The Museum of the Jewish People

 

Dr. Orit Shaham Gover

 

How does one plan a museum for the Jewish people? How can this extensive heritage be expressed in a limited gallery space? Where does the story begin, and where does it end? From which perspective do we convey this timeless saga? How do we portray the challenges and achievements that mark Jewish history? What is our purpose in telling this story, and what is the message we wish to impart?

 

Naturally, there is no one answer. So when the planning team of TheMuseum of the Jewish People considered these questions, it chose a distinct approach, creating a museum through which the complexities of the Jewish story could be revealed. The Museum of the Jewish People, comprised of the New Wing (2016) and new Core Exhibition (2019), addresses the various dimensions of Jewish existence, taking visitors on a fascinating journey through a unique and ongoing story. This journey is based on three key principles:

  • A pluralistic and all-encompassingapproach

The new wing offers inclusive representation of the magnificent mosaic that is the Jewish people, past and present. It recognizes all incarnations of Judaism, across geography and generations, free from both bias and dogma.

  • A celebration of creativity and renewal

The exhibitions offer a retrospect of the Jewish story and its implications on the Jewish present, using an approach that celebrates prosperity, creativity, cultural dialogue and an endless capacity for regeneration. In other words, while the darker moments in Jewish history are remembered, the Museum moves beyond “oy vey” and “gevald,” looking instead to the future with the promise of “hallelujah!”

  • Relevancy and identification

By interweaving the threads of past and present and illuminating the idea that we are all part of the greater Jewish story, the Museum promotes the concept that “This story is (also) my own.”

To this end, the new Core Exhibition of The Museum of the Jewish People will begin with the present — displaying, celebrating and opening up a dialogue around contemporary Jewish identity and culture. An entire floor — the largest in the Museum — is dedicated to this discussion, including performing arts (dance, theatre, film and television and music), literature, languages, modern art and Jewish contributions to world culture.

The second floor of the Museum considers the unique and ongoing story of the Jewish people, from time immemorial to the present. Here Jewish history will be viewed through a prism of parallelism, exploring both its light and shadows. Alongside difficulties experienced, emphasis is placed on the flowering of Judaism, on creativity, human and cultural dialogue and renewal.  The Museum maintains a pluralistic approach to all communities and individuals, without discrimination in regard to origin or gender. This floor concludes with the establishment of the Jewish state, which, as in the past, exists alongside another large Jewish center: United States Jewry.

At this point, visitor curiosity will awaken to the conceptual foundations — both cultural and religious — of the Jewish story, giving rise to the question, What does it mean to be a Jew? The third floor of the Museum will display universal elements of Judaism alongside ethnic religious elements, with an emphasis on the pervasive impact of the Bible on world culture.

At the heart of the Museum an open atrium will connect the three floors of the building. This space, which once displayed the persecutions and suffering of the Jewish people, will now be a bright space celebrating optimism and the Jewish capacity for hope. A sculpture of light will rise to the ceiling, symbolizing the Jewish belief in a better future.

Another innovation of the Museum is the introduction of original artifacts that will allow appreciation of actual objects that survived the test of time. The Museum’s curators have arranged both to borrow and acquire unique pieces from around the world that directly relate to the stories on display.

Planning of this new Core Exhibition will conclude at the end of 2016, construction and production will begin in early 2017, and the future Museum will open in 2019.

 

The New Wing

Opening in May 2016 — in advance of the new Core Exhibition — is a new wing of the current Museum. This new wing encompasses the spirit and vision of The Museum of the Jewish People, with four galleries that uniquely represent various aspects of pluralism, celebration and identification.

 

The Synagogue Hall – Permanent Exhibition

This gallery showcases in a new, exciting and thought-provoking manner the Museum’s prestigious collection of world-renowned synagogue models. The exhibition includes 21 models, each revealing the different functions of the synagogue: social gatherings, study, work and prayer. It depicts activities related to the synagogue including weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, community functions, fundraising events and charity work and beyond. This one-of-a-kind display raises questions: How did creativity develop in synagogues over the years? Why do Jews congregate? Where will future Jewish communities converge?  

Alongside each model a ceremonial item originating from the synagogue or related community is displayed. These artifacts enhance the exhibition and our understanding of the cultural and artistic identity of each community. Additionally, this exhibition features an impressive stained glass window by the artist Friedrich Adler, c. 1919 Germany, as well as historical and contemporary Judaica, prayer books and various manuscripts from various periods.

In addition to the models and displays, the Synagogue Hall is rich in media. A large screen in the center of the gallery focuses on the three daily prayers — “Shaharit, Mincha, Ma’ariv” (morning, afternoon, evening); video artwork by the artist Ran Slavin is displayed in a mirror-encircled space showcasing 24 additional synagogues from around the world; four animated films in period settings illuminate distinctive gatherings in synagogues; and a humoristic film starring Israeli journalists Jacky Levy and Kobi Arieli describes the similarities and differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazi prayer.

Visitors are invited to participate in four interactive stations: Personal Prayer (from our database the visitor selects a prayer he empathizes with, and in return is invited to share a story or prayer of his own); Jewish Music in Synagogues (nine “piyutim” (hymns) are performed by renowned artists that allow the audience to travel to the locations where these piyutim were, and still are, sung); Synagogue Architecture (24 buildings representing architectural achievements in the history of the synagogue); and Interactivity for Children (children are invited to design and build their own synagogues).

 

This gallery celebrates creativity and renaissance in Jewish life and culture through the multifaceted lens of the synagogue.

 

Forever Young – Bob Dylan at 75

This special exhibition celebrates cultural and creative wealth, personified by the work of Bob Dylan, who, more than any other Jewish musician, has influenced 20th century culture. The enigmatic Bob Dylan is represented through films, images, posters, displays and a vast collection of his original music. His story is relayed through the revolution he generated, his influence on music and his connection to Judaism.

Via this exhibition original footage by Elliott Landy, the official photographer of Woodstock, will be seen for the first time in Israel. A twelve-minute documentary, “My Dylan” — produced especially for the exhibition — presents Dylan’s influence on Israeli music.

Acclaimed Israeli music editor Yoav Kutner, is the Artistic Director of the exhibition and the narrator of the exhibit’s audio guide.

“Forever Young” celebrates Judaism’s capacity for creativity, cultural dialogue and renewal through the unique and pervasive contributions of Bob Dylan.

 

Operation Moses: 30 Years After

This special media exhibition gives voice to those who personally experienced the immigration to Israel from Ethiopia. For the first time ever, this story will be told by those who lived it. Their voices will be heard, free from the influence of the society that received them.

The films’ director, Orly Malessa, was a child when she immigrated to Israel as part of Operation Moses. For this film she selected — from Beit Hatfutsot’s historic collection — stills taken by Doron Bacher in 1984 in Ethiopia. The incognito photos were then uploaded to a designated Facebook calling upon users to recognize themselves and their families. Through “comments”, “likes” and “tagging”, Orly was able to choose immigrants from all over Israel to represent the Ethiopian immigrant community and share its story, featuring each in a five-minute documentary film.  Together they render in first person the immigrants’ absorption into Israeli society, considering the ups and downs of a long, difficult and complex process.

Through the stories of individuals who made their way to and within a new country, this exhibition celebrates the ways in which individual voices come together to convey the great story of the Jewish people.

 

Heroes: Trailblazers of the Jewish People – A Permanent Exhibition for Children

Bravery is one of humanity’s most mysterious and complex attributes. It is often linked to overcoming fear or apprehension in times of war or in the face of adversity. Admired, the hero becomes a role model, and is often the central figure in stories, songs and epics, instilling in future generations a hero’s values.

 

The Jewish people understand that heroes come in many forms. This complexity is the foundation of this exhibition, which offers children a wide variety of heroes to whom they can relate.

 

This exhibition is comprised of eight categories of Jewish heroes throughout history: scientists, philosophers, revolutionaries, cultural giants, athletes, courageous individuals and economic leaders.

 

In this way children — and their parents — are encouraged to redefine those qualities that make a hero. They are alerted to various aspects of success, including conquering temptation, daring to think outside the box and going against the grain.  

 

This exhibition reflects Beit Hatfutsot’s commitment to emphasizing diversity in Judaism. It celebrates Jewish culture both throughout history and in the present day, laying the foundation for pluralistic expression of who and what is exceptional in the Jewish sphere.

 

Heroes: Trailblazers of the Jewish People is designed for children ages six-through-twelve and their parents. The gallery, designed as an open space that facilitates free movement, has fifteen interactive stations and six animated movies. Textual information appears alongside each hero in the exhibit, enabling parents to provide additional material to their children. The center of the open space is illuminated and ringed with both seating and iPads containing information about the 143 heroes represented in the exhibition.