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American Jewish Museum

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Entry to understanding: The American Jewish Museum
  • Entry to understanding: The American Jewish Museum

For many neighborhood residents, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill is a popular spot to work out and do laps in the pool. Few ever think of it as a place to also exercise one's mind and capacity for empathy.

The American Jewish Museum, with exhibits in each of the center's two buildings, undoubtedly adds a spiritual and intellectual dimension to this community center. Even if JCC visitors are unaware of the museum's existence, they have unknowingly been there, since one of its two galleries is the lobby.

Its current exhibit, "If My Eyes Speak," explores the experience of those who have survived an atrocity, through photographs and interviews by Adam Nadel, a New York City-based photographer. Thirty pictures hung in the lobby feature genocide survivors in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Darfur region of Sudan staring down at lounging visitors. At first, these portraits and regions seem to have little to do with anything Jewish, but the express mission of the museum is to "apply the lesson of the Holocaust to today's world," explains director David Stanger.

But, the museum isn't only about solemn subjects. As a painter, Stanger says, "My thoughts about art-making play a role" in curating an exhibit. And the museum, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this fall, is Stanger's canvas: He is both director and curator.

The museum has a second gallery in the Alex & Leona Robinson Building across the street from JCC's main building on Murray Avenue. Typically, the galleries feature different exhibits, but in March, both will be in service of the museum's largest exhibition ever. More than 100 rarely seen historic images depicting the early years of Israel's founding will be on display. The exhibit will feature photos of significant historical events. But it will also offer light-hearted vignettes from those early heady years, including a snapshot of Israel's First Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, performing a headstand in his swimming trunks.

American Jewish Museum at the Jewish Community Center, 5738 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. Free. 412-521-8011 x.105 or www.jccpgh.org/Museum.asp

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