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In art and artifacts, 'Revolving Doors' examines how antisemitism and Jewish survival repeat

Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA
Caroline Mead's sculpture “On This Day” (right) is one of several pieces in the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh's "Revolving Doors" exhibit created in response to the events of Oct. 27, 2018. The collection is open to the public from noon to 3 p.m. on weekdays and by appointment.

A new exhibit from the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh opens on Chatham University’s campus Wednesday, examining Jewish life and antisemitism of the past and today.

Holocaust Center executive director Lauren Bairnsfather said the collection reflects the history Jewish Pittsburghers grapple with every day. A windowed wall at the front of the exhibit lists the names of Holocaust survivors that resettled in the Pittsburgh region.

Among the pieces displayed are 19th-century antisemitic cartoons, a Torah saved from destruction during the Holocaust and artistic responses to the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018.

“That is recent history, it’s raw,” Bairnsfather explained. “It was really important that we do that in the right way and work with the community that was most impacted on that day.”

Bairnsfather said leaders with the 10.27 Healing Partnership came to view the exhibit, titled “Revolving Doors,” before it was finalized.

The collection takes its name from a series of collages by the artist Man Ray, who was born to a Jewish family that changed its last name from Radnitzky to Ray to sound more Anglican.

“We're telling this story of antisemitism and assimilation, and how they kind of go hand in hand,” Bairnsfather said. “They revolve, they come back around, and we thought that the name of that piece of art is the perfect name for what we're doing in this exhibit.”

The exhibit includes one of Ray’s collages. Attendees can also scan QR codes paired with each piece to access more information about the exhibit in chronological order, from early antisemitism to future survival.

“Revolving Doors” will be open inside the Jennie King Mellon library from noon to 3 p.m. on weekdays and by appointment.

Bairnsfather said since it’s located on campus, she hopes to involve Chatham University students in the future of the exhibit as it evolves.

“We have a chance to change the narrative,” she said. “So it is my hope that will be working with students here and giving them a chance to curate and think about the stories that we tell through artifacts and art.”

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.