on Woodland Avenue opened with the goal of helping newly arrived immigrants establish themselves and assimilate into American culture.
For decades to come Jews settled and did well in the Cleveland area. A mixture of displays and videos throughout the exhibit cover this very well. One of my traveling companions and I wandered into a miniature theater and got sucked into a documentary on Jewish entertainers. In another place if one looks up, one will see Superman smashing through a wall, which explains the stray bricks lying on the floor. This is because Superman’s creators, Joel Schuster and Jerry Siegel, were two Jews from Cleveland.
Despite all their accomplishments, American Jews still faced anti-Semitism. The Great Depression exacerbated the anti-Semitism that permeated American society. When Hitler rose to power in Germany, the United States kept its doors firmly closed to German Jews trying to flee because the American public wanted no more inside American borders. American anti-Semitism, awful as it was, was timid compared to that practiced in Nazi Germany, made worse when World War II broke out. By 1941 Hitler had decided that all Jews must be exterminated, and with this order the death camps were built.
An oblong room with a single entrance contains the displays about the Holocaust. Hanging on one wall is a television showing a film of the both the dead the survivors of death and concentration camps. So horrified was one of my traveling companions by this, she fled the room in disgust. This is by far the most moving and solemn place in the entire museum, and rightly so.
One of the most affecting things in this room were the quotes from Cleveland area Holocaust survivors and their relatives. Barbara Hertz Beder recalled,
When I was younger I used to wake up at night hearing my mother screaming. I knew instinctively she was having a nightmare about the Holocaust. As I grew older and began to understand what my parents had suffered, I wondered if I, too, would have had the strength and faith to endure.
Louise Greenwald Gips stated,
My father, Isaac Greenwald, died in 1976. He had seen his entire family killed in the Holocaust. The Germans wiped them off the face of the earth. Only I am here to remember them.
The museum’s third exhibit, the permanent “Temple-Tifereth Israel Gallery,” contains Jewish art mainly from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was in this exhibit that my memory was jogged. I knew the Talmud was a book important to the Jewish religion, but I couldn’t remember its purpose. An information sign explained it contains rabbinical rulings on a wide variety of subjects, the earliest of which date around 200 C.E. The Talmud on display was printed in Vilna, although I’ve no idea in what language it was written. Considering it came from Eastern Europe, I would not be surprised if it were Yiddish, about which the museum glaringly failed to mention in any significant way.
Yiddish, both as a language and literature, has a rich history, and until recently it has faced a severe decline, sparked by the murder of millions of its speakers during the Holocaust as well as the State of Israel’s decision to make Hebrew its national language. Non-Jews such as myself may not appreciate Yiddish’s contribution to America English, but it is quite extensive. Yiddish words we all use today include bubkes, schmuck, schmooze, and spiel.
After our visit, we I decided it would be appropriate to eat some Jewish cuisine. One of the places recommended to us by a museum staffer was Corky & Lenny’s Restaurant and Deli, which is just two miles from the museum. We arrived around 1:45 on a Saturday afternoon and found it so crowded we had to wait for a table, always a good sign. I ate a delicious pot roast lunch while my traveling companions went with corned beef sandwiches, one of which also contained tongue. Next time I’m in Beechwood and want to get a meal, I won’t hesitate to stop here.