Milwaukee is affectionately known as the City of Festivals, in part due to the near-constant summer parties thrown for every nationality and people under the sun; but, one conspicuous absentee is the Jewish community. Unlike many of those other groups, the Jewish people of Milwaukee have their own local museum on the Lower East Side overlooking the lake.
The Jewish Museum Milwaukee is housed in a relatively unassuming building next to the more modern Jewish Home on Prospect and Ogden. There is a very nice Holocaust memorial seating area near the main door.
We were greeted inside at the front desk, and paid the small entrance fee (be on the lookout for their Groupon specials as well). The first space is a tall atrium with seating to watch a short video as well as a wall to showcase an impressive tapestry.
There are a number of artifacts pertaining to the basis of Jewish culture, for those less-versed in the group’s traditions. Particularly interesting were the large Torah scrolls and Commandment stones. It’s hard to tell in the images, but they’re the size of a small human.
Most of the museum, however, focuses on local Milwaukee Jews and the history of their people in shaping the city; this sets the Jewish Museum Milwaukee apart from similar attractions elsewhere.
Biographies of local Jews, from street peddlers to prominent businessmen, are featured in rich and detailed sets. There is a lot of reading, to be sure, but it becomes captivating to read the histories of normal Milwaukeeans living different (for a gentile like me, anyway) lifestyles.
Small details, such as the Mezuzahs in each doorway, help tie the somewhat brutalist structure together.
Obviously, as a Jewish museum, there had to be an exhibit on the Holocaust. But I believe it meshed well with the entire collection in focusing on local’s artifacts and stories of survival. In addition, there was an entire section dedicated to Milwaukee’s most famous Jewish resident and Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir. If you don’t yet know much about her amazing story, this is the place to start your education.
The Jewish Museum is a unique Milwaukee attraction showcasing an important, though often forgotten, people in our community. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon while immersing yourself in different culture.