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'JEWISH BUFFALO' IS FULL OF STORIES HISTORICAL EXHIBIT SPANS CONTINENTS

SEEN SEPARATELY, the arti facts

A Rosenthal soup tureen brought from Austria, a velvet prayer shawl, a coarse wool prison cap worn in Auschwitz, passports of people escaping the Nazis in 1941 -- are merely interesting personal possessions.

When brought together, however, as they have been at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, the impact is startling.

Together, they give a poignant overview of the terror faced by emigres who fled religious persecution before arriving in Buffalo, many of them penniless, to contribute in diverse ways to the city's heritage.

Called "Glimpses of Jewish Buffalo," the exhibit, on view through Feb. 25, uses possessions lent by local families to recount the everyday life of the Jewish population, starting with the waves of people who settled here from Russia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Poland.

Being shown concurrently is the traveling exhibition "Heritage and Mission: Jewish Vienna," a recounting of life in the city of wine and waltzes.

The exhibits offer a telling perspective of the near-annihilation of Jewish life in Vienna, and highlights the birth of the Jewish community here.

"The part about Buffalo that makes the connection between the two exhibits is that there is a thriving community here now," said Susan H. Langer, director of cultural arts for the Jewish Center of Greater Buffalo. "This is an important exhibit because it gives people a sense of identity."

Ms. Langer, who spoke to several donor families while assembling the exhibit, said the items are valuable because they link people with the countries they were forced to leave.

"People from Austria told stories of how they packed boxes for transport when they were leaving, but the Nazis took many of those boxes. They had wonderful crystal and china there, but they had to start here with nothing."

Because of the bias against them, many new arrivals to Buffalo weren't hired for business or banking, though they had been successful and prosperous before coming here.

"So they started as merchants with pushcarts, selling clothing and vegetables," Ms. Langer said. "That's why so many are in retailing and own their own businesses today."

Local items of religious, cultural and historical significance include the Ararat Stone, a 4-by-2-foot piece of granite planned as the cornerstone of a City of Refuge for Jews, on Grand Island.

The city was conceived by Mordecai Manuel Noah, a New York newspaperman, as a haven for oppressed Jews worldwide. When a large group of people turned out for the stone's dedication in 1825, it was impossible to ferry them all to Grand Island, so the ceremony was held in St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Buffalo.

"But after that, the idea came to nothing," said William H. Siener, executive director of the Historical Society. The plan failed for lack of support, but Noah is still viewed as an important figure and spokesman for Jews in America.

Other items form an informative collage of Jewish history: There is a page of the 1835 Buffalo City Directory that lists Lemuel H. Flersheim, the first permanent Jewish resident; Sabbath candlesticks; photographs of a butcher standing outside a shop surrounded by hanging carcasses; a wedding suit made by Julius L. Saperston, a Niagara Street tailor, with a label that reads: "This garment is made in my own work rooms and is guaranteed to satisfy perfectly or money back."

There are photos from the mid-1920s of Joseph Palanker and his brother in Russia; they were furriers in both Russia and the United States.

A contemporary bumper sticker -- "Sokolifkers are beautiful" -- looks oddly out of place, but Seiner explained that a large contingent from Sokolifka, Russia, left there during the 1916 pogroms and resettled in Buffalo.

"I thought the bumper sticker showed some humor and deserved a tip of the hat," he said.

There also is a conductor's baton with the notation that five of the seven Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conductors have been Jewish: Semyon Bychkov, Michael Tilson Thomas, Lukas Foss, Julius Rudel and William Steinberg.

In the Vienna exhibit, 54 panels trace the history of the Jewish population with photographs, collages and documents of the famous and the common people.

"It shows a culture that was very alive, the flourishing culture of Vienna," said Ms. Langer. "It's a population that went from 200,000 Jews before the war to only 6,000 now. Many were assimilated. Many had to deny their Jewish heritage if they wanted to live."

The traveling exhibit opened in Vienna and has been shown in Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Washington, D.C.

The exhibits are sponsored by the Jewish Welcome Service, Vienna; the Jewish Center of Greater Buffalo, and the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. The Historical Society, 25 Nottingham Court, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Some items were lent by the Holocaust Resource Center and the Benjamin and Dr. Edgar R. Cofeld Judaic Museum of Temple Beth Zion.

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