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Mission

The Dr. Bernard Heller Museum at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York is the visual extension of the spiritual, cultural, and educational life of the College-Institute, which provides graduate and professional programs for students of all faiths. As a university/seminary museum, its mission is to:

  • Present exhibitions and related educational and public programs that illuminate the 4,000 year-long span of Jewish experience;
  • Showcase the creativity of contemporary artists of all faiths exploring Jewish identity, history, culture, and experience;
  • Feature exhibitions and programs that interpret core Jewish values, texts, and beliefs and that foster a deeper appreciation for Jewish heritage;
  • Provide a forum for the exploration of the role of the arts as an expression of Jewish spirituality;
  • Highlight the creativity of contemporary Israeli artists and strengthen cultural ties between North America and Israel;
  • Showcase treasures of the College-Institute's library, archives, and museum collections;
  • Celebrate the important role played by collectors in the development of Jewish art and museums;
  • Build bridges of interfaith and multi-ethnic understanding;
  • Serve as an experimental laboratory for learning in Jewish and arts education;
  • Enhance public education regarding Jewish history and culture;
  • Enrich the academic and professional training of students preparing for careers of communal leadership;
  • Render service to faculty as a resource to enhance their curriculum and teaching;
  • Provide exhibitions, programming, and professional museum guidance to synagogue museums affiliated with the Reform M ovement and other Jewish cultural venues throughout North America.

History

Since its founding in 1983 as the Joseph Gallery under the leadership of Reva Godlove Kirschberg, z”l, the Museum expanded to become the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum and was dedicated as the Dr. Bernard Heller Museum on September 6, 2018 with a naming gift from the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation. The Museum has mounted over 140 exhibitions at our New York campus including seminal shows for emerging artists; surveys of leading mid-career and elder artists; cutting-edge exhibitions illuminating Jewish issues, including contemporary artistic responses to the Holocaust, the history of African-American and Jewish relations, the impact of family violence reflected in the works of contemporary Israeli and American women artists, the sexuality spectrum, home and homelessness, and the current environmental crisis; landmark exhibitions establishing new directions for contemporary Jewish ceremonial art; group exhibitions reflecting new interpretations of Biblical text; and exhibitions of significant private collections, reflecting Jewish identity and consciousness, which have advanced the definition of Jewish art in the 20th century. 

It has published scores of exhibition catalogs that are accessible online and preserved in major art museum and university libraries worldwide. The Museum has organized more than thirty traveling exhibitions carrying our HUC-JIR name that are presented in Jewish museums, university art galleries, synagogues, and community centers that reach communities throughout North America and beyond each year. The Museum has developed an art collection of over 2500 works spanning the 20th and 21st centuries. Docents lead adult and school groups throughout the year, and an internship program mentors highly qualified high school, college, and graduate students. During the course of the past 35 years, the Museum has offered powerful learning experiences for over a million visitors to our museum and to our travelling exhibitions.

Guiding the Museum are Director Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Curator Laura Kruger, Senior Curatorial Assistant Phyllis Freedman, Registrar Nancy Mantell, Archivist Susan Rosenstein, Research Director Rose Starr, and the Museum Advisory Committee.

The Museum’s exhibitions and publications are supported by George, z”l, and Mildred Weissman and presented by the Irma L. and Abram S. Croll Center for Jewish Learning and Culture. 

The Museum is committed to educating the general public as well as the faculty, students, and staff of the College-Institute. It presents an array of cultural and educational programs, organized in conjunction with exhibitions, which disseminate Jewish history, culture, contemporary creativity, and foster interfaith and multicultural understanding. The Museum welcomes students and instructors from a broad spectrum of Jewish, public, and parochial schools, who benefit from customized docent-led tours of the Museum, as well as opportunities to meet with HUC-JIR faculty and students, attend student recitals, and visit the College-Institute's Petrie Synagogue and Klau Library. In conjunction with Facing History and Ourselves, the Museum presents teacher workshops that relate exhibitions to curriculum fostering human rights education. The Museum's programming and staff are integrated into the New York School of Education's Master of Arts degree and certificate programs, which trains educational administrators and curriculum developers for adult, family, and informal Jewish education. The Museum collaborates with leading Jewish publications, including Reform Judaism magazine and Lilith magazine to present exhibition-related public programs of interest to the larger public. Intensive audience development strategies, including direct mail, advertisement, e-mail listservs, and reviews and listings in secular and Jewish publications, are designed to attract diverse visitors, including school and adult groups, Jewish lay and professional leaders, interseminary students, the arts community, and the general public.

Publications

The Museum has a commitment to documentation of all exhibitions through catalogs, brochures, and other printed materials. With the support of special grants, the Museum has been able to publish significant catalogs documenting exhibitions, including Cinema Judaica: The War Years, 1939-1949; The Sexuality Spectrum; Max Ferguson: Painting My Father; Janet Shafner: Dark Prophecies; Nathan Hilu's Journal: Word, Image, Memory; Leonard Everett Fisher: 70 Years an Artist; A Stitch in Jewish Time: Provocative Textiles; Isaac Bashevis Singer and His Artists; Mirta Kupferminc: Wanderings; Envisioning Maps; Arbit Blatas: A Centennial Celebration; 10-6-73 -- The Yom Kippur War: Photographs by Thomas Heyman; Rosalyn Engelman: Dry Tears; Elements of Alchemy: Prints by Paul Weissman; L.A. Story; Peachy Levy: Threads of Judaism; Living in the Moment: Contemporary Artists Celebrate Jewish Time; Judy Chicago: Jewish Identity; Tamar Hirschl: Cultural Alarm; The Eye of the Collector: The Jewish Vision of Sigmund R. Balka; Waldsee 1944; The Forgotten Photographs: The Work of Paul Goldman, 1943-1961; Carol Hamoy: Psalmsong; Aliza Olmert: Tikkun; Jan Aronson: A Reverence for Nature; The Art of Aging; Thirty Pieces / Thirty Years: Sculpture by Ann Sperry, Yaacov Chefetz: There They Will Change My Name, Ora Lerman: I Gave You My Song, Living in the Moment: Contemporary Artists Celebrate Jewish Time, Daily Rage: Edith Isaac Rose, Deborah Rosenthal: Eve's Vocabulary, Robert Broner: A Life in Print, A Treasury of Sacred Melodies: The Edouard Birnbaum Collection of Musical Manuscripts, Rage/Resolution: From Family Violence to Healing in the Works of Israeli and American Women, Drawing from the Source: Miriam, Women's Creativity and New Ritual, Ron Oron: Planes, Ben Katchor: Drawings from Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer,Breaking the Tablets: Works by David Newman, Inside the Ark: Ora Lerman, The Chosen: Five Hundred Years of Sephardic Enlightenment - Sculpture by Sandi Knell Tamny, The Collector's Room: Selections from the Michael and Judy Steinhardt Collection, Renewing Rituals: A Passover Celebration in Contemporary Crafts, Ceramic Transformations: Mosaic Sculptures by Susan Tunick, Blacks and Jews: The American Experience, Chaim Gross and His Universal Themes, The Work of Our Hands: Illuminated Hebrew Manuscripts, Hana Geber: Sculptures of Religious Passion, and Mizrah: Compass for the Heart.

These catalogs feature essays by celebrated Judaic scholars, art historians, and critics, including Dr. Norman J. Cohen, Dr. William Cutter, Dr. Martin A. Cohen, Dr. Mark Kligman, and other members of the HUC-JIR faculty; Geoffrey Hartman, Dore Ashton, Raimund Abraham, Pepe Karmel, Matti Megged, Yochanan Muffs, Aimee Brown Price, Mary Tompkins Lewis, Cissy Grossman, Phyllis Braff, and Arlene Raven.

Support

The Museum is supported by the Museum Advisory Committee and by grants from leading arts and education foundations, including George z"l and Mildred Weissman, The Covenant Foundation, The Krasner Pollock Foundation, The Sun Hill Foundation, The Cynthia G. Edelman Family Foundation, the Richard Florsheim Art Fund, the J. M. Kaplan Fund, the Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro Foundation, the Frishman Fund, the Gimprich Foundation, the Claims Conference on Jewish Material Culture, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, and the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation; corporate grants from Fisher Pharmaceuticals, Oscar Gruss & Son, Pro Pack Inc., and Elbit Electronics; grants from Israel's Ministry of Culture, the New York-Israel Cultural Foundation, and the Consulate General of Israel in New York; and by the support of the alumni of HUC-JIR.