The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Crown Heights Museum Brings Kids 3,000 Years of Jewish History

By Sonja Sharp | May 8, 2012 10:46am

CROWN HEIGHTS — It's a place where kids can walk through the divided waters of the Red Sea, slip a note into Jerusalem's Wailing Wall, peer inside Maimonides' medical bag or strum King David's harp.

In fact, there's almost nothing in Crown Heights's 50,000-square-foot Jewish Children's Museum — including its massive new "Voyage Through Jewish History" exhibit — that children cannot play on. 

Nothing except the chicken soup.  

"Nobody should be climbing on the chicken soup!" a crowd of excited preschoolers were warned as they rushed into the museum's giant replica of a Sabbath table.

Noah's Ark, however, was made just for climbing.  

The ark is among the scores of child-friendly scenes that make up the new multimillion dollar exploration of Jewish history from the bible through the modern day that has welcomed more than 10,000 children since it opened on the fourth floor two weeks ago. 

"It's great that there's a museum that focuses on Jewish history," said Melisa Lazarus, whose children, Naomi, 3, and Aaron, 5, were busy decorating Joseph's coat.

"You don't have to fly them to Israel to see these things." 

The "voyage" begins with (climbable) Abraham and Sarah, the first family of the Jewish faith. It continues through the exodus from Egypt (via a parting Red Sea made with real water) to the biblical land of Israel, where young explorers can study ancient agriculture, build sacred structures and even help topple the walls of Jericho. 

The fourth floor also includes a room devoted to Jewish scholars, and a special section on the birth of Hasidism in Eastern Europe. Though it has a religious bent, the museum, which opened at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Kingston Avenue in 2004, prides itself on welcoming kids of all kinds.

"Observant or not, everybody can find something," said Dovid Wallk, 55, who'd brought his grandchildren from Borough Park for the afternoon. 

Of all the high-tech features and interactive displays, it's the room dedicated to 20th century history that contains the museum's most effective and arresting exhibits. On the left, a floor-to-ceiling replica of Jerusalem's Western Wall and, on the right, a child-sized tour through the Holocaust. 

"We couldn't — God forbid — ignore the Holocaust," said Nissen Brenenson, the museum's education director.

"We wanted to emphasize the faith and the courage aspect of it, not the dates and times and places."

The Alley of Courage, a dark, narrow passageway of wooden planks, invites visitors to peer at photographs and artifacts illuminated between the cracks, and listen to individual stories of perseverance from Jewish history's darkest chapter. 

"Look at this depth of courage — the family that made matzoh in the middle of the night and shared it with other people in the ghetto," Brenenson said.

"You have to talk about the Holocaust in that context." 

Across from the alley is the Wall, into whose ample cracks tiny visitors can press their notes and prayers. In time, the museum plans to send those notes to the real Western Wall in Jerusalem.  

"The juxtaposition is very significant," Brenenson said of the musuem's choice to place the exhibits together.

"It's a symbol of the hope we've been able to preserve and our hope for the future."