By Neil Cotiaux
Photo by McKinley Wiley
Established last year, M-Cubed (“Meet. Mingle. Maltz”) was created to help Beachwood’s Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage remain relevant to millennials. The 24,000-square-foot museum, opened in 2005, will mark its 10th anniversary this fall.
Tucked below an embankment in the 2900 block of Richmond Road, the facility’s handsome edifice is faced with more than 126 tons of Golden Jerusalem limestone mined in southern Israel and hand-chiseled. The museum’s brainchild, Milton Maltz, founder of the Malrite Communications Group, a consortium of radio and television stations, envisioned his namesake not only as a way to foster a richer appreciation of Jewish heritage but also as a catalyst for a wider examination of intercultural issues.
M-Cubed is the museum’s newest platform for such dialogue. The group — already 25 strong — meets the first Tuesday evening of each month and is split about evenly between Jewish and non-Jewish millennials, including an Iranian who used to work on the museum’s staff.
“The charge was to put out some feelers and talk to some people,” Ellen Rudolph, Maltz’s executive director, who came on board last year, says.
Heather Johnson, who is not Jewish and serves as the museum’s development manager, is helping to broaden community representation on M-Cubed, which is expected to delve more deeply into such issues as interfaith relations, LGBTQ, and bullying.
Potential participants ask “Is it really for me?” to which Johnson responds, “It’s really about issues that affect all of us,” a twist on the Hebrew phrase Tikkun olam or “repairing the world,” Hadas Binyamini, another member, says.
New M-Cubed participants and other first-time visitors to the museum often ride a seesaw of emotions when navigating its exhibits. Tours begin in an understated manner with pictorial displays of immigrants “enduring the cold, filth and bleak misery of the city’s ramshackle tenements” and the contributions of Jews to Cleveland’s medical, garment and publishing industries.
Soon, emotions become roiled. Entering a pocket-sized theater, guests enjoy a film chronicling Jews’ contributions to the arts. Interspersed between the Seinfeld and Three Stooges clips are somber reminders, such as the 1947 Oscar-winner “Gentleman’s Agreement,” in which Gregory Peck conducts an expose on anti-Semitism.
Steps away in the Hate Room, the evil of bigotry envelops the screen, with Nazis unleashing venom across Europe and track-and-field Olympian Jesse Owens, an African-American and former Clevelander, shattering Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Games. In the back of the room, behind glass, a stark reminder of how hate can hit home: the robes of the Ku Klux Klan, whose victims were not confined to Jews.
The museum’s narrative was designed so that anyone “could come and find a place to plug in with their own heritage,” Rudolph says.
The tour’s final permanent exhibit, on The Holocaust, pays tribute to the Jewish G.I.s who helped liberate Europe and to the Allied forces who confronted the atrocities of the concentration camps where 6 million Jews died.
The adjoining Temple-Tifereth Israel Gallery houses ritual objects, sacred books and scrolls, and fine art from around the globe — the fourth-oldest museum of Judaica in the United States. Across the lobby, a series of rotating exhibits, such as the current Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American, complement the facility’s core exhibits.
About 8,000 schoolchildren visit the Maltz Museum each year. The museum defrays transportation and entrance fees for school districts with a demonstrated need, Samantha Fryberger, its marketing director, says.
While M-Cubed is the museum’s latest foray into community dialogue, its Stop the Hate contest, now in its seventh year, has already sparked action by nearly 17,000 students in grades 6-12 at public, private, religious, home, online, and charter schools who have taken a stand against intolerance. Stop the Hate began as a way to give students an outlet for what they experienced during their tour, M-Cubed member Johnson says.
Each year students are invited to submit essays sharing their reflections on racism, sexism, bullying, and other forms of intolerance and compete for a grand-prize scholarship of $40,000, two finalist awards of $15,000, and $10,000, and other lesser awards. The annual $100,000 purse is funded by the Maltz Family Foundation. Other corporate and foundation sponsors underwrite additional costs.
During the last two years, Stop the Hate has also offered anti-bias grants to the grand prizewinner’s school and to the school with the highest rate of participation.
Rudolph says 3,000 entries were submitted in 2014, a 150 percent increase over 2013, and she’s aiming for even more submissions in coming years. “We’re really working hard to push to get further into the schools, to get further into Northeast Ohio” and perhaps even go statewide, she says.
Meantime, M-Cubed continues to ramp up its own recruitment efforts.
“We really want to showcase young voices” and elicit more program ideas, M-Cubed’s Binyamini says. The Maltz Museum’s large lobby is a suitable venue for hosting M-Cubed members and others, she adds, and the 70-seat main theater is also available for public gatherings. On-site parking is free.
“It’s no good pretending differences don’t exist. They do. They have to be recognized and respected,” the late Paul Newman, a Shaker Heights native, says in a clip from Exodus that’s just one small part of the museum’s core exhibit.
As the Maltz Museum marks its 10th anniversary year, it will be holding a number of commemorative events and will be open free of charge to the public the first weekend in July.
For more information: maltzmuseum.org