Jewish Journal

Dignity on Display


by Rob Eshman

Posted on Aug. 28, 1997 at 8:00 pm

Visitors to the museum discover the world of children who can'tsee, or can't hear, or have mental or other physicaldisabilities.

How does it feel to be deaf? What does it mean tobe blind? What does a child in a wheelchair do at aplayground?

Children and adults who visit the latest exhibit at My JewishDiscovery Place children's museum can come amazingly close toanswering these questions.

"You, Me & Dignity," which officially opened last week at themuseum space inside the Westside Jewish Community Center on OlympicBoulevard, is a thought-provoking, hands-on walk through the world ofdisabilities. As visitors enter, Louis Armstrong's "You're the Tops"plays on the sound system, setting the theme of the exhibit. Nomatter what a child's physical or mental condition might be, explainsmuseum Executive Director Esther Netter, each child has something tobe proud of.

Visitors then go on to discover the world of children who can'tsee, or can't hear, or have mental or other physical disabilities. Asdesigned and constructed by Benny Friedman and Shari Davis, theexhibits encourage touching. Two TDY telephones enable children totalk to each other via a digitized printout. A sound-proof boothforces children to communicate to each other without words. Objectshooked up to a state-of-the-art electronic voice "speak" to whomevertouches them. Touch the kiddish cup, and a voice recites the"Kiddush." A model of a playground, based partly on Germanprototypes, enables children to see how a wheelchair-bound childmight use monkey-bars, swings and a merry-go-round.

All along the tour, questions attached to the exhibits encouragechildren to reflect on how they look at disabled people, how theycould make their surroundings more accessible to the disabled, andhow they need help to overcome obstacles in their own lives.

"People ask me what's Jewish about this," says Netter. "To me, itteaches that we're all created in the image of God, b'tselemelohim."

The exhibit, which runs indefinitely, was funded in memory ofJerry Weber by his wife, Sally, and their children, Gavi and AdinaWeber Barkan. "Inclusiveness and involvement were core issues forJerry," said Sally Weber. "If Jerry's life was about anything, it wasabout the dignity of every human being." Jerry Weber was the directorof the Council of Jewish Life when he was gunned down in a 1989mugging.

Additional funding for the exhibit came from the Jewish CommunityFoundation of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles,the Weingart Foundation and the Bodenstein Family Foundation.

Versions of the exhibit will soon begin touring to several citiesin the United States, England, Israel and Canada. For moreinformation, call My Jewish Discovery Place at (213) 857-0036.

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