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One tank trip: Maltz Museum tells the Jewish immigrant’s story

BEACHWOOD, Ohio – “The neighbor of the Prophet (Muhammad) was a Jew,” says Mohammad bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal (May 6, 2017), Yaroslav Trofimov relays Mr. al-Issa’s coexistence story adding, “when that Jew was ill, the Prophet visited him and gave him kind words. The hard-liners don’t wish to know that.”

Doing away with lines, walls, and whatever else separates us is the mission of the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. In Beachwood, Ohio, the Maltz, The Museum of Diversity & Tolerance, tells the Jewish immigrant story in Cleveland, and in America. It fulfills its tolerance edict with its “Stop The Hate” program for adolescents and teens and various exhibits.

The Maltz’s spacious lobby offers the opportunity to pause, and reflect on its agenda, and exhibits, both temporary and permanent, for on its walls Hillel the Elder invites visitors to consider “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I?” Fortunately museum founder Milton Maltz, along with his wife, Tamar, are not only for themselves. Maltz established Malrite Communications, a leader in the radio and television industry, and his wife, both committed philanthropists, employed their creative vision leading to this cultural landmark for Cleveland and America.

The permanent exhibit here, “The Jewish Experience in Northeast Ohio,” proclaims that it is “An American Story.”

“It’s about people getting off the boat, arriving in a city with nothing,” Executive Director Ellen Rudolph said as we view a picture of immigrants at Ellis Island. Regardless of faith or ethnicity, “Anyone can plug into their own immigrant story,” she said. The word Hope inscribed across the image conveys the immigrant feeling they’ve come “to the land of freedom and opportunity.”

For many Cleveland-area Jews, the Alsbacher Document is considered essential. Shown here is a replica, written in German, and given to Moses and Yetta Alsbacher as they and fellow travelers prepared to depart Bavaria in 1839, setting their sights on Cleveland. It implores them to hold true to their Jewish faith and traditions. Adhering to the Alsbacher admonition, a candelabra is displayed, to hold candles at the beginning of the Sabbath. The Ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract outlining a husband and wife’s responsibilities is on view, along with a well-to-do immigrant’s wedding dress.

Education and entrepreneurship have been hallmarks of Jewish life. The history of Jewish schools beginning in 1890 is told, and shown is a Hebrew typewriter, as are Cotton Club cases, an Akron, Ashtabula and Cleveland soda company, still producing pop today. In displaying slices of Richman Bros. and Joseph and Feiss Co., both producers and department store sellers of goods, we understand Cleveland’s history as a garment center. Now known as American Greeting, examples from the forerunner, the Sapirstein Greeting Card Co., are shown.

American life was not free of hardship for Jewish families, and the arts were often a respite to which they turned for entertainment and careers. Wonderland here profiles Jewish entertainers and entrepreneurs, several of whom became media moguls, such as CBS’ William Paley. Oscar and Tony winner (and Cleveland native) Joel Grey narrates a film through which you’ll discover the Jewish influence on American culture is broad and profound. An amusing feature is learning that Kirk Douglas’s birth name was Issur Danielovitch Demsky, Jill St. John’s was Jill Arlyn Oppenheim, and Kiss’ Gene Simmons’ was Chaim Whitz, as these and many others also listed chose professional names that were less ethnic sounding.

Fear of the other resulted in Jews being denied entry into Cleveland’s country clubs. Migration into suburbs Shaker Heights and Beachwood saw the Beachwood Country club built, and its story is presented.

The Holocaust is remembered as heroic Anne Frank says, “I get frightened when I think of close friends who have been delivered into the hands the cruelest brutes that walk the earth. And all because they are Jews.” Clevelander Ugo Mazzolini, who served in the U.S. armed forces describes approaching Dachau on April 29, 1945, coming upon the horror of gas chamber and crematoriums with bodies stacked neatly inside and out.  In plaques and on film death camp and Nazi survivors tell redemptive, faith, and survival stories.

While on a comic book cover, local Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster depict their “Man of Steel” crushing Hitler and Japan’s World War II Prime Minister Hideki Togo, at the Maltz there are reminders that the struggle to end racial violence continues. Lynching scenes are shown as Billie Holiday sings “Strange Fruit,” a song protesting that brutality. A case holds a Klansman’s robe, and even one outfitted for a child. A TV screen nearby plays footage of ABC’s Jim McKay relaying news that Israeli Olympians have been killed by Palestinian terrorists at Munich’s 1972 Olympics. David Berger, a Cleveland-area native who immigrated to Israel was one of those lost, and here he is remembered. As are the many American Jews who’ve served in the U. S. military. It’s noted 17 have earned the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military award.

The Cleveland connection to Israel is significant. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver in 1947 spoke before the United Nations supporting Israel’s creation. His achievements earned a visit to his Shaker Heights home by CBS’ legendary Edward R. Murrow for a Person to Person interview shown here. Israeli Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir paid visits to Cleveland, whose Jewish community has responded generously.

Setting foot on American soil fulfilled a dream. The American Dreamers area is a tribute to Cleveland area Jews who’ve been sustained by immigrant dreams. Their contributions to Cleveland, to America, and to the world demonstrate that their dreams continue to expand.

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