Recently renovated Museum of the Jewish People strengthens cultural ties

Beit Hatfutsot, the museum which chronicles the history of Jews throughout the Diaspora, has been one of Israel’s most visited tourist sites since it first opened in 1978 on the campus of Tel Aviv University. Not only has the museum recently undergone a name change – it’s now the Museum of the Jewish People – but it has significantly expanded its scope and physical structure. Dated exhibition areas have been transformed into exciting, state-of-the-art platforms for the expression of Jewish culture and identity.

Before attending the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem this past December, I had arranged to be in Tel Aviv for a day, where I was treated to a tour of the museum by its justifiably proud CEO, Dan Tadmor.

We concentrated on exhibits in the “New Wing,” which opened last May with its theme of Jewish identity and pluralism. This splendid venue reflects the Diaspora’s rich Jewish culture. Tadmor emphasizes that “we no longer are just about the delineation of the Jews but about describing the Jewish world today.”

The New Wing houses, among others, the renowned collection of synagogue models called “Hallelujah!”, which Tadmor says everyone always remembers. It has been updated and is housed in a new gallery to better showcase 21 models of places of worship worldwide, 19 of which are Orthodox.

Original ceremonial items are on display alongside each model, including historical Judaica, prayer books and publications. There are bronze representations of each structure, including the original menorah topped by a Polish eagle from Warsaw’s Great Synagogue, a spectacular synagogue ceiling reconstruction and a stained glass window created in 1919 in Germany by the artist Friedrich Adler.

“Operation Moses: 30 Years After” is an exhibition featuring the stories of 10 individuals who made their way to a life in a new country. Photographer Doron Bacher began photographing Jews in Ethiopia in 1984, documenting their immigration and absorption over a seven-year period. This inspirational exhibit is based on Bacher’s photographs.

“Forever Young – Bob Dylan at 75” was curated long before the iconic and influential songwriter and performer (born Robert Allen Zimmerman) was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. The exhibition focuses on Dylan’s worldwide influence on music and his complex relationship with his Jewish identity. A short documentary addresses his influence on leading Israeli musicians.

“Heroes – Trailblazers of the Jewish People” is geared toward children ages 6 to 12 but is irresistible to anyone. Designed as an open space that encourages and facilitates interaction, “Heroes” represents a new way to envision what it means to be a hero. Fun and engaging, it highlights 144 men and women throughout history – including scientists (most notably Albert Einstein), intellectuals, revolutionaries, artists and athletes – with the message that success has many faces. “We are shedding light on so many unknown heroes and heroines,” says Tadmor.

Noting that “building a modern museum is a huge endeavor,” Tadmor acknowledges the financial support of Russian-born Israeli oil magnate Leonid Nevzlin, who made aliyah in 2003 and whose daughter serves as the museum’s president. He has invested some $25 million in the facility, insisting on “no naming.”

“We are putting our museum back on the map,” says Tadmor. “It is a place locals and visitors need to [see] – and the number of visitors is on the upswing. There are so many reasons to see all that we have to offer.”

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Transcending the boundaries of silence and darkness

Another extraordinary experience awaits you in Tel Aviv. The Nalaga’at Center at Jaffa Port offers the unique opportunity to attend a performance of “Not by Bread Alone,” presented by a troupe of deaf and blind actors who take you on a tour of their world as they knead and bake bread and interact with the audience.

Before the show, you can dine at the BlackOut Restaurant, where you are escorted to your table by blind waiters and eat in total darkness. As the promotional pamphlet reads, “There is so much to be ‘seen’ when eyes are closed.”

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