GELT COMPLEX: Museum Faces Protests, New Israel Studies Post

Money, machers & Jewish comunal life

Published March 06, 2008, issue of March 14, 2008.
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Museum Faces Protests

Outside a March 4 fundraising dinner for Manhattan’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum, women in babushkas and men in top hats gathered to protest what they see as an unfortunate irony: The museum, which teaches visitors about labor history, has stymied its employees’ efforts to form a union.

In an attempt to draw the attention of the museum’s donors, several protesters wearing early 20th-century garb passed out leaflets to guests arriving for the dinner.

“What we envisioned was not a protest. We wanted to encourage people to support the museum and also to support the union,” said Lily Paulina, an educator at the museum involved in the unionizing effort. Paulina works as a costumed interpreter, meaning that when she leads tours she is Victoria Confino, a Sephardic immigrant who came to New York from Turkey in 1913 and lived in the building that now houses the Tenement Museum.

The labor dispute began in earnest last May, when museum administrators rejected a plan by part-time employees to hold a “card check” election in which a third party would facilitate a vote on unionization.

According to David Eng, the museum’s vice president of public affairs, no one is preventing the workers from unionizing. Eng maintained that the museum is simply setting ground rules for how such a union would be formed.

“The part-time educators want a union that is only for themselves,” rather than including everyone who works for the museum, Eng said.

Paulina responded that there is no reason to include the entire staff in the vote, because the part-time educators should be considered a legitimate bargaining unit on their own.

— Marissa Brostoff

**New Israel Studies Post **

A California state university long plagued by contentious Arab-Jewish relations will soon become the state system’s first campus to house a Jewish studies department and maintain an endowed chair in Israel studies.

San Francisco State University announced February 26 that Bay Area philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman are donating $3.75 million to establish an endowed professorship in Israel studies. The gift will be the largest endowed chair donation in the California state university system, and will also elevate the school’s existing Jewish studies program into a full-fledged academic department.

Tensions over the Arab-Israeli conflict have run particularly high on California college campuses, with the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Irvine, as well as S.F. State, considered among the iciest campus climates for pro-Israel activists. According to news reports, in 2002, during a Hillel-sponsored pro-Israel rally at S.F. State, pro-Palestinian students surrounded their Jewish peers and shouted epithets, including, “Hitler did not finish the job!”

Richard Goldman, 87, whose philanthropic focus includes San Francisco Bay Area quality of life issues, as well as Jewish and Israel-related issues, among others, said that his keen awareness of the acrimonious climate at S.F. State inspired the sizable gift. “I was aware of the pressure brought to bear by the Palestinian activists on campus,” he said. “They did a number of things that really frightened the Jewish community there.”

The university will begin its faculty recruiting effort this year, with the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor in Israel Studies expected to join the faculty in August 2009.

— Rebecca Spence

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