Magnes Museum

Hanukkah lamps from the Siegfried Strauss Collection, acquired by the Magnes Museum in 1968.

Restored monument from 1857 in one of six Jewish cemeteries from the Gold Rush era, maintained by a special commission created by the Magnes Museum.
A Wealth of Dreams and Absolutely No Funds

In due course, we faced our first logistic problem as to where to house these, in some cases, disparate items, and rented a loft above the Parkway Theater in Oakland. The rent was seventy-five dollars a month, and the earliest formulations of organizational structure were now in place. (Since none of that interests me in the least, one would have to look to Seymour for the specifics of the times in this regard.) A new phase had begun, and now, merchants began to supply our first "showcases" as they renovated their shops. Amongst these, I remember the memorable Harry Berger and Milen's Jewelers. Their cases, welcome and vital as they were, were also equally large, and literally choked the narrow corridor along which several rooms found their entryway. We were "in business," and now, hordes of children and adults, independently and collectively flooded "the museum" on weekends. At last, the Sunday schools had their first "major" outlet for resources outside the framework of the curricula!

Perhaps we stayed "at the Parkway" for about two years, but, because all of us who were involved were such "millionaires," we had long ceased to be able to pay the rent; we had "managed to acquire" months of arrears, the weight of which was counter- balanced by the pressure to make each visit of each person, child or not, as meaningful as possible. So, you see, the teaching took place under conditions of near-pandemonium, and, all the time, Seymour and I were there. One Sunday, not unlike a host of Sundays that preceded it, the landlord, Jesse Levin, came; the nature of his visit was exclusively concerned with the rent, or so he thought, but he never spoke to us that day, and we never knew he had been there until he told us so later on. He had burst in on a tumult of activity, and had arrived at his own conclusions as to where the moral obligations lay. In a discussion with Seymour, he erased all that was owed, and allowed us to remain as long as we chose, rent-free. His precise words were: "If this is what you've been doing, this is the least I can do." This act, and a myriad since, stays with me as if indelibly imprinted onto mind. Jesse Levin's generosity enabled us to not only remain another two or three years, but also to consolidate our efforts so that we could chart the next stages of development as we continued to render services.

There was nothing rational about what we were doing in those days; we had a wealth of dreams and absolutely no funds apart from our salaries, but we pushed forward, confident that reality would bend to our will. It had to. What had begun spontaneously had taken on a form that, in turn, informed us, and Seymour and I now gave rise to our own private proverb: "Anyone can do it with money." In this way, we were enabled to persevere in defiance of all practical considerations. We were utterly mad, you see, but we adhered to our madness with a passion. If the Nazis with their considerable forces and empathizers could do the unthinkable, we would do our part to push the unseen barriers of the present into realizations of the thinkable. In this, our determination never flagged.

NewsShopAbout JAHF
© 2000 - 2007 Jewish-American Hall of Fame, All Rights Reserved
Click here to e-mail us