Jewish Heritage Europe

Huge New Jewish Museum Opens in Moscow

What is reportedly the world’s largest Jewish museum has opened in Moscow.

Israeli President Shimon Peres (who is on an official visit to Russia) joined Jewish and Russian leaders for the gala inauguration Nov. 8 of the Russian-Jewish Museum of Tolerance.

“At this emotional moment I can see generations of my people before my very eyes and I carry them with me,” Mr. Peres said. “My parents were born in Russia. In my home we spoke Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian….This museum is an eloquent declaration of the principles of tolerance toward people and their freedom. Here we can see man part with the past and move into the future with hope.”

The museum occupies a converted bus garage that was turned over to the Jewish community in 1999. The German architectural fir Graft Lab carried out the transformation. The museum design firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates carried out the exhibition design.

According to the Christian Science Monitor:

The nearly 50,000 sq.-ft., $60-million center uses interactive media technologies, recreations of shtetl (small Jewish town) life, and 13 hours of videotaped personal testimony to tell the story of Russia’s Jewish community. It focuses on the past 175 years, which saw Russian Jews move from the Czarist-era Pale of the Settlement (an area of Russia where Jews were allowed permanent residence) into mainstream Russian and Soviet society, face near extinction when the Nazis invaded the USSR, and later chafe for decades under official Soviet restrictions that kept them from many areas of higher education and important state jobs.

Writes the New York Times:

Touch the screen in one exhibit in this vast building and a visitor can appear in a mirror dressed in the garb of a 19th-century blacksmith, or a trader or a “representative of the intelligentsia.” Tap a Torah in a virtual synagogue, and a cantor’s voice rings in the air. In a virtual Odessa, one can sit down in an interactive cafe to chat with long-dead writers. […] The displays here mingle brighter historical material, about thriving village life and the high status of Jews in the Soviet intellectual firmament, with darker chapters.

In the Odessa cafe, for example, the viewer can tap on a table to answer the question, “If your store were destroyed by a pogrom, what would you do? A) Give up and emigrate to the West, B) Stay in my hometown and try to rebuild the store, C) Join a Jewish self-defense league and prepare for the next pogrom or, D) I am still in shock.” The Internet television channel Dozhd described the museum, created by the New York-based designer Ralph Appelbaum, as a “Jewish Disneyland.”

See a 2009 preview, with pictures, of the museum design on the web site

Article on the museum from the Associated Press