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June 06, 2003 - Image 13

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-06-06

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bers and with honor."
For example, he said, more than
500,000 Jews fought in World War II
and Korea.

Backlit Panels

The 38-foot exhibit was designed and
created by two local professionals.
Heidi Christein, former archivist for
the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Detroit and former curator of the Leo
M. Franldin archives at Temple Beth El,
teamed with James Conway of Grosse
Pointe, who has designed many exhibits
for the Detroit Historical Museum.
The series of backlit panels explain
the rich history of the JWV in
Michigan, from the Civil War to the
Vietnam War. Medals, uniforms and
other artifacts combine with photo-
graphs to tell the story. The collection
took more than a year to complete.
"It was really interesting to meet
some of the veterans and hear their
stories," Christein said. "It's always
nice to see a bunch of words on your
computer screen and a bunch of pho-
tos lying around your office finally
show up in one integrated exhibit."
Besides the special section 'devoted
to Ray Zussman, Michigan's only
Jewish soldier to receive the
Congressional Medal of Honor (see
accompanying story), another standout
is the inclusion of Jewish Vietnam vet-
erans. This group really hasn't been
honored anywhere else, Christein said.
"It's impossible to say how many
Jews served in Vietnam because the
military started keeping records differ-
ently, with no distinction of religion,"
she said.
Exhibit designer James Conway said
he met with Christein for about a
year, picking out ideas and photo-
graphs from her files that "best repre-
sented the particular individual's expe-
riences during the war."
The exhibit also includes an expand-
able computer kiosk that lets a user
search for names and photographs of
any soldier who died in battle.
While it took more than a year to
design, the exhibit took much longer
to get to its permanent site at the JCC.

Controversy

Since 1945, the Michigan JWV has
had ownership of 320 photographs of
Jewish soldiers who died in combat
since the beginning of World War II.
The photos lined the Memorial
Room of the JWV Memorial Home in
Southfield, the organization's former
meeting place. The hundreds of pho-

tos have been scanned and can be
viewed in the kiosk.
At one time, the Michigan JWV had
more than 5,000 members, but now
the number has fallen to less than
1,000. Dwindling funds also kept the
Memorial Home from operating on a
regular basis. In 2001, the JWV went
looking for another place to store the
memorabilia where the legacy could be
seen.
The JCC seemed to be the right
place, but not at the price the JCC
wanted. After much give and take,
Slatkin stepped into the fray.
"During very, very difficult times,
starting from about a year ago, the
boards of the Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Detroit and its finance
arm, the United Jewish Foundation,
approved a grant for $100,000 to install
a permanent exhibit honoring the JWV
of Michigan," he told
the crowd at the dedica-
tion. "It was hoped that
this money could be
repaid, but there were
never any strings
Good War
attached to it."
Once the grant was
secured, a committee
was formed from the Federation, the
Foundation, the JWV, the JCC and
the Jewish Historical Society of
Michigan. So far, community mem-
bers have pledged about $94,000 to
repay the Foundation, Slatkin said.
"Every dollar we go over, we get to
keep and put in an endowment to
maintain and service the exhibit."
"They did a wonderful job,"
Feldman said. "The Federation and
Foundation, when they finally stepped
up, have really come through."
Feldman said Slatkin "has been our
advocate and forced the Foundation to
do what they were reluctant to do."

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Reaction

At the JCC, the exhibit was installed
at the end of the hallway leading to
the physical fitness wing and the inline
skating facility.
"Ninety percent of the people who
visit the JCC go down this particular
hallway," Slatkin said. "The best part is
a lot of those people are young, and this
will allow future generations of young
Jewish boys and girls to remember the
thousands of Jewish soldiers who went
off to war, some never to return."
Although the exhibit was temporari-
ly boarded up two days after the dedi-
cation because of expansion work on
the hallway ceiling, it will be reopened .
EXHIBIT on page 14

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