Upon pulling up to the Museum, I was struck by the architechture of the building. The radical design of the building was compelely unknown to me before we arrived. As we filed in and made our way upstairs, I was very intrigued to see what else the building had in store for us.
A senior official of the museum presented a basic overview of the museum, sort of a 'what to see' along with an overview of the museum history and discussion of the design. One interesting exhibit of the museum was the 'Jew in a Box' piece. It seems that a Jewish person takes a daily shift inside a 'box' and answers museum guest's question on Judaism and other aspects of the Jewish culture. Personall,y I thought this sounded like a very interesting idea. I know the my own students would benefit from this experience; seeing as they have absolutely NO contact with Jewish people (let alone anyone outside North Charleston or their own demographic) and have little understanding of Jewish culture or beliefs outside what they may have picked up in World History courses. It seemed, however, that many of the other particiapnts were interested in the exhibit, but for the opposite reasons. A few expressed concern on the consistency of answers, the idea of a person 'in a box', or even setting up the idea that Jewish people are different. I didn't see it like this. I found it provacative, and a rare piece of performance art that I can enjoy. But, to each their own.
Later, we broke into our predetermined groups. I had selected Jewish Immigration. I was interested in this topic because I felt it was the one I could learn the most from. After a chaotic assembly of the groups (it seemed you just had to guess where your tour guide was) we were on our way. One of the parts that jumped out at me was when we worked on the computer stations. We saw the treatment Jews were forced to endure during the apex of the Russian Empire (Alexander II). I was familiar with the Empire under him, (mainly for the liberation of the serfs) but I was unaware that he forced Jews to live in the areas of present day Poland and the Ukraine. I was also very touched by the poetry reading embedded in the lesson, 'On The Slaughter' by Bialik. As the native English speaker in the smaller group, I read aloud for my friends, and explained a few of the more difficult or lesser used English words. When we got back into our larger groups, I explained what we had found; and I was happy that a few of our fellow participants already knew the poem. Afterwards, we made it through to the garden. The garden was at the end of two crossing 'axis'; exile and extermination. Inside the garden, there were concrete towers, maybe 20 feets high (just a guess from memory) which were on a series of different inclines and declines. We walked through the garden seperately. After a few minutes, I felt uneasy in my stomach, so I stopped for a second. I later found out that that was the purpose of the garden; to disorient. I thought this was an incredible idea, and a perfect addition to the 'axis'. I snuck off at this time to go to the Holocaust Tower. I was glad I did. I walked in and there was absolutely nothing there. In a country with no air conditioning, I was blown away by how cold and chilling the room was. It was poorly lit, and had concrete walls which were cold to the touch. Truly chilling. I read on the tab that the architecht refuses to explain the design of the room. My take was to rob the inhabitor of hope, which only shone through a small crack high above the floor. The concrete walls offered no way to reach the only way out, since the door is designed to be hidden and difficult to be opened (it was proped open by a towel wrapped around the handle). When we walked up the steps to continue our guided tour through the museum we went up a long and tiring staircase. It seemed it would never end. When we reached the top, I saw another one of the interesting features of the museum - that the saircase continued on into the wall.
I thought this museum was excellent, maybe even one of the best I have ever been to. Everything about it, from the design to the exhibits was amazing, and completely enhanced my knowledge on Jewish history in central Europe. I wish that I could take mystudents to this museum.