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April 11, 2013 - Image 45

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-04-11

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arts & entertainment


From religious objects to tchotchkes,
new exhibit reflects the lives
of Jewish Americans.




Suzanne Chessler

Contributing Writer


onstance Harris, who grew up
in an Orthodox home, remem-
bers the way her mother lit the
Sabbath candles. The family matriarch
kept a tzedakah box close by so that giving
would be an important part of the ritual.
Harris, later settled into her own
Modern Orthodox household, expanded
her mother's established tradition by col-
lecting tzedakah boxes during international
travel and later donating the boxes.
The ultimate repository
of those icons of Jewish
giving is the Special
Collections Library of the
University of Michigan,
where Harris and her
late husband, Theodore,
bestowed some 3,000
items, including artworks,
books and ritual objects.
The Frankel Center for
Judaic Studies is the joint beneficiary of
the Jewish Heritage Collection, which will
be represented in a month-long exhibit at
Wayne State University.
"Judaism in the American Home: Objects
from the Collection of Constance Harris"
can be seen April 14-May 12 in the Special
Collections Room (3220) of WSU's David
Adamany Undergraduate Library.
An opening program and reception,
scheduled on the afternoon of April 14
in the Community Room (3210) of the
Adamany Library, will feature talks by
Harris and Ori Soltes, who teaches theology,
philosophy and art history at Georgetown
University in Washington, D.C.
Soltes will discuss "Ceremony and
Community within the Question of 'Jewish
Art"' and use objects from the exhibit as
Sponsors of the exhibit and opening are
the Cohn-Haddow Center of Judaic Studies
and the WSU Library System.
"We are very excited by the opportunity to
host this exhibit and make it available to our
Detroit community; explains Rachael Clark,
usability/user experience librarian at Wayne.
"We selected items that reflect the lives of
Jewish Americans and are visually beautiful.
I grew up in a Jewish family so the items —
from seder trays to Israeli souvenirs — have
a lot of personal meaning for me.
"I hope the meaning I experienced will


be shared by the Jewish people who view
the collection. I also hope the items will
give insight to visitors who are not Jewish:"
Clark planned the exhibit with David
Weinberg, director of the Cohn-Haddow
Center, and Karen Liston, librarian liaison
for Near Eastern Studies and International
Among the 150 items they selected
are a bronze medal celebrating 350 years
of Jews in America, pop-up greeting
cards exchanged at Rosh Hashanah, a
Wedgewood plate with a Star of David in
the center and a mirror decorated with a
silver menorah and grapevine pattern.
Before they made decisions about what
to include, the three looked through storage
boxes at U-M, took pictures of what was
held and reviewed the images. Arranged
according to categories, the items will be
divided among 16 display cases.
Exhibit categories include Home in
Jewish Traditions; Marriage; the Old World;
Ritual Objects; Women, Food & Crafts;
Children; American Jews & Israel; Jews in
America; and Resources to Learn More.
"We didn't want to focus on the sad part
of Jewish history:' Clark explains. "My
favorite item is a doll that dances to Maya
Nagila after it is wound up:'
Other unusual pieces include an engage-
ment ring with an architectural form rep-
resenting a house or a temple and a rolling
pin strictly for making Passover matzah.
"A lot of the items in the collection were
never in my own home explains Harris,
87, who divides her time between resi-
dences in California and Michigan. "I found
them in different places and had them
shipped directly to Ann Arbor:'
Mrs. Harris has given away about 98 per-
cent of what she has amassed.
She chose U-M at the time of initial
donations 10 years ago because her son,
daughter-in-law and grandsons were liv-
ing in the area and because the university
has the resources to house and make use of
the items. She also was impressed with the
Jewish studies program.
Just recently, items were on loan for an
exhibit at Chapman University in California.
"Each item has a back story:' Harris says.
"They all represent my complete dedica-
tion to Jewish life. I have held many offices
with the Jewish Federation Council of Los
Angeles and was president of our local
chapter of the American Jewish Congress:'
Harris, who grew up in New York,

"Let There Be Light" game


Pop-up greeting card

majored in English literature at Hunter
College. She met her husband when he
was a student at Princeton. They moved
to California so he could work at the
RAND Corp. and teach at the University of
Southern California.
Harris, who developed a vast print col-
lection, opened her interest to a wide public
audience through her book Portraiture in
Prints, which came out in 1987. Her second
text, The Way Jews Lived, published in 2008,
intertwines Jewish history and art.
A third book, The Way Jews Loved, is
in the works. It references the Bible, not
commentary, to explore the unvarnished
relationships shared by men and women as

Wedgewood plate with Star of David

Engagement ring

well as parents and children known
throughout religious history.
Harris still enjoys a number of collected
treasures in her home, among them Israeli
lithographs; a seder plate hand-painted in
19th-century Czechoslovakia and more tze-
dakah boxes.
"My efforts in collecting and writing have
been for the next generation:' says Harris,
whose U-M donations are dedicated to her
grandsons, Mark and Dave Harris, now liv-
ing in other states.
"My passion is to transmit the beauty
of Jewish life, and I wanted my collection
at a university because that's where young
people are:'

"Judaism in the American Home: Objects from the Collection of Constance

Harris" can be seen April 14-May 12 in the Special Collections Room (3220)
of the David Adamany Undergraduate Library on the campus of Wayne
State University. Hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays-Fridays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturdays. The public is invited to the opening program at 2 p.m. Sunday, April
14, in the Community Room (3210) of the library. For more information or to
RSVP for the event opening, contact Ruth Stern at (313) 577-2679;


April 11 • 2013


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