Kol Yisreal welcomed city residents and visitors from across Orange County to celebrate the inaugural Jewish Cultural Festival and the Jewish Museum of the Hudson Valley with food, family fun, historical displays and community camaraderie.
This inaugural community event, held on Sunday, September 19, involved the collaborative efforts of Kol Yisrael, led by Executive Director Stefanie Kostenblatt, with the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County and Jewish Family Service.
At Kol Yisreal, located at 290 North St. in the City of Newburgh, this community center houses the congregations of Agudas Israel, Temple Beth Jacob and the Newburgh Jewish Community Center. According to Kostenblatt, this project has been about a year in the making through careful planning with each respective group.
The opening ceremony for the festival began with several remarks from museum curator Mimica Tsezana-Hyman who was joined by congregation members, visitors and several elected officials. “In this one building, we will travel around the world. We will share our past and take pride in our future in a new and unexpected way. It is here where, where we will walk through history,” said Tsezana-Hyman. “We will educate, inspire, expand our views and entertain each other.”
Over a hundred various items, artifacts and relics, according to Tsezana-Hyman, were on display for visitors to enjoy. From old books to photographs, family heirlooms to hand painted images and other art pieces, each of the items on display have been in the possession of various families or individuals over the course of many years. On that day, these pieces were shared for the public to learn their stories, and Tsezana-Hyman shared that several items can be traced back to the countries of Russia, Lithuania, Iran and other parts of the world.
One such exhibit that was available for the museum that day, according to Tsezana-Hyman, was an exhibit known as American Witnesses which was originally housed at the National Holocaust Museum of Washington DC. This exhibit featured various photographs with eyewitness accounts from American military and Holocaust survivors. According to Tsezana-Hyman, the exhibit had made its way to the United State Military Academy at West Point, and it was there that Dr. David Frey, Director Center Holocaust and Genocide Studies at West Point, heard about the museum and extended the exhibit to Kol Yisreal. Artwork by surrealist artist Kurt Seligmann was also available on display for the festival for people to enjoy.
While Kol Yisreal served as the ideal place for the museum for the day, Tsezana-Hyman wishes to see a future space that will be home to all these pieces and will continue to be space for conversation and inspiration amongst one another. “As I was collecting everything, a lot of times tears came to my eyes because the stories are unbelievable,” Tsezana-Hyman said. “I feel very touched not only by all the people that have attended, but also by the exhibits.”
As mentioned, the festival and museum was a collaborative event between several local and county based organizations. The Jewish Federation, according to Federation President Rissa Cutler, is a national organization that works in fundraising and provides support to Jewish communities all across the country. Here in Orange County, funding from the Federation goes towards antisemitism education, providing transportation to doctor’s appointments and supporting families who are in need of food and other pastoral care. These services are for both Jewish and non-Jewish families.
Cutler also concurred with the possibility of having a permanent museum here in the county. “Ideally, we would love to be able to make a Jewish museum in this area, to share the history, to share the artifacts and to continue to work through education to bring people together,” said Cutler.
Cutler’s colleague, Wendy Cedar, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County, shared that she was happy overall to see a variety of different people in attendance. “One of the exciting things is to see Jews from different synagogues all around the county, coming together in the same space,” said Cedar.
During the course of the afternoon, the Klezmer Band Madarka performed for guests various songs, and lunches prepared in a kosher kitchen including corned beef sandwiches with pickles and cookies were available to purchase throughout the afternoon.
One artist present, Lester Millman, had submitted a photograph for the museum of Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II behind her.
The portrait photograph was taken in 1978 during a Balfour Day Observance in Herzliya, Israel.
“It’s wonderful to see art growing in the Jewish community, we have been artists for ever, our calligraphy is, has created the books that we live by, the Torah scroll,” said Millman. “If this [the festival and museum] does its job, it will enhance the roots that we all have together. And it will make us grow better as a community.”
Visit kolyisraelnewburgh.org for more information on the congregations.