Jackie Therrien (History major ’18) from Stonehill University tells us about her experience at the Museum of Jewish Montreal.
This fall semester, I had the wonderful experience of interning at the Museum of Jewish Montreal in the historic Mile End neighborhood. The Museum of Jewish Montreal is a not-for-profit organization that collects, maps, and shares the history and experiences of the Montreal Jewish community online and through walking tours, exhibits, and other public programming. MJM seeks to ensure the legacy of Jewish life in Montreal by educating the public and giving visitors new ways to interact with the city’s Jewish past and present.
Founded in 2010, the Museum’s activities include walking tours of historic Jewish neighbourhoods, online exhibits, oral history collection, lectures, workshops and pop-up exhibitions. The museum went from virtual to physical in 2016, and this major change has permitted the museum to better preserve and celebrate the history of Jewish Montreal and to have a permanent exhibition space, office, and meeting place instead of cafes and homes of those who started the museum. The space is a bright and airy loft-like storefront with 80 feet of windows, on the main floor of 4040 St-Laurent Blvd. at Duluth Ave., an eight-story building erected in 1912 by manufacturer Abraham M. Vineberg. It housed garment factories for many years, when the needle trade was an integral component of the neighbourhood’s bustling Jewish community.
Zev Moses, the founder and director of the museum, who studied urban planning and design in graduate school and political science and history as an undergraduate, describes himself as “very interested in cities. I think of how you mix culture and history, technology and urban space,” he said. The idea for the museum began with his desire to map and record the history of important buildings that could soon be lost to new construction. The museum’s walking tours leave from the St-Laurent space and there is a boutique in the open space that stocks everything from T-shirts, jewelry, inflatable pickles, to fiction and non-fiction books about Jewish Montreal. The food component includes kitchen facilities, a communal table and a café serving Montreal Jewish food. Food historian Kat Romanow is the director of food programming among many other things and she runs the food space, which features activities from cooking workshops to special events and a popular brunch.
My tasks at the museum ranged from research to maintaining the exhibit space. Because it is a new museum, the concept is different from other museums I have been to and interned at and I loved this experience. I was able to work on a pamphlet to hand out to visitors, inventory for the boutique, research for grants, ordering for the boutique space, and I think I was able to take on these tasks because it is a small, progressive organization that is still growing. They are changing what it means to be a museum and record and preserve history and culture in today’s world. “We’re at the center of something historic, but we’re not just interested in the past,” Zev Moses, the museum’s founder and director said. “There’s a lot of culture being created nearby. We want to offer a meeting point where Jewish cultural knowledge and memory inspires people to create their own identity through new forms of Jewish culture.” This stuck with me, and Zev seems to be taking MJM in a great direction.
Although I’m not Jewish, I found it exciting to explore the history of Jewish life in Montreal, and to connect that with the remaining culture in Montreal today. Particularly through food like bagels and smoked meat, I was able to see the lasting legacy of Jewish culture in the city, and how it remains to do so today. This internship showed the importance of connecting the past with the present, and engaging with the community in various ways other than through traditional permanent exhibitions. At the moment, it’s not a traditional full gallery permanent exhibition space but rather stage one before it maybe goes in that direction. For now, it is a small exhibition space, welcoming gathering place for visitors, a food and event space – and a venue to welcome partners from the Jewish community and beyond. I like that there is traditional Jewish food available since this is such a large part of their lasting culture in the city. I would have never guessed that they just opened last year because they seem to have everything put together so well, and really know what they are about and what they would like to promote. This could be because Zev founded it years before the permanent space opened, but I think the permanent space allows for a lot more innovation and integration with the community. One struggle I had was that everyone was younger, around my age, or only a few years older than me, so I had to figure out at first how to balance professionalism and just regular daily conversation with my co workers.