Breman Jewish Heritage Museum Executive Director Aaron Berger has resigned effective June 20 to become a consultant to nonprofit organizations.
His departure represents his sense that the Breman has met the challenges he was hired to address 5½ years ago, Berger said in an interview after the announcement Wednesday, May 24.
“The Breman hired me to come and help expand the audience, help build the donor base, help really build some reputation beyond just the Jewish community and really kind of make it more of a destination place,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of great work, so now it feels like it’s time.”
After celebrating its 20th anniversary in the fall, the museum is approaching the end of the fiscal year with a substantial surplus, an excellent staff of trained museum professionals, and an outline of programs and exhibitions for the next year, all of which Berger said should make his position attractive for top candidates.
But it’s not for him anymore. “I’m really attracted to a challenge, to something that is struggling or having a difficult time, and the museum is not in that position.”
Instead, while staying in Atlanta, he will help all kinds of nonprofits with fundraising, board development and management. He also hopes to free up the time to work in the Jewish community in other ways, whether serving on a board or volunteering with an effort such as the Holocaust Survivor Support Fund.
“Being able to help some of those causes personally, that’s also really exciting to me,” he said.
Exhibits created under Berger include “Return to Rich’s: The Story Behind the Store,” which helped annual museum attendance peak at 34,000; “18 Artifacts,” which highlighted key points in Jewish Atlanta’s history; and “Atlanta Collects,” a two-part presentation of more than 200 years of fine art from private Jewish collections in Atlanta that was staged to help celebrate the museum’s 20th anniversary.
“The Breman board of directors is grateful to Aaron for his leadership over the last five years,” said Craig Frankel, the chair of the Breman’s board. He said Berger forged partnerships that raised the museum’s profile and helped it reach new audiences.
Within the museum, housed in the Selig Center in Midtown, capacity crowds have become the standard for programs such as the Bearing Witness series of Holocaust survivor presentations, which have been offered free, and the Molly Blank Jewish Concert Series, which has involved partnerships with the Atlanta Opera, Theatrical Outfit, the Atlanta Jazz Festival and NPR.
Outside the museum, the Breman has expanded its Historic Jewish Atlanta Tours series, which guides visitors through such sites as Oakland Cemetery, the Fox Theatre and The Temple. It worked with Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, on a family history project through Congregation Shearith Israel. It started “Teaching the Holocaust to Jewish Families,” a program in which parents and children learn in a way that balances the realities of the Holocaust with stories of Jewish heroes.
The Breman overhauled its website (thebreman.org); launched the Historic Jewish Atlanta app, the first of its kind in any U.S. city; and started a museum magazine, At the Breman.
But Berger said more personal items mean the most to him. “Getting to know the Holocaust survivors is parallel and I think as important as knowing Elinor Breman and her vision and Bill’s vision for the museum. Those two things, those are the things that really matter to me. That’s the hardest part to leave, honestly.”
The Breman board has formed a transition team that includes a search committee to find the next executive director.
One issue awaiting the next director is whether the Breman has outgrown its portion of the Selig Center, which it shares with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. “The long-term horizon involves a look at our facility,” Berger said. “We’re at capacity for all our programs, there’s no doubt about that.”
Berger said the board must decide whether the Breman exists to serve the Jewish community or to represent Jewish arts, culture and history to everyone and whether its focus is reaching out or bringing people into the museum.