Jewish Exhibit Boasts Ephemera, A/V and a Yiddish Typewriter
by Samantha Anne Carrillo
Being a Jew in the contemporary United States implies a dual status, that of American. Alongside engagement with culture—painting oneself into that massive technicolor mural titled “America”—Jews are tasked with keeping the rituals, accoutrements and essential nature of Jewish religion and culture alive. The latter is, in itself, an intrinsically American act; freedom of expression and religion, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the inalienable right to create our own lives are all hallmarks of American citizenship.
As a nation of immigrants committed to maintaining these values, it is apparent that the one thing binding us together—keeping our multicultural fabric from unraveling—lies not in our similarities, but rather, in our difference. The rich tapestry of immigrant-made American culture is imbued with the individual, diverse and sometimes divergent cultures that make our country whole. Maintaining our roots’ health, we can reach out and allow ourselves to get intertwined with others.
Efforts to affirm our immigrant heritage can only strengthen American culture, providing a basis for progress. So it is with Albuquerque’s Jewish population. Jews who settled in Albuquerque over the past century have done much to build and bolster local culture. Their contributions range from growing the area’s retail sector to establishing and maintaining intellectually rigorous and locally focused medical services to assisting the Albuquerque arts community in reaching the next level.
The Albuquerque Museum (2000 Mountain NW) celebrates the essential contribution to our city made by this prolific culture with “Jews of Albuquerque in the 20th Century: Building Community Along the Rio Grande.”
This exhibition, housed in Gallery 6 (aka The William A. + Loretta Barrett Keleher Gallery), is notable for the emphasis it places on the narrative of immigrant success in America. Centered on Albuquerque, the intriguing individuals and concurrent themes of life, home and synagogue make this exhibit (which runs through Sunday, April 2) a must-see for those of us interested in how our town came to be and where it’s headed.
Two video interview stations greet entrants to this special exhibit. The screen on the east side introduces visitors to larger-than-life individuals and stories that figured prominently in local Jewish culture and the evolution and expansion of The Duke City’s metropolitan area over course of the past 120 years.
An interview with Terry Maisel Haas—whose parents, Maurice and Syma, were instrumental in building the commercial district east of Old Town prior to World War II—proves instructive and illuminating; Haas tells her own story, that of a woman whose identity was shaped by both her Jewish heritage and her love of Albuquerque.
Videotaped convo with medical and scientific personnel of Jewish heritage offers a hint of the progressive direction taken by area pioneers like cardiologist Barry Ramo and pediatrician Stanley Stark. On the west-side viewer, we meet notable New Mexico artists who are Jewish and whose work is marked by attention and dedication to traditional Jewish themes and imagery, giving depth and breadth to these immigrants’ contribution to the area’s creative milieu.
Turning from the screens, participants are presented with a thorough narrative as well as cultural artifacts that indicate the dynamism, perseverance and success of Albuquerque’s Jews in their adopted high desert environs. Throughout the exhibit, visitors are reminded how a growing Jewish population—which more than doubled between 1941 and 1961—provided a wealth of interesting, active and forward-thinking citizens to the city.
An elegant set of Shabbos candle holders are displayed near a traditional chuppah (wedding canopy). A typewriter with keys boasting Yiddish characters provides a sense of the lurch toward modernity felt by many Americans. A Shabbos lantern points to the future, illuminating past and present. As Burqueños and Jews of the 20th century advanced, economic and political concerns grew, and America continued to define itself by the productivity and innovation of its immigrants.
Eyes trained on the future, these immigrants were unabashed about their affiliation with an age-old set of traditions, a culture that both inspired and sustained them. Stories about business success—think H. Cook Sporting Goods and American Furniture—are balanced by profiles of local Jews who served the city, the state and its citizens. This part of the exhibit offers an opportunity to remember and celebrate the work of people like lawman Ira Robinson, U.S. Representative Steven Schiff, law expert Roberta Ramo and others who grew our government institutions here.
There is a feeling of timelessness about this exhibit that’s enhanced by the sublime art and artifacts of a culture bound to both tradition and innovation. Nowhere is this beauty more pronounced than when standing near the images, relics and words of those people who—uncertain yet buoyed by hope—made this place possible.
All photos by Samantha Anne Carrillo
Samantha Anne Carrillo is: a Burqueña; a freelance writer, editor, social media consultant & brand strategist; a fourth-wave feminist; and a devout situationist. Connect with her at facebook.com/samanthaannenm.