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Uneasy Years: Jewish Life During Depression and War

Kalamazoo’s Jewish community is nearly as old as the city. In 1844, 16 years after pioneer Titus Bronson first arrived, Mannes Israel, an itinerant Jewish merchant, opened a dry goods store on Main Street.

Slowly but surely, the Jewish population grew. By 1860, Kalamazoo was home to the Rosenbaums, Desenbergs, and Cohns, among others. Over the next 150 years, this small but dynamic community left a lasting imprint through business, civic, recreational, and religious leadership. Their uplifting history has been written about and celebrated, but the darker aspects of their experiences and their anxiety over anti-Semitism, Nazism, and the Holocaust in the 20th century are less well-known outside of their families, friends, and religious community.

The exhibit “Uneasy Years: Michigan Jewry in Depression and War,” at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum from June 30 to September 23, 2012, provides a very specific look at the history and experiences of Jews in Michigan from the late 1920s to the end of World War II in 1945.

Many in Kalamazoo’s Jewish community will be able to relate to the events of this time period through their own experiences or from stories passed down through their families. The Museum staff will collect these stories as oral histories and share them with the broader community as part of the exhibit. This will add a local connection to the “Uneasy Years” exhibit and help strengthen our understanding of the difficulties within the local community during the years of the Depression and war. The exhibit will also be supplemented with artifacts and photographs from the local Jewish community.

On Sunday afternoon, July 1st, 2012, the Red Sea Pedestrians will perform traditional klezmer music, and Dr. Kenneth Waltzer of Michigan State University, one of the exhibit curators, will provide a lecture on the exhibit.