Jewish Museums / Community Renewal

Council of American Jewish Museums holds its annual conference amid the diversity of Detroit’s cultural landmarks.

Members of the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) convene each February to discuss mutual interests and the development of new ideas.

Empty Chairs, an installation by Linda Soberman, features miniature steel chairs that cascade from the ceiling, swinging and hanging tenuously by a thin string and serving as a metaphor of the Six Million. It is part of "Memory Lingers," an exhibit exploring themes of memory and identity that Soberman developed with Gail Rosenbloom Kaplan, on view at the JCC in West Bloomfield during the CAJM conference.

When they meet in Michigan, Feb. 26-28, those discussions will introduce them to local museums and administrators with other ethnic and subject orientations.

Some 100 members from across the country will participate in the annual conference with this year’s theme being “Place and Purpose: Jewish Museums and Community Renewal.” Their tour schedule will include visits to the Arab American National Museum and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History among other cultural centers.

“This will be one of our most robust conferences,” says Judith Margles, director of the Oregon Jewish Museum, board chairman of the council and chair of a session on the Future of New Jewish Culture.

“We always try to incorporate the complexities of the communities in which conferences are held, and we learn from those experiences. As we meet with people representing other cultures, we think of ourselves as Americans in the same profession, looking at and dealing with the same issues.”

Tickets for the tours and associated programs are available to the public, also invited to view two art exhibits planned to complement the event.

Host institutions are the Janice Charach Gallery and Shalom Street at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills and the Temple Israel Judaic & Archival Museum in West Bloomfield, all to be visited by participants who also will get to see the Detroit Institute of Arts, Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills and the Henry Ford in Dearborn.

“We’ve had private showings to get ready for all the visits,” says Terri Stearn, director of the Janice Charach Gallery and conference host co-chair with Stephen Goldman, executive director of the Holocaust Memorial Center. “At the gallery, we’re very pleased to be hosting this event for the first time.”

Some 80 institutions are part of CAJM, founded in 1977 by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. The organization develops programs to train museum staff and volunteers, advocate on behalf of Jewish museums, foster a professional network and promote information exchanges.

Josh Perelman, chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, will be in Michigan to moderate a discussion on “Motor City Frontiers.”

Panelists will include Graham Beal, director, president and CEO of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Lila Corwin Berman, director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University.

“We want to have a lively but serious conversation about the roles cultural institutions play in the civic health of urban space,” Perelman explains. “Because of Detroit’s challenges, its cultural institutions can be archetypes and incubators in driving the revitalization of the community.”

Those who arrive the day before the conference begins will have a chance to visit the Motown Historical Museum (Hitsville USA) in Detroit, the studios where contemporary, far-reaching sounds were created for international audiences. Afterward, there will be a visit to a popular nightspot downtown.

The first formal day of the event includes tours to Cranbrook Art Museum as well as the JCC and Temple Israel galleries. Among the discussion topics are “Jews and American Cities”; “Collecting the Contemporary”; “Collaboration, Creativity and Community Building: Case Studies for Success in a Marketplace of Cultural Offerings”; and “Building Bridges: Museums and Schools as Partners.”

The second day takes participants to the Henry Ford, Arab American National Museum and the Holocaust Memorial Center. Discussion topics include “Where the Particular Encounters the Universal: The Civil Rights Movement in Museum Education”; “Critiquing the Show”; “Curating the 21st Century”; and “The Power of Place.”

The final meeting day features visits to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Margles and Perelman sessions will be featured.

“Networking is a very important part of the conference,” says Goldman, who wants participants to understand that the Holocaust Center also teaches about Judaism and invites traveling exhibits. “Knowing one another helps with collaboration.”

CAJM meets Sunday-Tuesday, Feb. 26-28, at various locations in the Metro area. For a complete schedule, go to

Nonmembers can join the organization and attend the entire conference for $400. Day passes are $175 and include tours and meals. To get more information and to register, call (248) 432-5579.

– By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer



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