ICC's new cultural museum makes learning fun.
ou can barely keep up with Rabbi Judah
Isaacs, director of the Alliance for Jewish
Education. His excitement is palpable as he
talks about the opening of Shalom Street, a
first-of-its-kind museum on the main floor of the
Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield.
"We created an interactive children's museum,"
Rabbi Isaacs says. "It focuses on children from ages
5-12 and makes learning about ethics and values
fun. It's crisp, friendly and alive with color.
"The partnership between [Detroit's] Jewish
Federation [through AJE] and the JCC created
something never done before," he says of the ethical-
cultural Jewish museum geared to children.
A dream since 1999, the museum is finally a reality.
Enter the main entrance of the JCC and to the
immediate right you'll spot a replica of Jerusalem's
Western Wall. You can pause to write a note to slip in
the wall's special crevice, then make your way inside
the new Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Judaic
Enrichment Center, which houses the David B.
Hermelin ORT Resource Center and Shalom Street.
Once inside the 4,500-square-foot museum, you
feel you've entered a small village, complete with
houses and streetlights, filled with more than 30
interactive exhibits in five main areas. Each area rep-
resents a major Jewish core value: home, communi-
ty, philanthropy, volunteerism, environmentalism
and creativity-productivity in the Jewish world.
"It's a cultural museum," says Harlene Appelman,
AJE's chief Jewish education officer. "A fun, safe,
place to explore your feelings and excitement about
being Jewish with your children."
Its new director sees it as even more.
"Shalom Street is a high-tech, high-touch museum
with the addition of theatrical elements," says
Jonathan Beller, who has produced more than 75
dance, music and theater performances as well as cul-
tural and educational outreach programs.
To engage Shalom Street's young museum-goers
and their families and make the exhibits come alive,
Beller will work with trained actors and actresses who
will form the Shalom. Street Players. They will meet
and interact with the children at the various exhibits.
Beller's acting troupe will play the various people
who inhabit Shalom Street — the mayor, the whim-
sical travel agent and the person who runs the
unusual Repair Shop (hint: where you learn how to
repair the world).
An added dimension to having a children's muse-
Benjamin Blumenstein of Bloomfield Hills climbs up to learn about Jews and India.
urn at the JCC is to couple the museum's programs
with other resources in the building.
In the works are coordinated events between
Shalom Street and Janice Charach Epstein Gallery
exhibits, says Appelman. The museum also. can tap
into special events, such as inviting authors attend-
ing the JCC Jewish Book Fair to read to children in
Shalom Street. Or parents and children can head
downstairs to the Henry and Delia Meyers Library,
opening later next spring, to further investigate a
subject they learned about on Shalom Street.
"It's a totally integrative program with a large vision
to bring Judaism alive with every topic," says Margo
Weitzer, associate executive director of the JCC.
Several already see the museum as a vital part of the
JCC's mission. "Shalom Street is an important mile-
stone to position the Jewish Community Center as a
source for Jewish education, Jewish identity and Jewish
outreach to families," says Hannan Lis, JCC president.
Time For Reflection
But why a cultural museum? Weitzer sees Jewish
culture and Jewish ethics as the essence of who
"We're diverse, but we've had our Jewish values for
centuries and it ties us together," she says. "Values
like respect for the family, nurturing the community
and stewardship of the Earth."
So Shalom Street is not a place for toddlers or to
drop off children to wander on their own. It's more
of a museum, a place to share with family or a
school group, and be guided by volunteers.
It's an experience to share with parents or grand-
parents, a time to talk about ideas — and to be
renewed, says Penny Blumenstein, chairman of the
Shalom Street committee. "When you bring your
children to a place like this, it's also a learning
But children, too, will leave with much to think