New visitor to Mendota

Mobile Museum of Tolerance schedules stop at Graves-Hume Public Library


Staff Writer

MENDOTA – Life is forever changing, adapting, manipulating time, or consistently throwing challenges.

It’s a constant every individual, family, group, organization, state, country, society, or era has endured since the beginning of time.

The Graves-Hume Library in Mendota is welcoming a guest, the Mobile Museum of Tolerance (MMOT), the week of Monday, June 20 through Thursday, June 23 to help empower people of all ages and backgrounds and open eyes to the issues we have faced in our history or in our current lives when it comes to Semitism, bullying, race, hate, and intolerance to promote human dignity.

The MMOT will have its doors open to the community in the library’s parking lot from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, while Tuesday will be from noon-7 p.m.

“When the bus is here and open, there will always be a person from the museum there. I don’t staff it at all,” said Graves-Hume Library Director, Emily Kofoid. “I saw the MMOT in a newsletter, so I filled out an application to see if it would come here. They said, ‘Sure, great.’

“I don’t know what to really expect, but I am super excited. I know racism, bullying, and hate isn’t as prevalent here as Chicago or other cities, but it is here. It’s definitely here. I remember high school and there was bullying. Bullying also plays into mental health, which is very important. If we don’t talk about these things like bullying and Semitism, problems and issues arise because others are unaware. It’s a topic we should be talking about instead of saying, ‘It happens to someone else because we don’t live in Chicago.’

“It happens here, too, just not on a large scale because we don’t have the same type of press or attention. It’s great that Mendota isn’t on Channel 9 News because of a race or bullying matter, but we can’t act like it doesn’t happen here either.”

Once a visitor steps inside of the MMOT, they will be welcomed like it’s an open house as it is a self-guided tour and there will be documentary films about the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement.

There will also be a trained facilitator to help guide, educate, and answer any questions.

Alison Pure-Slovin has answered many questions for people behind the scenes or on the MMOT as she is the Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SMC) Midwest Regional Office in Chicago.

The SMC is an International Jewish Human Rights Organization founded more than 40 years ago. The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles is one of the first Holocaust museums in the United States and was named after Simon Wiesenthal, who survived five concentration camps, weighed 86 pounds and lost 89 members of his family upon liberation.

“The Mobile Museum of Tolerance, where we got that idea is, the friends of the SWC, our Canadian office has the tour for humanity,” said Pure-Slovin, who was born and raised in Chicago and has been the director of the Midwest office since 2012. “It’s a bus that goes around Canada teaching and educating students. It’s almost 10 years old. It gave us the idea that we needed to do it in the United States.

“We built the Mobile Museum of Tolerance using the lessons and the educational aspects from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Illinois is the first state to have the mobile museum. Students in Illinois don’t have resources to come to the museums that we have in Chicago. That’s what makes the MMOT so unique because we’re bringing it to the schools. We are in the backyard, or the libraries, or the educational facilities.”

The MMOT first took to the road in February 2021 and caught steam as it has since made 27 visits (19 schools, four libraries, and four other institutions such as museums) bringing 4,210 visitors on board.

“I think this is extraordinarily important because we’re having conversations with adults and/or students that are uncomfortable ones that are not necessarily discussed,” said Pure-Slovin. “Through the lens of history, we teach through either the Holocaust or Civil Rights, but afterward people start talking about it from their own perspective.

“Students have been forthright on the bus and unfortunately we’ve heard a lot of instances where they feel they’ve been bullied, body shamed, or can’t be honest about their identity. So, we create that safe space for them.

“These conversations are so important because we are witnessing so much hate today and we’re not necessarily talking about it in a safe environment. These workshops are critical to help students or others understand what bullying is, what it leads to, or how it makes someone feel.”

Pure-Slovin said the MMOT hasn’t had to do too much marketing as the locations requesting the mobile museum have seen it somewhere else or heard about it through word of mouth.

The MMOT has had to turn down a few requests because it is booked until March 2023 in Chicago, Springfield, and the surrounding suburbs.

Looking at the list of MMOT locations, Mendota is the first rural destination for the museum.

Kofoid is using the mobile museum as an educational instrument, an entertainment option, as well as an aide for the 3rd Tuesday Book Discussion.

The library director selected ‘How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery’ written by Clint Smith and published in 2021 for the book club to coincide with the teachings of the MMOT.

“I’m excited to have the book club read something that is out of the norm for them. We usually read fictional novels,” Kofoid said. “They don’t usually like my choices because I pick topics they wouldn’t read on their own. I make them read science fiction, fantasy, and books that are not mainstream so we can have discussions.

“We do have really good discussions about different cultures and different ways of thinking, which this one is going to be huge. The author traveled to different monuments and locations that were places of events during the Civil War. It could be where a slave trade happened. He talks to people that are there during his visits. How do they interpret the history? How did we turn the facts into what we believe as truths or non-truths of today? What do they think happened? What, as a society, do we not talk about that we should?”

Jane Rabel, who has lived in Mendota since birth and graduated from Mendota High School in 1953, joined the book club when Kofoid started it in 2018 and is thankful for the unique, different, challenging books she has read.

Rabel mentioned the books are sometimes about different cultures, generations, or situations she isn’t familiar with. The avid reader may not like every book or agree with the author’s perspective, but Rabel feels she does need to know about the subjects and what is going on in the world, and how it’s changing our society.

“Although, I’m somewhat familiar with some of these stories, there is a lot in the book that I was not familiar with,” Rabel said. “Mendota has always been a white community with one black family. The issues in the book have never touched my life.

“I am so concerned with the way our nation is currently so divided. The way we thought African Americans were inferior to us during slavery and Civil Rights – they’re not inferior, they’re people just like everyone else is – and we’re starting to do that again whether it’s the Jewish or Asian-Americans.

“It’s wrong. If we want to survive, we better change our attitudes and forget that some of us have different colored skin. I think we just have to learn how to get along with each other. We’re all people and I don’t care if they were raised differently, we are all equal.”


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