People power

The iconic museum of the Jewish nation is taking a new approach. Ann Goldberg finds it easy to relate to

November 9, 2010
From our earliest times we have taken Judaism and run with it

From our earliest times we have taken Judaism and run with it

There is a new English name for Beit Hatfutsot. It is no longer translated as the Diaspora Museum, but as the Museum of the Jewish People.

This subtle change is indicative of the much larger changes happening at the museum, which was waning in its popularity, despite being one of the most important museums for the Jewish nation.

The core exhibition is undergoing a massive overhaul, which will bring it into the 21st century of museum technology, as well as a change in concept, reflecting the Jewish world both in the Diaspora and in Israel.

The current main display tells the story of the Jewish People since our exile from the Land of Israel over 2,000 years ago. It takes you all over the world to wherever Jews settled, showing their contribution to their surrounding world cultures while retaining their own special Jewish traditions.

Using images, films, videos, photography , dioramas and audio-visual displays, the story is told, not chronologically but according to themes such as "Family, Faith", "Living Among the Nations" and "Return to Zion". All these aspects together represent Jewish survival over the 4,000 years of life in dispersion.

The new main exhibition, which is due to open in three to four years, will cover our history from biblical times to today (and tomorrow) with additional emphasis on contemporary Jewish life and different expressions of Jewish identity.

The museum’s aim is to be a world centre for Jewish education and culture, covering every aspect of Jewish life

Its aim is to be world centre for Jewish education and culture, covering every aspect of Jewish life. At the same time it will provide a platform for groups to discuss and deliberate the schisms in our society over the centuries and see how the split among the Jewish people at the time of the destruction of the second Temple and the loss of the Temple itself impacted the future of our people and compared with later problems and controversies in Jewish society.

The museum also houses the Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Centre, where visitors can search a computerised database that contains thousands of genealogies of Jewish families from every corner of the globe.

Visitors are encouraged to register their own family tree. More than three million people have already been recorded in the database and registering your family name could connect you to your own ancestors and living family members who are already in the database. There have been many instances of families discovering unknown relatives through using this database.

A temporary exhibition currently on display is "Andy Warhol and Israeli Artists Present: Jewish Cultural Icons" which features 10 portraits of 20th century Jewish icons, including silk-screens of people from the world of politics, entertainment and science (for instance the Marx Brothers, Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka and Golda Meir).

It's almost impossible to take in everything during one visit, even if you allow yourself a full day, so take one of the museum's guided tours around one section and then give yourself a chance to select some of the fascinating films to watch or to explore your own ancestry.

Last updated: 3:20pm, November 9 2010