Museum brings Jewish history

john.becker

The Beaumier Upper Peninsula Heritage Center will host a traveling exhibition titled “Uneasy Years: Michigan Jewry During Depression and War” from April 10 to May 16.

“This exhibit looks at the whole context of Michigan, its communities, and their relationship with Jewish life and culture. There are community stories and personal stories that speak to the hardship, loss, and renewal of hope,” said Julie Avery, curator of rural life and culture at Michigan State University Museum.

Michigan State is the university that put the exhibit together initially, and it is now travelling across the state.

Avery said the exhibit is about the Jewish community of Michigan in the period after World War I, up to the time when there was increasing awareness about the mistreatment and Nazi persecution of Jews. She said there are past assumptions that little was done to stop the mistreatment of Jews, but research uncovered communities all over Michigan that helped by providing resources such as food and money.

Daniel Truckey, director and curator of the Beaumier Heritage Center, said this exhibit is important because it extends NMU’s educational mission of embracing diversity.

“We have courses in Jewish history and the Holocaust, but only so many students will take these courses in their time at Northern. If we can expose more information about the past, we can expose students to things they might not have learned about,” Truckey said.

Truckey said the exhibit is a panel display, meaning it consists primarily of interpretative boards of photos, texts, and maps.

“It’s a really fascinating display about the Jewish community of Michigan, and we want people to know there is a Jewish community here in the U.P.,” he said.

Truckey said this display is relevant to the U.P. because while there are common ideas about the lack of diversity, there is more diversity here than some people believe. For example, Sam Cohodas, a major benefactor of Northern, was a member of the Jewish community.

Truckey said the Jewish community of Michigan was very active during the era of Father Coughlin, the infamous Catholic radio priest who delivered anti-Semitic messages.

“Coughlin was an anti-communist. He talked about the moral character of the U.S. being eroded by the communist movement and there was a strong connection at the time between Judaism, socialism and communism. Many people like Coughlin blamed the Jews for the problems with communism in the United States and in the world,” he said.

In addition to battling anti-Semitic sentiments, Truckey said the Jewish community in Michigan pressed the U.S. to step in during the Holocaust and were active in the founding of Israel after the war.

“The U.S. government actually had quotas on how many Jews could come into the U.S., even after they knew people were being killed. America actually sent boatloads of refugees back, and the Jewish community was very active in pressing America to allow more refugees in,” he said.

The exhibit will have its opening reception on April 10, from 5-7 p.m. The Beaumier Heritage Center is located in 105 Cohodas, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.