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Oy Vey, Baby: The History and Art of the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art

When I was a small child in Houston, in his off-hours from the area police department, my father used to moonlight for a synagogue, back when neo-Nazis were horrifically attacking Jews throughout the city. He was liked so much by them that my family was invited there a few times as they had various celebrations.

I have forgotten much in my life, but I have never forgotten how kind and loving they were to me.

But that was about forty years ago. Thankfully, while in Tulsa last weekend, a friend asked if I wanted to visit the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, 2021 E 71st St., as it’s been on her bucket list for a while. “Yes!” I exclaimed and within a few minutes, we paid our small admission price and were absolutely absorbed by not only the history of the Jewish people, but the art and design as well.

With the beautiful Tiffany stained glass welcoming me near the entryway, I toured the first floor, looking at all the introductory pieces, taking a turn and ending up in the education gallery, where area youths submitted their own powerful pieces, some of them moving me to tears, grateful that this powerful history was never going to be lost.

But it was upstairs where everything you ever wanted to know about Judaism in Oklahoma was situated. From the small towns where synagogues were located—many of which absolutely surprised me—to the far grander temples in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City, which, I had no idea, has quite a few. I’d ever only seen one, located somewhere around NW 50th and Penn.

There were histories of early life in America for immigrants, the breakdown of many of the spiritual rituals, and a display taking me down the entire life of a Jewish person. But what was truly inspirational was the life-size setting of a synagogue interior, allowing people to have a seat on the pews and reflect on what they had just seen in solitude.

But, and this is a bit selfish as I’m a music connoisseur, off to the side was a small section devoted to Jews in popular music featuring favorites such as Bob Dylan, Gene Simmons and, of course, Joey Ramone. But what truly entranced me were the people I didn’t know were of the faith, including one of my boyhood crushes, Paula Abdul.

Towards the back of the museum was a large exhibition called New Patterns, based on the glass work of Simon Waranch. A Texan by birth like me, it was amazing to see how his glass shapes are created, as the video playing in the room featured him in his studio, putting pieces together in a form of art that will always be so alien—yet so fascinating—to me.

As I was walking back down to the main lobby, I stopped at the small gift shop; wanting to purchase something that is reminiscent of this meaningful visit but also wholly respectful, I purchased a few postcards and, in memory of my late father, a memorial candle, imported from Israel.

Maybe tonight I’ll place it on a saucer, per the instructions, and light it in his honor, thanking him for those early years, teaching me to have and hold great respect for the Jewish people and all of their triumphs, artistic and otherwise.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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