Margles helped create exhibits on prejudice
By DEBORAH MOON
article created on: 2009-03-15T00:00:00
Oregon Jewish Museum Director Judy Margles has had a hand in creating all three exhibits that make up the current exhibition at the museum—“Yes We Can! Unlearning Discrimination in Oregon.”
Though Margles downplayed her role, she did admit to being a key player in the creation of “Anywhere But Here: A History of Housing Discrimination in Oregon,” on loan from the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, and “No Easy Road: Unlearning Discrimination in Oregon,” on loan from the Oregon Area Jewish Committee.
She characterized her role creating the exhibit on the Jewish experience with anti-Semitism as that of a team player with other OJM staff and volunteers.
The Fair Housing Council hired Margles as a consultant for the creation of its housing discrimination exhibit in 1993 and its update in 2003. She was also a consultant working with designer Catherine Dalziel on the unlearning discrimination exhibit created for the 2002 Anne Frank exhibit in Portland.
So last year when the museum staff and board decided they wanted to acknowledge the likelihood that the next president would be either a woman or a black man,Margles knew just where to turn for existing exhibits that showed how far the country has come.
“We decided to bring the two exhibits together under the name Yes We Can and then we did what we do best and added the Jewish piece,” she said.
In comparison to the discrimination sometimes suffered by Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese and African-Americans (who were denied the right to live in the state by Oregon’s first constitution, written in 1857), Jews had a relatively easy landing in Oregon, said Margles.
Margles said the German Jews who arrived in Oregon in the 1880s were white, spoke German like many other Oregon immigrants, and were interested in integrating into a society of law and order.
“They involved themselves in the life of the community,” she said, noting they also built a Jewish community of synagogues, cemeteries and social organizations. “The first Jewish mayor of Portland was Bernard Goldsmith in 1869, 10 years after Oregon became a state.”
Most anti-Semitism took the form of exclusions from various clubs, social organizations and neighborhoods, she said. Additionally, early Jewish merchants faced discrimination from credit-rating reporters from the east who often used virulent language calling Jewish merchants dishonest or not as ethical as their Protestant peers.
The combination of the three exhibits has drawn a broader audience than many past exhibits, said Margles. During its first month, the exhibit drew 230 students from public schools in the metro area, with more scheduled to come through. On Feb. 18, the staff and board of the Fair Housing Council of Oregon toured the exhibit and held its board meeting at the museum.
After talking to members of the Fair Housing Council, Margles said she realizes “we are not done.” Accessibility to housing remains the biggest issue addressed by the council. Housing discrimination remains virulent today, though on a more sophisticated level, she said.
“This exhibit is eliciting conversations about discrimination going on today,” she said. “We are engaging people in conversation.”
The exhibit runs through March 29 at the Oregon Jewish Museum, 310 NW Davis St. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday: 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment. General admission is $3 or free for museum members. Group tours welcome by appointment; call 503-226-3600.