Set on four floors, this is a truly spectacular museum of Jewish history and heritage. Security is very tight here. Be prepared to go through a metal detector and empty your pockets. If you get a copy of Museum magazine, you can get a two-for-one entrance. Floors 1 and 2 house the temporary exhibits. Floors 3 and 4 house the permanent collection, "Culture and Continuity". Begin by going to the fourth floor. There, you can pick up an audio guide.
One question that will be answered by this museum is "How have the Jews been able to survive for thousands of years?" Trace the development of the three traditions, Mizrahi, Sephardi and Ashkenazi. Learn how the ancient text preserved their commonality while social pressures made for cultural differences. Follow the development of the four themes of Jewish identity, Covenant, Exodus, Law and Land. These are present in tablet form, rather larger than one would expect the Ten Commandments to look.
The exhibits are spread over many rooms; some have displays, some have artifacts, and in some rooms, you feel like you have entered the time period. It was all very interesting and well-presented. The exhibit on Solomon’s Temple fascinated me. It had never occurred to me why there were no artifacts from this temple. What archeological remains that probably exist are located under a Mosque in Jerusalem and therefore no excavation is possible. A shame really but understandable.
As a Christian, what I found particularly interesting was how Jesus was dealt with. There was a center display in one room that had displays on several Internal Conflicts. Jesus was grouped with the Dead Sea Sect and the Pharisees, very eye opening for me.
‘Interpreting a Tradition" is narrated by Leonard Nimoy. He points out items of interest in the cases and talks about the tradition of circumcision. There is a display of a 19th-century silver circumcision set. Another great display is "Hanukkah Among the Nations" from Australia a menorah decorated with emus and kangaroos, filigree from India, and the Imperial Eagle from Austria.
By the time you leave, you will know about the Torah, the Talmud, Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, Shabbat, and burial and marriage customs. There is a modern sculpture of the Holocaust by George Segal. The Holocaust is only allotted one case, but it includes a list of prisoners at Dachau, of 3,000, 11 survived.
You will come away from this museum with a wonderful understanding of Judaism yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
June 23, 2005
From journal Doing New York City My Way