My Jewish Chicago

October 19th, 2012by Olivia MahoneyFiled under: Collections, Exhibitions, Stories

Shalom Chicago is the twelfth major exhibition I have curated for the Museum. The history of Jewish Chicago is a rich topic but unexpected challenges made this project one of the most challenging of my career.

Star of David stained glass window, Temple Emanuel, c. 1910
This beautiful window was on my list of exhibition pieces
from day one. 
Museum purchase, 1992.468.2

I began the research phase in spring 2011 by reading general accounts but found very little recent scholarship. I also discovered that while the Museum and other repositories had materials, most were paper-based, that is, photographs, manuscripts, pamphlets, etc. They were interesting but not enough to fill a gallery.

Both the lack of scholarship and 3-D artifacts hampered my efforts to develop a storyline. As the weeks passed, my concerns grew. Finally, I thought of a possible solution: instead of presenting a general community history, which seemed impossible, I would try to focus on several key people whose stories illustrated the larger group’s experience, which would then serve as a backdrop.

Abraham Kohn, c. 1865
After working as a peddler in New England, Kohn moved to Chicago and established a successful clothing shop on Lake Street.
Courtesy of KAM Isaiah Israel

The new approach quickly yielded better results. I selected about a dozen people, including Abraham Kohn, an early German Jewish settler who founded KAM, Chicago’s first synagogue. His story is told with a beautiful photographic portrait owned by the current congregation; an audio recording based on his journal found at Spertus Institute; and an oil portrait of his mother owned by the Museum.

Dilah Kohn, Abraham Kohn’s beloved mother, c. 1848
Unidentified artist, oil on canvas
Gift of Joan Weil Saltzstein, 1984.390.15, ICHi-65993

In addition to Kohn, visitors to the exhibition will meet many other people whose stories illustrate the history of Jewish Chicago and the city itself. Please join us to celebrate the opening of Shalom Chicago, this Sunday, October 21, beginning at 12:00 noon. Activities include meeting members of the exhibition team, crafts and balloon creations by Smarty Pants, and music by the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band quartet.

> Read more about the Shalom Chicago exhibition and upcoming events

> Discover today’s KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation

> Explore Spertus Institute

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