Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience has low-key mezuzah hanging

Jay Tanenbaum passes the “ceremonial screwdriver” to Morris Mintz

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience was originally going to hold a grand opening weekend at the beginning of October, but the Covid resurgence led to the celebration being postponed.

While a celebration will eventually take place and “everyone will be welcome to come back to New Orleans and come back to see the MSJE when they feel safe doing so,” Board Chair Jay Tanenbaum said, “we can’t wait to dedicate our museum until that occurs.”

Instead, on Oct. 1, a small group of board members and guests held a brief mezuzah hanging ceremony. How brief? Museum Director Kenneth Hoffman opened the event by saying “for all of you who spent many hours in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, good news, this is going to take less than 10 minutes.”

Tanenbaum said the ceremony was “a proud and happy moment for us” after five or six years of intense planning “to create what has now become a reality.”

The museum opened to visitors on May 27, detailing 300 years of Jewish history and involvement in the South. The $10 million capital campaign was launched in 2017, and in 2019 the museum’s collection was moved from Mississippi, the home of the previous MSJE, to New Orleans.

The mezuzah, a blown glass piece by local artist Andrew Jackson Pollack, was affixed inside the entrance, with Hoffman starting the process with the top screw, then passing the “ceremonial screwdriver” to Tanenbaum. Also taking turns to turn the screws were vice-chairs Morris Mintz and Rusty Palmer, followed by board members Keith Katz and Deborah Lamensdorf Jacobs.

The museum has a mezuzah wall where donors who give at least $1800 can send in a mezuzah of their own for display, and receive a unique glass mezuzah from Pollack.

Hoffman ended the ceremony “with prayers of thanksgiving” and invoked “the blessings of God,” followed by the Shehecheyanu.

On the day originally scheduled for the family celebration, the museum hosted a virtual Groove and Shmooze with Glenn Hartman, an acclaimed accordion player who is part of the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars.

The museum is open daily except for Tuesdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.