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The Frank & Sylvia Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center, part of the Johnstown Discovery Network, is a community center that contains several attractions: the "America: Through Immigrant Eyes" exhibit; the Johnstown Children's Museum; the Iron & Steel Gallery; and two additional galleries. It also houses the Galliker's Cafe and the 4th Floor Ethnic Social Club. The HDC is operated by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA). Welcome!

Johnstown Jewish Community Project
In cooperation with Congregation Beth Sholom, the Johnstown Area Heritage Association is embarking on a year-long series of temporary exhibits and events to celebrate 125 years of organized Jewish life in Johnstown.

A curriculum will be posted shortly -- please check back often.  


Remembrance: 125 Years of Jewish Life in Johnstown

This temporary exhibit will be on display in the second-floor gallery of the Heritage Discovery Center from September 29, 2012 through September 2013. It will open with a reception for JAHA members and invited guests on September 28, 2012. Dr. Michael Walzer, a Johnstown native and professor emeritus of the Institute for Advanced Studies of Princeton, N.J., will speak at the event.
The exhibit connects Johnstown's Jewish community to world history, putting national and world stories in a local context.

Themes covered will include:
  • Old-country resources in a new home -- Unlike most immigrants from the time period, Jews were fleeing religious oppression and came with their families intending to stay permanently. Specific Johnstown neighborhoods were dominated by Jewish residents. Many Jews became merchants to the community of workers around them, mirroring a relationship established in the Old Country.

  • Bolstering economies, inside and out -- This section of the exhibit will show the development of some of Johnstown's most notable Jewish-owned businesses, from the community's early days through the 1980s.

  • "A congregation is not a building" -- Artifacts and photographs of Johnstown's synagogues, from Rodef Sholom, the town's first synagogue, to Beth Sholom.

  • Culture and politics in a tight-knit community -- This part of the exhibit examines cultural and religious benchmarks, organizations and charitable societies, Hadassah and political interactions.

  • Basic principles of the Jewish tradition -- An explanation of some of the most important Jewish traditions, from holidays to family life.

  • A family's journey from Europe to Johnstown, and Israel -- Examples of Johnstown Jewish families, from the time they left the Old Country to the present day.

  • Defending two homelands -- Stories told in this section of the exhibit include how the Johnstown Jewish community served during the two World Wars, Holocaust survival, and support for the state of Israel.


Traveling Exhibits

Two traveling exhibits will be featured as part of the project. Confirmed exhibits are:

February 1- March 31, 2013 -- Cinema Judaica: The War Years -- This unprecedented exhibition of iconic Hollywood film posters from 1939 to 1949 illustrates how the motion picture industry countered America's isolationism. The exhibition also covers the way in which American film influenced post-war perceptions of the Jewish people and the founding of the State of Israel, and shaped the face of contemporary Jewish life. The exhibit comes to Johnstown from the Hebrew Union College's Jewish Institute of Religion Museum. (Click on the hotlink above for much more detail).

March 10-August 31, 2013 -- Letters to Sala -- A Young Woman's Life in Nazi Labor Camps -- "Letters to Sala" is a narrative told mainly through postcards and photographs written to and saved by Sala Garncarz, who at the age of 16 was deported into the Nazi labor camp system. During her five-year imprisonment, Garncarz received more than 300 letters that were mailed or smuggled to her by friends and family on the outside or in camps themselves. Remarkably, she preserved these letters during her internment and continued to hide them for nearly five decades following her liberation and subsequent marriage to an American G.I., Sidney Kirschner. Hers is a story of determination, stamina, and creativity in the face of imprisonment and inhuman treatment. The correspondence to Sala sheds fascinating light on life in occupied Poland as well as in other labor camps. The exhibit is sponsored by the French Children of the Holocaust Foundation, and was curated by Jill Vexler in cooperation with Ann Kirschner, Sala Garncarz Kirschner's daughter and author of Sala's Gift: My Mother's Holocaust Story.

Click here for a teacher packet with suggested activities for students visiting this exhibit.

Additional programming

A variety of additional programs are being planned in association with the Johnstown Jewish Community Heritage Project. These will include but are not limited to speakers, films, and children's programming. Currently, confirmed programs include:
  • Thursday, November 29, 6:30 pm -- Hanukkah Cooking Class (Heritage Discovery Center) -- Join us as Barbara Rosenberg demonstrates how to make rugelach, a traditional Jewish pastry that's often made at Hanukkah. $7 for adults, $5 for young people aged 12-17.

    Saturday, December 1, 2:00 pm -- Hanukkah at the Johnstown Children's Museum -- Kids will learn about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and how it's celebrated at this hands-on workshop for children of all faiths! Presenters Bea and Helen Stern will explain the origin and meaning of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, and some of its symbols. We'll light a menorah, taste Hanukkah treats and play the traditional dreidel game. Finally, we'll make a Hanukkah craft, and everyone will go home with a little bit of Hanukkah gelt. Free to JAHA members or with admission.

  • Thursday, March 7 -- Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator:" Fighting Fascism with a Movie -- "The Great Dictator" is one of the films featured in the temporary exhibit Cinema Judaica. Charlie Chaplin was the writer, producer and star of this 1940 release. The film, which was produced and released when the United States was still at peace with Germany, and presents a condemnation of Adolf Hitler. Dr. David Ward of Pitt-Johnstown will give a presentation and lead a discussion.

  • Thursday, March 14 -- "Intersecting Sparks" -- Dr. Mary Beth Leidman will premiere the new documentary "Intersecting Sparks," which showcases the work of Israeli scientist and artist Dr. Michael Lazar.

This project is supported by several funds at The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, including the Abe & Janet Beerman Fund; the David A. Glosser Foundation; the William L. Glosser Family Fund; and the Saul & Eva Glosser Memorial Fund, as well as the United Johnstown Jewish Federation.