Enter one of four vibrantly colored canvas entrances, and you’ll immediately find yourself at ease in Abraham and Sarah’s cozy tent. Come March 2012, more than 1 million expected visitors will feel the same way when they get up close to “The Ancient Story of a Modern People,” the brand new fourth floor addition to Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Jewish Children Museum.
Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Nissen Brenenson, the museum’s director of education, says the collection of exhibits is undergoing the final stages of production.
“It is impossible to count the enormous amount of people who helped us reach this stage,” he says.
The floor’s offerings, which span the course of Jewish history from ancient Mesopotamia until the present era, immerse visitors in the authentic sights, feels, and sounds of each progressing period. Guests can design their personal thanks to G-d on a multilingual abacus, watch twinkling angels scale a ladder in the sky, and decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, all before stepping through the Sea of Reeds’ parting waters and into the museum’s “Mt. Sinai Experience Theater,” where a rotating 10-foot turntable frames a 3-D story of Moses’ life.
Steve Samuels, president of Work with your Brain, LLC, designed the interactive exhibits to “create an environment that is not only accessible to the children but where they feel that they are a part of a historical narrative of (the) Jewish people.”
As visitors strum their fingers through King David’s harp, toot ram’s horns triggering Jericho’s walls to fall, and listen to the interacting portraits of Moses, Joshua, and a present day child, say organizers, they’ll be too enthralled to notice that they are soaking up textbooks worth of Jewish culture and history.
Located not far from the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Jewish Children’s Museum opened its doors in 2004 as a memorial to the life of 16-yeary-old Ari Halberstam, a yeshiva student who was killed during a terrorist shooting on the Brooklyn Bridge on March 1, 1994. The inauguration of its fourth floor will coincide with the anniversary of that tragedy.
The museum’s mission statement beckons people “of all faiths and backgrounds to gain a positive perspective and awareness of Jewish heritage, fostering tolerance and understanding.” Although its hands-on approach is geared toward elementary-age children, the museum has proven to be an eye-opener for people of all ages, religions, and cultures.
“People can come in and we can teach them tolerance through education,” explains Devorah Halberstam, Ari’s mother and the museum’s director of foundations and government services for the JCM. “Our hope is that every ethnic group will visit.”
“We’ve learned more about the Jewish people in these two hours than in all of our seminary experiences,” says one Bolivian bishop during a recent trip. “This museum will definitely enhance tolerance and understanding between different faiths.”