“The Museum of History is honored to have been selected by the JHFNC as the first venue for this wonderful exhibit on the Jewish history, heritage and culture in North Carolina that have been so important to our state,” remarks Ken Howard, director of the N.C. Museum of History.
The exhibit is sponsored by the Leon and Sandra Levine Foundation of Charlotte and the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.
To learn more about the Museum of History, call (919) 807-7900 or access ncmuseumofhistory.org or Facebook. The museum is located at 5 E. Edenton St., Raleigh.
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