The unique displays of the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora showcase Jewish experience from the exile after the destruction of the First Temple 2,600 years ago to the present.
Six themes (or “gates” as the museum calls them) serve as the museum’s pathways to better understanding Jewish experience the world over: Family, Community, Faith, Culture, the Jewish people among the nations, and the return to the land of Israel.
Unlike ordinary museums, the Diaspora Museum’s displays are not chronological, and most of the artefacts on display are not of intrinsic value. Rather, they are replicas that highlight the complex fabric of Jewish life. One example is Sabbath candlesticks or lamps, which take on various forms in different Jewish ethnic groups, but all hark back to the ancient tradition of Jews everywhere to welcome the Sabbath at home with illumination.
An introduction to the richness of Jewish ethnicity begins with the first display you see, which opens the Gate of the Family: changing slides that show “Jewish faces” from all over the world. Among the displays at the Gate of Community are models of community institutions and films on Jewish communities the world over.
The Gate of Faith contains 18 synagogue models, including the pagoda-like house of prayer from Kaifeng, China and Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1954 ultra-modern Beth Shalom in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.
The Gate of Culture highlights art, education and languages, and at the Feher Jewish Music Centre, you can listen to Jewish music of all varieties and see videos about Jewish music (now undergoing digitalization). The Feher data base includes music from India, Spain, Libya, Greece, Morocco, and elsewhere, and over 5,000 names of conductors, composers, poets, authors, singers, translators, musicologists and more, from the roots of Jewish music to the twenty-first century. Among the entries are those some might consider obscure (but fascinating), such as Acan Moses de Zaragua, a 14th century poet known for his treatise in verse on chess, to the well-known Maestro Leonard Bernstein, hearing his composition for the Jewish prayer before sleep, Hashkivenu, his conducting of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and other masterpieces.
“Among the nations” is a section devoted the relationship between Jews and other faiths and cultures, while the Return to Zion tells the story of Zionism including its affect on individual families. Here you’ll find a “family tree” – showing two imaginary extended families from different corners of the Jewish world and how some of their members came to live in Israel.
As visitors mount the stairs from one level to another, they see a memorial column with myriad lights, recalling the dark episodes of Jewish history.
For those seeking to put everything together in terms of the time-line of Jewish history, the Chronosphere is a theatre presentation that takes you step by step through the story.
Among additional highlights is the excitement of looking up family names and places of origin on computer and receiving a print-out to take home, the Jewish Genealogy Centre for further research, and fascinating changing exhibitions.