The Beginning of an Epoch
and I began to look for "our own building"
at a time when we had the grand total of thirteen
dollars in our museum account. We were mind-rich and,
until the right place came along, not in serious trouble.
Now, in addition to "staffing" the loft
above the Parkway, we embarked upon a series of real
estate adventures that ruled out Oakland as we refined
our thinking about where the museum should be housed
and what purposes it could or should serve. I was
determined that beauty of architectural and environmental
surroundings, and a certain quality, more or less
evocative of serene dignity, be of quintessential
importance. One must know how to be a maniac, and
I further vowed that we would not waste any time celebrating
the woeful past, but rather the renaissance of an
indomitable spirit that gave to the world the best
of its energies. This must be a living museum, a museum
of gladness, and it must sing; art and music and literature
were to be as much a part of the museum as it was
of our lives. No narrow conceptions would bind us;
no "denominationalism" would divide or constrict
us. Whomever contributed to knowledge of the past,
and whomever contributed the shaping nuances of the
present would have a place here. We were to assert
that we were not Toynbee's fossilized people without
uttering a sound, but, of course, the requirements
of self-respect are of a much larger order than that.
day Seymour and I parked across the street, in front
of the Hansell's house, I knew we had arrived. "We're
here; this is it." A few simple words marked
the occasion, but we had not as yet gotten out of
the car; I could not move. A dumbfounded Seymour opened
his eyes in amazement, for he knew me well enough
to know I was not joking. Now we really were in trouble.
In back of my mind were visions of the limitations
of thirteen dollars, and the certainty that we would
plunge ahead. From that moment on, our force interlocked
with the dynamic current in the household at 2911
Russell Street. Theirs was the close of an epoch;
ours, the beginning.
course, we were not alone. The dream was shared, and,
in this, lay its virtue and its promise, but none
were as devoted, as steadfast, as down-to-earth, as
indefatigable, as imaginative and hard-working as
Danny and Fritzie Oxman. Others were sane; others
were supportive, but we were crazy, and the four of
us often combed the northern part of the State for
memorabilia connected with the contributions of the
Jews to the formation of the Golden West, particularly
within the province of the gold rush country. These
trips later proved to be preliminaries to Seymour's
discovery of the abandoned, drastically-vandalized
Jewish cemeteries of the period, and, in turn, not
only their rehabilitation, but also their designation
as monuments of state.
we did what we did is beyond my capacity to explain.
We had somehow evolved a formula that extended who
we were, and then, fortuitously, extended the extensions.
After work, on days off, on weekends, on holidays,
we worked, lived, and breathed with the single-mindedness
of purpose typical of all creative endeavors; we were
an unstoppable force "riding easy in saddle."
this period, the entire neighborhood was canvassed
in order to gain acceptance for the museum. Danny
and Seymour were always there, independently or as
a team, but they were not alone in educating and explaining
or in breaking through the invisible screens of prejudice
as they fostered good will. These efforts were both
needed and well-founded, for anyone who sees the museum
as it now stands, without under- standing its antecedents
and the subtler dimensions of anti-semitism, the polite
side of hate, fear, or suspicion, not only knows nothing
of history far or near, but also runs the risk of
never understanding the essence of a low-key bias
that aims to inhibit what it does not have the drive
or means to crush. I give it to you as an absolute
certainty that we were opposed, and that this opposition
manifested itself in full hypocritical bloom during
the first stages of the process, as well as in sessions
before the City Council, whose members, both black
and white, were astute enough to sheer though euphemisms
in arriving at the core of what was indeed at issue.
The episode, a marked exercise in democratic process,
saw the direct involvement of the academic community
and signaled the building of a bridge that was to
link all segments in accord with competence. We could
now go ahead, but what were we to do? Everything up
this point had been done on nerve and on our salaries;
these were our characteristics and our basic collateral.
Those of us who wore involved were workers; we were
teachers, dentists, doctors, and lawyers with young
families. Had we projected a Golem, or were we capable
of mastering the next phase, which would now, most
certainly include negotiations with the principals
and the banks.
scent of the cheese was in our nostrils and daring
would have to find its courage once more, but when
Seymour came up with a plan. I gasped at its naiveté.
We are lost; we are nothing but fools in a paradise
of our own making, and we are about to be banished
with dispatch. We might be mad, but the world as a
whole could not be so afflicted! Still, we had to
proceed, and so, each of several persons signed a
paper of Seymour's devising which guaranteed the mortgage.
This, and this alone, was our credit -- the strength
of our names and the inference "that all Jews
are rich, if not dependable."