At the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, old Cleveland lives in a new context. There is an exhibit of a single city street, for instance, with drug stores, boutiques, bakeries and blacksmiths placed at the turn of the 20th century. The exhibit is a tribute to the humble roots of Jewish-owned Cleveland businesses.
Their contributions and others will be celebrated at the museum, which opens Oct. 11. The museum’s creator is Milton Maltz, an immigrant shoe salesman’s son who became a Cleveland-based media mogul and philanthropist. Maltz owned WMMS-FM during its heyday, helped establish the Rock Hall and opened the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
But for 15 years now, Maltz has had another story he’s wanted to tell: the one about the many Jewish contributions to Cleveland. After spending so many years learning about museums, he knew a Jewish museum had to be both educational and entertaining.
“Let’s tell it all — good, bad and indifferent. Let’s make it an American story,” Maltz says.
With the help of Temple-Tifereth Israel, the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and the Western Reserve Historical Society, the museum broke ground in July 2003. The exterior marries old Jewish tradition with new; its modern architectural style features 126 tons of golden Jerusalem limestone.
Guests can explore Jewish culture, hear first-person stories of Cleveland Holocaust survivors, view religious documents and review archives to discover the number of Jewish people in their area who served in World War II.
Executive director Carole Zawatsky says she hopes guests will ask themselves the kinds of probing questions the Jewish immigrants considered, such as “How do you maintain your ethnic identity in America?”
The museum’s founders want all visitors to see their own histories in the museum. “We are hoping that they will think, this story is everybody’s story,” Zawatsky says.
Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood. For more information, call (216) 593-0575 or visit www.maltzjewishmuseum.org.