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The joy of Jewishness
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The joy of Jewishness
New York Daily News 12-05-04

The joy of Jewishness

New kids museum stresses laughing, learning

The matzoh balls print recipes. A giant tree talks about good deeds. A
kosher refrigerator tells jokes and shofars don't just blow, they explain
about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Welcome to the $30 million Jewish Children's Museum in Crown Heights,
which opens to the public Dec. 23.
The museum is a seven-story, high-tech, interactive playland designed to
teach elementary school kids of all backgrounds about Jewish holidays,
history and family life.
"We want all children to feel totally free here," said Devorah Halberstam,
who helped raise funds for the facility.
The museum is dedicated to the memory of Halberstam's son Ari, who was
slain in 1994 at the age of 16 while he was riding in a van on the Brooklyn
Bridge. The Justice Department ruled the killing "the crime of a terrorist."
"Ari died at such a young age, before he really had a chance to live,"
Halberstam said. "But really, his life was about what you find here -
innocence, enjoying life, living day-to-day and enjoying your traditions.
"There are so many messages here at this museum," Halberstam
continued, "but above all, it is about joy."
The fun and learning begin with an interactive biblical account of the
creation. Detailed etchings overhead tell the tale. On the appropriate days,
real fish swim, animated birds fly and an elephant grunts "hello."
After the creation of Adam and Eve comes the day of rest. To prepare for
it, kids shop in a kosher supermarket with working checkout scanners, and
cook in a model kitchen where a refrigerator offers one-liners.
There's a room-sized, interactive Sabbath dinner table that has computers
inside giant matzoh balls. The computers display what Jewish families
around the world eat on the Sabbath and print out recipes for the dishes.
Next come the holidays, starting with talking shofars to herald Rosh
Hashanah, and ending with Shavuot, the giving of the law, which includes
the Ten Commandments.
To help visualize that day, kids enter a room where clouds part above Mt.
Sinai, tablets with the commandments come down and flowers bloom.
For Chanukah, there's a newsstand spreading the word about the Miracle
of the Lights, along with a modern-day television studio where kids can be
reporters and get a CD of their on-camera work.
Since families remove all yeast products from their homes in preparation
for Passover, there's an electronic game where children must find bread
hidden in a cupboard.
In the World of Good, children learn about universal, ethical principles
shared by people of all faiths, said Rabbi Nissen Brenenson, director of
education at the museum.
Youngsters are encouraged to visit the sick, honor their parents and
teachers, take care of pets and give to charity.
Finally, to show off how much they've learned during their visit, kids can
play the museum's versions of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. Brenenson
said each child will also participate in a crafts project to take home.
To celebrate the start of Chanukah Tuesday night, elected officials and
community leaders will gather in front of the museum on Eastern Parkway
at Kingston Ave. to light a giant menorah.
[Museum admission is $10, starting Dec. 23. Tickets must be purchased in
advance, online at www.jcm.museum/tickets, beginning Dec. 7.]

Originally published on December 5, 2004