The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum is widely known as a beacon of Jewish culture, influence and education in Atlanta, and nationally. It was founded in 1996 because of William Breman’s desire to establish something substantial, historical and permanent to benefit both the Jewish and general communities. In addition to his generous gift to Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta to establish the museum, Mr. Breman developed a succession plan to ensure his family’s legacy would support his passion and namesake perpetually. “I remember when the museum had its grand opening and we all celebrated with the original core supporters by raising a toast. One of the champagne glasses dropped and shattered on the floor, and everyone celebrated it as good luck. Jewish tradition has a sweet way of making moments sacred,” said Joe Breman, grandson of William Breman.
The museum serves as a convener for the Jewish community and offers a place to forge connections with various organizations. It is also the cornerstone of The Breman Family Foundation’s philanthropic impact, even now, as the family collaborates across generations with their charitable giving. “Our Pop-Pop was a visionary and wanted to see his values of Jewish education, activities and opportunities live on past his lifetime,” said Michelle Salmans, Mr. Breman’s granddaughter. Roberta Nemo, who is also Mr. Breman’s granddaughter and is currently involved on the board of the family’s foundation, said “my grandfather Bill had such a clear view of the future, he set it up so that we would continue supporting the Jewish community long after he was gone. In hindsight, it was brilliant.”
Today, the Breman Museum sees over 25,000 visitors annually, and it has grown to include The Lillian and A.J. Weinberg Center for Holocaust Education, The Ida Pearle and Joseph Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History, and Eighteen Artifacts: A Story of Jewish Atlanta. Additionally, there are seasonal exhibits that allow visitors of all ages to engage in immersive learning journeys and supplemental programming related to Jewish history.
Recently, Leslie Gordon was appointed as executive director of the museum. She has a deep passion for Jewish history and even found some of her own family’s history in The Cuba Family Archives. “It was only my second week in my new role, when an archivist realized I am a Savannah native and asked if Robert Gordon was a relative of mine,” Leslie said. Robert Gordon was Leslie’s father. The archives from the Savannah Federation are also housed in the Breman museum and Leslie gained access to photos and audio recordings of her father that she never knew existed.
Leslie has an incredible vision for the future of the museum, especially the climate-controlled room where the archives are currently housed. “When you walk in you can feel it, the history is palpable. It’s visceral,” Leslie said. This year alone, more than 300 researchers from around the country have visited the museum in person, as compared to only 75 two years ago. The Cuba Family Archives is renowned as the formidable resource on the Leo Frank lynching case. Leslie said, “the archive is our beating heart. Synagogue meeting minutes, Judaica, Federation records, chandeliers from old synagogues, clothing of holocaust survivors, business artifacts and Leo Frank memorabilia.” Currently, the items are largely invisible, and researchers are not allowed inside, only Breman staff members. Leslie is hopeful the future of The Breman Museum includes expanded space for the archive to allow some accessibility for the community.
The education provided at the Breman museum teaches tolerance to young minds. It teaches children to speak up about injustice and to fight for human rights. “It means so much to know that young people tour the museum and learn about the Holocaust and Jewish history. Especially now, with so much anti-Semitism and hate so visible and real,” said Michelle Salmans. The Breman Family Foundation is solidifying the legacy of their “Pop-Pop” through their support of the New Lives project, which is capturing the stories of survivors through high quality videos, which will be available online, that allow users to create a customizable online learning experience. “This project is literally keeping history alive and making sure stories are preserved and accessible,” Leslie Gordon expressed.
“I feel so fortunate that from a very young age our grandparents and parents talked to us about the importance of helping others in whatever way we are capable. Equality and human rights were common themes in our conversations, although I didn’t realize it as a child. We learned very early that not everyone has the same opportunities in life, nor the same experiences, and while we didn’t always get what we wanted, we always had what we needed. We learned about sharing and helping with our time and some portion of our money,” Roberta Nemo expressed.
“Younger people aren’t always interested in old things, but often times it is the old things that keep our stories alive,” Leslie Gordon said. Jewish history will thrive because of the mindful philanthropic planning of William Breman.