The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Midtown is celebrating its 25th anniversary with both a special event and a commemorative exhibition this fall.
The observances begin Sept. 19 with Celebrate Chutzpah, a fundraiser to honor the milestone. Starting at 5:30 p.m., the event will include drinks, dinner, live performances and a special preview of the museum’s exhibition, “History With Chutzpah: Remarkable Stories of The Southern Jewish Adventure 1733-Present.”
The exhibition, which is expected to be in place for at least three years, does not open to the general public until Sept. 26. Sandy Berman, a consultant and the museum’s founding archivist, is curating “History With Chutzpah” with Jane Leavey, the Breman’s founding executive director. Berman said the exhibition is “driven by stories.”
“So you can look at an object for a photograph, but if you don’t know the story behind that photograph or object, it’s just a thing,” she said. “But some of the stories behind those objects (are fascinating). For example, (there’s) a corkscrew from the Atlanta Brewing and Ice Co. and they made beer, so there’s a bottle and labels from a beer called Steinerbru. The man it was named for, Albert Steiner, was the president of the Atlanta Brewing and Ice Co. …
“There’s a building on the campus of Grady (Memorial) Hospital and it’s called the Steiner Building. If you walk by, you don’t know who Albert Steiner was unless you know his story. In the early 1920s, his son died of cancer, his wife died of cancer and he was diagnosed with cancer. He started the Steiner Cancer Clinic in 1919, and it was one of the leading cancer clinics in the country, and others were modeled after it. But without that story, the corkscrew and the beer bottle don’t mean anything.”
Berman said another item of interest in the exhibition is, of all things, a petrified bagel dating back nearly 125 years.
“In 1898 Sam Greenblatt was 16 years old and lied about his age and fought in the Spanish-American War,” she said. “His family gave him a bunch of bagels to take with him. He ate all the bagels except one, which he kept in his knapsack.”
The exhibition also honors the museum’s namesake, who Berman called “an amazing philanthropist.”
“The William Breman Jewish Home is also named for him. He had a love of history and wanted to do something for the community,” she said of why Breman founded the museum.
In 1983, the Atlanta Jewish Federation (now the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta) sponsored an Emory University exhibition called “250 Years of Jewish Life in Georgia” and featuring local Jewish artifacts. Once the exhibit closed, its artifacts were housed in a closet at the federation’s office downtown. In 1985, David Sarnat, the federation’s executive director, hired Berman as a part-time archivist.
“(Breman) spoke with David, and David said, ‘How about funding a museum so we can continue collecting and tell these amazing stories?’ He was the owner of Breman Steel. His second wife, Elinor Breman, became very involved in every aspect of the museum.”
The museum opened in summer 1996, just in time for the Centennial Olympic Games hosted by Atlanta. Berman said the museum’s collection first included only Atlanta Jewish history, such as the Leo Frank case and The Temple bombing. But after realizing the importance of archiving Jewish history in the rest of the state and, later, Alabama, it expanded to include artifacts from all over both states.
“The archives today is the largest collection for Jewish research in the Southeast,” she said. “Its depth of Jewish research is amazing. It began as an archive but has morphed into a museum collection as well. In the beginning we just collected manuscripts, paper, documents, photographs. But as the collection grew, we started to collect three-dimensional objects.
“It contains amazing stories about Jewish life in Georgia and Alabama. … There’s just amazing stories about people who participated in every walk of life and really contributed to the fabric of the community they lived in.”
Earlier this month the museum announced the establishment of the Walter and Frances Bunzl Family Foundation Exhibition Fund, the first exhibition fund in its history. The fund is made possible by a $400,000 donation from the Frances Bunzl Family Trust, the museum’s largest gift since it opened.
“A dedicated exhibition fund has far-reaching potential,” Leslie Gordon, the museum’s executive director, said in a news release. “It will allow The Breman to broaden its impact and welcome new and diverse audiences eager to experience engaging, interactive and pioneering exhibitions.”
The museum is located at 1440 Spring St. NW in Atlanta. Tickets to Celebrate Chutzpah are $300 per person and $500 per couple. Tickets to the exhibition are included with museum admission, which is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for students and educators, $4 for children 3 to 6 and free for children under 3 and museum members.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit thebreman.org.