National Liberty Museum Honors Collectors


Honorees Bob and Shelby Ford are joined by Gwen Borowsky and Arlene Silver at the National Liberty Museum awards reception and dinner., where the Fords were honored for their devotion to glass sculpture and their support of the museum and its mission. Photo: Bonnie Squires

— by Bonnie Squires

What do you do when your world-class glass scupture collection outgrows your residence?  If your name is Irv Borowsky, you buy an historic former bank building in Philadelphia and transform it into the National Liberty Museum.  You commission Dale Chihuly to create a four-story glass chandelier which indicates the flame of revolution and the fragility of freedom.  And then you hold an annual Glass Art Weekend & Auction Gala, and you honor supporters of the museum who are themselves connoisseurs of glass sculpture.  This year’s awards reception and dinner honored Shelby and Bob Ford and Inna and Alex Friedman.  Artist Therman Statom, who does unique things with glass, was also honored.

More after the jump.


Irv Borowsky, founder of the National Liberty Museum, and his wife Laurie Wagman greeted guests at the awards reception at the museum. Photo: Bonnie Squires


Patrons of the National Liberty Museum, including Herb and Phyllis Victor, and  Rhea and Dr. Morton Mandell, came to pay tribute to their friends who were the evening’s honorees. Photo: Bonnie Squires

The Museum houses one of the world’s most important collections of contemporary glass art to make the point that freedom is beautiful and strong, like glass, but also extremely fragile.  Through this unique metaphor, students learn that it is their responsibility to protect our nation’s heritage of freedom by making good and productive choices in their everyday lives.

Over 400,000 young people from the Philadelphia region and beyond have visited the Museum since it opened its doors in the year 2000.  Building on that success, the Museum created character education outreach initiatives that bring its message directly to area middle schools.  One such program, the highly successful “Young Heroes Outreach Program,” is funded by the proceeds of the National Liberty Museum‘s Glass Art Weekend & Auction Gala.  The money raised provides staffing, computers, lesson plans and classroom materials.  It also goes to forming a “Young Heroes Club” at each school, which empowers the students to identify and solve real-life problems they face in their school and community.

The National Liberty Museum is grateful to the many collectors and artists who recognize their connection to the Museum’s mission by generously donating and purchasing work at the auction.  The glass art community has been a major supporter of the Museum from the very beginning and will certainly continue to be a factor in the Museum’s success in the years to come.

The National Liberty Museum is located in historic Philadelphia at 321 Chestnut St.  It is open 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday and 12-6 pm on Sunday.  Hours extend to 7 days a week during the summer months.  The facility is fully wheelchair accessible.  

Rick Santorum Crushes Romney In Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado


Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) turned the Republican primary upside-down yesterday winning all three contests yesterday over the “frontrunner” Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

According to FiveThirtyEight blog’s Nate Silver:

In Minnesota, a state which Mr. Romney carried easily in 2008, he has so far failed to win a single county – and got just 17 percent of the vote. That put him 27 points behind Rick Santorum, and 10 points behind Ron Paul, who finished in second.

Missouri is a less important result since its beauty contest primary did not count for delegate selection and since turnout was understandably low there. But Mr. Romney lost all 114 counties in Missouri – and the state as a whole by 30 points, far more than polls projected.

Then there was Colorado, a state that has reasonably similar demographics to Nevada, which Mr. Romney carried easily on Saturday. Colorado has somewhat fewer Mormon voters than Nevada, which hurts Mr. Romney – but it has somewhat more wealthy ones, which favors him. The betting market Intrade gave Mr. Romney about a 97 percent chance of winning Colorado entering the evening. But he lost the state by 5 points to Mr. Santorum.

Mitt Romney will have some time to contemplate this turn of events. The next contests are the Arizona and Michigan primaries on Tuesday, February 28 followed by the Washington State and Maine caucuses on Saturday, March 3, and Super Tuesday, March 6 with voting in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

The next debates currently scheduled will be held by CNN on February 22 at 8pm in Mesa, Arizona and a super Tuesday debate March 1 at 8pm in Atlanta, Georgia.  

States Won

  • Santorum: IA, CO, MN, MO
  • Romney: NH, FL, NV
  • Gingrich: SC
  • Paul: none

How Does Jesus Look to You?

Rembrandt’s
Head of Christ
Philadelphia Museum of Art

— By Hannah Lee

When I learned that the National Museum of American Jewish History would be collaborating with the Philadelphia Museum of Art on an interfaith forum and conversation about the Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus exhibit at the art museum, I was eager to sign up.  So much has been written about this exhibit, both in secular press (New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer) as well as the Jewish press (Tablet and Forward).  It is a topic that is not surprisingly fascinating to Jews, as Jesus was born of Jewish parents and so much strife over the centuries have been waged in his name by descendants of his apostles.  It was thrilling to be in the audience  with members of the other faiths, in a harmonious conversation about a religious icon and symbol, because we usually only are taught by members of our own faiths.

Larry Silver, Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania, moderated the interfaith panel discussion, and he launched it with a query from his curator friend who asked, “why not the head of Christ?”  He proceeded to answer it himself by pointing out the works of Rembrandt represented a movement away from iconography towards a more human portrayal of Jesus, and the face is the window onto the human soul.  He then presented to us in the audience and the panel members (on a separate monitor) about 13 paintings of Jesus, only one of which was by Rembrandt.  

More after the jump.
Regarding Matthias Grünewald’s The Crucifixion, from 1515, Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, noted that it was not beautiful in the same way that the Holocaust is too grotesque, too harsh for beauty.  Professor Silver commented that Jesus was twice the size of every other figure in the painting and Jayne Oasin, Associate Priest of the Associated Parishes of Saint Stephen in Riverside and Beverly in New Jersey pointed out that the light highlighted the darkness.


Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion, Art Institute of Chicago

Regarding Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion, from 1938, Reverend Oasin noted that the painting has all the woes of mankind, and it reminds her of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Chancellor Eisen taught that at the turn of the 20th century, there was much identification by Jews with the life and death of Jesus.  This was exhibited by Martin Buber and later by Elie Wiesel who wrote about Jesus in the Holocaust.  “Jesus had become the universal figure of suffering,” not as Savior.  The figure in green in the right foreground is often depicted by Chagall as the Wandering Jew who needs to flee from calamity.  Zakiya Islam, a Muslim woman and a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at Temple University taught that a tenet of Islam is that in times of suffering, one is to run away.

Regarding a local painting by Thomas Eakins, The Crucifixion, from 1880, Chancellor Eisen noted that Jesus has no face, because the human soul is no longer there and because of the failure of ethics and goodness.  Reverend Oasin said that we can no longer turn our face away — the viewer’s eyes are riveted  to Jesus in the middle ground — reminding us of our sin, our inhumanity.  James Redington, a Catholic and Jesuit priest, pointed out that death had occurred through strangulation, as Jesus in the painting has pushed his back up against the cross in an attempt to breathe.  Ms. Islam said that there is no mention of the Crucifixion in the Koran.  There is suffering and struggle, but there is no focus on any specific suffering.  While Jesus, called the Spirit of God, and Mary are much beloved in Islam, there are no images in the Muslim religion.  Chancellor Eisen taught that while moderns refer to the Enlightenment as bringing light into the world, the previous Dark Ages, to the pre-moderns, their religions had already brought light into the darkness of the world.  In fact, to the religious, the modern world contains a little less light than much earlier in our history.

Regarding William Holman Hunt’s Jesus, Light of the World, from 1854, Reverend Oasin asked if Jesus is knocking on a door?  Ms. Islam said that this painting resonated with her, as Jesus is depicted with a mystical air (unlike the later, more human depictions of Jesus).

An amazing painting for the Jews in the audience was Maurycy Gottlieb’s Christ Preaching at Capernaum, from 1879, because Jesus is a Rabbi who is preaching at a recognizable synagogue (Capernum is on the Sea of Galilee in Israel).  Reverend Oasin pointed out that Jesus has his arms outstretched, as Christians do to celebrate the Eucharist (unlike the Kohanim’s spread-finger stance for blessing the congregation).

Regarding Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus, from 1601 (a favorite scene of Jesus appearing three days after Resurrection at an inn in Emmaus), Reverend Oasin noted that Jesus is beardless, fuller than to be expected (for someone recently back from the dead), and on the whole, fairly feminine.  Jesus is a woman, she exulted!  Ms. Islam said that the Ascension is very important in Islam, quoting from the Koran, “God said, ‘I have brought him to me.'”

Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ, from 1940, would be recognizable to just about any modern-day person, even one who is not a Christian.  It is the most popular depiction of Jesus.  Reverend Oasin, who is black, reminisced that when she was a girl, this painting showed her that Jesus does not look like her, does not look at her.  Father Redington called this the Protestant Jesus.

One member of the audience commented that Rembrandt’s compatriots were the early readers of the Bible. No, said Professor Silver, the Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1450 and by 1637, there was already the Dutch State Bible in translation.  He added that by the 1520s, Martin Luther had already translated the Bible into German and today, we are witnessing the 400th anniversary of the King James’ edition of the Bible.  Chancellor Eisen taught us that the Calvinists loved the Old Testament and Rembrandt had lived around the block from Spinoza and Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel.  Another person from the audience noted that Grunewald had the rare blend of symbolism and realism and Professor Silver concurred that it was a blend of the glorious and the suffering.  Reverend Oasin pointed out that people come to religion for comfort, so they do not relish a focus on harshness.  Chancellor Eisen taught that the artist acts in the role of spiritual narrator, thus art is a gift from God.


Rembrandt’s Head of Christ,
Philadelphia Museum of Art

A Jewish member from the audience asked about the depiction of challah in the scenes with Jesus’s final days. Wasn’t it Passover?  “No,” said Professor Silver, “by the second century, the Last Supper had been uncoupled from the Passover Seder.”  John, the most anti-Semitic of the Gospels ensured that references to Jesus’s Jewish roots were eradicated  or at least minimized.  Reverend Oasin added that John was also the most anti-dark of the Gospels, with his numerous equations of whiteness to goodness.  When she teaches her seminarian students, she tells them they can teach about John, but they have to unpack him (of his baggage).  Professor Silver proclaimed the Dutch of Rembrandt’s day very inclusive.  The artist even painted the Ethiopian convert with Jesus, not just once, but twice.

Another member of the audience asked about the ladder in Chagall’s painting and was it a sign of hope, amidst the dire symbols in the rest of the painting.  Well, replied Professor Silver, a ladder can go down as well as up and a ladder usually is simply the means to remove the mortal remains.

After a brief intermission, there was the keynote lecture by David Morgan, who has a dual appointment in the departments of religion and art, art history and visual studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  He commenced with a rhetorical question: what does it say that a painting is of Jesus? Does he look like us? A likeness can be the resemblance of an image to an original  based on features they share.  Drawing on neuroscience, our brain looks for resemblances, matches in our surroundings– “our brain wants to see order in the world.”  A likeness is also the result of a powerful drive to emulate an archetype, such as a baby swan that mimics the preening of its parent or a pedestrian to a store mannequin.  The engine is the desire.  Third, to Christians, the image of Jesus presents what he was like, a recognition of an affinity between his appearance and what the faithful believes, knows, feels, and sees within themselves about him.  It is an intimate connection that the devout viewers feel between Jesus and themselves.  The basis of likeness is an archive of images composed of all the images people have ever seen in an endless chain of reference.

The Gr&uumlnewald paintings we’d examined earlier in the program were unique in balancing the majesty and the personal. Traditionally, artists relied on iconography– the halo, cross, banner, book, instruments of his passion or other references to biblical narratives or events- to identify Jesus and his power.  In contrast, Rembrandt focused on the face in painting a modern portrait.  The artist takes his historicity seriously, endowing Jesus with a new kind of reality, as a personification of humanity.  The facial features included: a broad forehead, shoulder-length hair that is parted in the middle, a long, symmetrical nose, a short, cropped beard, widely-set eyes, the appearance of ears, and a solemn, serious expression.  Rembrandt appropriated a contemporary trend in depicting Jesus close-up, in a head-and-shoulders pose, and with eyes that address the viewer.  He also “located Jesus before the viewer as a contemporary person.”    The artist may be said to have contributed to the 20th century preference for portraying Christ in poses that highlight a direct engagement of the personality over the traditional symbolic devices used to convey theological meaning.


Janet McKenzie’s
Jesus of the People,
Haggerty Museum of Art

Professor Morgan then displayed a variety of paintings of Jesus from the Warner Sallman iconic image of 1940, to the 1977 Zeffirelli mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth (in which the actor portraying Jesus looked like my brother-in-law).   In recent decades, the likeness of Jesus is no longer asserted as a universal type, but as ethnically specific.  We now have the Korean Jesus in traditional Korean garb (dopo overcoat and gat top hat); the Asian Indian Jesus with transfigurative blue skin, the beach bum Jesus, and the dark-skinned, female Jesus, the winning entry in a cover art contest conducted by National Catholic Reporter an independent newsweekly and one of the best-known Catholic publications in the country, at the advent of the 21st century.  Painted by Janet McKenzie of Island Pond, Vermont, the winning painting of Jesus of the People, shows “a robed and haloed Jesus.  Against a pale pink background are a yin-yang symbol, intended to represent perfect balance, and a feather, symbolizing the American Indian spirituality…”

The visual archive that Professor Morgan referenced earlier is so strongly entrenched that when he displays iconoclastic images of Jesus–  such as an obese Jesus-  even hard-core Calvinists (with presumably less fixation on imagery) reject them.  “We have our own images, even if they’re suppressed.”  Ms. Islam noted that Muslims do not have a tradition of imagery, but they do have the narrative.  When they come to the West, they too become influenced by the archive of imagery.

Despite the despair depicted by Chagall in his White Crucifixion, Chancellor Eisen in his parting remark said that it is hopeful that we can have an interfaith conversation about Jesus.  May the harmony and respect on display at the program carry forward into other realms of our contemporary world.

A Mosque near Ground Zero?

The Anti-Defamation League has a record of sticking up for religious freedom, but they are speaking out against the “Ground Zero Mosque”. Various Jewish groups are praising or condemning the ADL for this stand. In joining forces with the right-wing ,is the ADL taking a stand against terrorism or selling out their long held principles?  

The ADL issued the following statement regarding the proposed Corboda Islamic Center in Manhattan:

We regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy, and that freedom must include the right of all Americans – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths – to build community centers and houses of worship.

We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry.

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site.  We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.  

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process.  Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.  These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.  But regardless of how they respond, the issue at stake is a broader one.

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam.  The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong.  But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right.  In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.

Nate Silver actually scouted out the construction site to see what was up. He reports:

There’s not going to be some huge, ostentatious mosque with some minaret or some giant crescent located “at” Ground Zero, nor within clear sight of it, nor even on the way (in terms of virtually all natural paths a commuter or tourist might take) to Ground Zero. Rather, there’s going to be a mixed-use retail building that contains some kind of reformist mosque, located somewhere in its general vicinity — as there already is now. It would not impose upon or offend anyone unless they were going out of their way to be imposed upon or offended.


Does the ADL argue that Ground Zero is sacred ground and a mosque in Lower Manhattan would be a sacrilege? Actually there is already a mosque in the neighborhood, along with strip clubs, straight and gay bars, sex stores and escort services.

The ADL describes itself as “the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry,” yet they oppose the construction of a place of worship because of the faith they adhere to. As Adam Serwer writes in The American Prospect:

It is inconceivable that the ADL would argue such a position if the building in question happened to be a synagogue, and the builders happened to be Jews.

Let’s be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it’s been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool. By doing this, the ADL is increasingly eroding its already weakened credibility as a nonpartisan organization.

I learned a very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone. Someone at the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.

As the grandson of a holocaust survivor, Jed Lewison writes How to surrender the moral highground in one easy step:

Even if you have no intention of ever setting foot inside such a center, you should still stand up against the campaign of irrational fear-mongering being waged against the facility — especially if you are part of a group whose mission is to fight all forms of bigotry. Whether or not the proposed Islamic Center is politically popular is besides the point: the bottom-line is that you can’t put an asterisk next to tolerance.

Finally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg concludes as follows:

If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn’t be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can’t. I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try to on that piece of property build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it too. What is great about America and particularly New York is we welcome everybody and I just- you know, if we are so afraid of something like this, what does it say about us? Democracy is stronger than this. You know, the ability to practice your religion is the- was one of the real reasons America was founded. And for us to say no is just, I think, not appropriate is a nice way to phrase it.