New Jewish museum opens in Cleveland

Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage combines historic artifacts and high-tech.

maltz museum 298 (photo credit: )
maltz museum 298
(photo credit: )
A new museum made of glass and limestone the color of the desert tells the heritage of a city's Jewish community through sound, visuals and interactive displays.
The creator of the International Spy Museum has developed the
Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, which combines historic artifacts and stories of settling into new lives with a high-tech experience.
"This is a Jewish museum but ... people of all cultures, races, religions can relate," said Mike Devine, executive vice president of The Malrite Co., which specializes in museum development. "I think that's what makes this such a fascinating experience for the entire community and visitors, Jewish and non-Jewish."
The museum, which opened in suburban Cleveland on Oct. 11, is named for Malrite CEO Milton Maltz and his wife, Tamar. Their International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., has earned acclaim as the only public museum in the United States dedicated to revealing the secret history of espionage.
Constructed of Jerusalem limestone quarried in Israel, the exterior of the Maltz Museum was crafted to resemble the texture of ancient city walls. The architects set the $15 million (€12.5 million) museum low into the ground to give the feeling that it's an excavated artifact.
But its sleek lines have a contemporary feel. Inside its glass doors, visitors are taken on a journey with Jews who immigrated to the United States and settled in Cleveland, beginning in 1839.
The first artifact sets the tone for the rest of the journey. Next to a mural of immigrants arriving in America is an ethical will called the Alsbacher Document. Written by Lazarus Kohn, a teacher in Unsleben, Bavaria, it tells the travelers not to forget their Jewish heritage as they enjoy America's freedoms.
Headphones and a touch-display allow the visitor to experience the journey from Bavaria to the United States and make important decisions along the way. Do you continue even though you have little money? Who do you trust when you arrive in America? Should you marry soon after arriving?
The cultural contributions of Jewish immigrants are on display as well. A larger-than-life Superman bursts through the museum's brick wall over an exhibit about Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, who dreamed up Superman while at Glenville High School.
"There are many Jewish museums, but none cover American Jewish history in this way," said Carole R. Zawatsky, the museum's executive director.
Sound is everywhere in the museum. Directional speakers fill the gallery with classical music. Take a few steps to another room and the music is replaced by the clippity-clop of horse drawn carriages. Step in front of a video display and a new set of directional speakers provides narration.
Silence and darkness envelop a gallery that tells the horrors of the Holocaust, the floor made to look like the muddy ground of a Nazi death camp.
Holocaust survivors tell their story on a video monitor in a gently lit room. The museum then brightens in the final two areas dedicated to the formation of Israel as an independent state in 1948 and the achievements of Cleveland Jews. A touch panel provides brief biographies on such local heroes as Cleveland Indians great Al Rosen to banking billionaire Al Lerner.
A large gallery will display traveling exhibits with subject matter that covers multiple races and religions. And a garden is planned to memorialize survivors of the Holocaust and Jewish war veterans. The museum shares a campus with The Temple-Tifereth Israel. Founded in 1850, it's one of the oldest reform congregations in the United States.