Officials with the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) have 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 Jay Tanenbaum, museum chairman.
Multi-media 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 many ways that Southern Jews navigated them at different times.
“Southern Jews have more often been a part of their communities than apart from them,” says Kenneth Hoffman, executive director. “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.”
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 WWII Museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the Contemporary Art Center – conveniently located on the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcar line and on the walking path between the museums and the Oretha Castle Haley redevelopment.
The Museum’s collection of more than 7,000 artifacts was transferred from the original Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, established in 1986 at Jacobs Camp, in Utica, Mississippi and shuttered in 2012. Tanenbaum explained “The museum’s mission changed and grew into the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, which is headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi. In order to reimagine and grow, the museum separated from the Institute, giving it the independence to become a world-class attraction.”
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, the National College Football Hall of Fame, and in New Orleans, the Sazerac House and the National WWII Museum.
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 encourage 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. Find out more about the artifact donation process at www.msje.org/our-collection.