In our multi-cultural society, NYC kids are exposed to lots of different cultures. In fact, it's not uncommon for children of all backgrounds to want to celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, Purim and Lunar New Year, and, perhaps, even teach their parents how it's done.
Exploring various ethnic traditions at school and with friends is fun, but there are also many New York City institutions where you can learn about different cultures in more depth. We've written about museums that focus on Himalayan and Chinese cultures, and now with Passover coming up, we thought it was a great time to highlight local institutions where children can learn about Jewish culture.
One thing to keep in mind when visiting a Jewish museum is that an exhibition of hand-crafted menorahs may be right around the corner from a huge sculpture commemorating the Holocaust, prompting kids to ask a bunch of difficult questions. For children who are ready, some of these institutions explore the the Holocaust in an appropriate way. Visiting spots like the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Anne Frank Center are a lot more engaging than reading a dry textbook but also less scary than watching graphic newsreel footage or looking at archival photos.
Here are five great NYC spots where kids can learn about Jewish culture, traditions and history.
The Jewish Museum – Upper East Side
1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street
The museum Museum celebrates a wide range of Jewish arts and culture with terrific rotating exhibits and many family programs. Its popular family concert series showcases top kids' music and theater performers.The museum also has Holocaust learning guides that were developed for middle and high-school teachers, but are available online for anyone to use, including parents.
Jewish Children's Museum – Crown Heights
792 Eastern Parkway near Kingston Avenue
This interactive spot features several floors of hands-on exhibits that teach kids about Jewish culture and religion in a fun and engaging way. Children can shop at a Kosher supermarket, play "6 Holes of Life" mini-golf and hit the fourth floor to journey through various points in Jewish history. The story starts with Patriarchs and Matriarchs, moves through Mount Sinai, the walls of Jericho and modern Israel and does touch on the Holocaust. But at this museum, the Holocaust is one part of a larger cultural story with a more child-friendly emphasis on individual tales of bravery and survival.
The Museum at Eldridge Street – Lower East Side
12 Eldridge Street between Canal and Division Streets
The Eldridge Street Synagogue was the first great place of worship built in America by Eastern European Jews. Learn the history of the synagogue on guided tours with scavenger hunts for kids, or attend one of its monthly Preservation Detectives family programs, which explore Jewish traditions through hands-on activities. The museum also sponsors lots of annual family favorites, like the WinterGreen Tu B’Shvat Festival in winter, the Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival in June and a Klez for Kids concert every Christmas Day.
Museum of Jewish Heritage – Battery Park City
36 Battery Place near First Place
Known as "A Living Memorial to the Holocaust," the museum honors those who died by preserving artifacts of the lives they led. A few floors of the museum are appropriate for family visits. The first floor features photographs, videos and other media that shows how Jewish people lived a century ago. A free family guide for children ages 7 to 11 is available to help kids play detective and see if they can find traces of their own family traditions. The third floor focuses on Jewish Renewal post-World War II. The second floor is dedicated to "The War Against the Jews" and is recommended for sixth graders and up. The museum regularly hosts panels and even kids' sing-alongs, which touch on Jewish culture, but not the Holocaust. Although I would take my 9- and 13-years-olds here, parents need to decide for themselves how much their own child is capable of hearing.
The Anne Frank Center USA – Tribeca
44 Park Place at Church Street
Anne Frank's face is practically synonymous with the Holocaust. Many school-age kids have already come across her iconic book, The Diary of a Young Girl, in their school or local public library. The New York-based Anne Frank Center USA opened in 2012 and is an off-shoot of the organization started by Anne's father, Otto Frank, to use her words as a teaching tool and a warning about the dangers of discrimination. For children, the stat of 6 million dead is hard to grasp; the tale of one girl in hiding with her family is much more accessible. Visitors learn about her story through photos of her growing up and excerpts from her diary. Try to attend one of the museum's performances of its special family program Conversations with Anne, an interactive performance featuring an actress playing Anne who takes questions from the audience. Appropriate for ages 9 and up.
This story originally published in March 2013.