Last week I began something I had quite nearly forgotten about, vacation. Having passed my army truck driving course, I was able to secure some much desired vacation days and, to celebrate, I went to Tel Aviv to browse some museums. With two museums on my radar, I was psyched and departed early in the morning, taking the train down to Tel Aviv. In order to secure free transportation (one of my favourite things about the army), I wore my full “dress” uniform for the day. My first stop after disembarking from the train was the Diaspora Museum in the Tel Aviv University campus. Focusing on the saga of Jewish life throughout the Diaspora, the museum showcases important historical events as well as the day-to-day life of the exiled Jew.
I stepped up to the front desk and asked for an admission ticket, reaching into my pocket for some money. The kind people behind the desk told me that the museum was free to soldiers, and that it was the least they could do for “those who guard us while we sleep”. I confessed that I don’t really guard them, but yes, I do my fair share of guarding so I guess I’m entitled. I think it’s funny how there are some soldiers who barely do anything (I know one who serves a few hours a week) and then you have those in intense combat programs who go home once every 28 days, yet to most people a soldier is a soldier – at least I’m in the middle of the spectrum. Anyway, I waltzed on in without paying a agura and that pleased me. The first thing I saw as I began walking through the exhibitions was a recreation of the south panel of the Arch of Titus in Rome, the “spoils of war”:
The first interesting collection, that I really enjoyed, was a series of models of synagogues from around the world (from Cochin, India to Amsterdam, Holland and more). The craftsmanship is superb and many feature a cutout in the building which reveals the gorgeous interior. Some of the buildings, built so many years ago, are masterpieces and sadly, many have fallen to ruins. Here’s a really decadent one from Europe (Hungary, if I recall correctly):
After reveling in the minute accuracy of the models, I carried on and enjoyed more models of historic moments and places. The one drawback of the Diaspora Museum is that a lot of their displays are actually replicas, with the originals being in other museums. Due to the fact that the Diaspora is trying to convey a message, showing the trails of Jewish history whilst living in the Diaspora, the importance is in the appearance, not the value and uniqueness of each piece. So, to compensate, the museum has so many wonderfully done models, of all different materials. Here’s one of my favourite, a model of the final moments in the Spanish court before Ferdinand and Isabella signed the law that started the infamous Inquisition:
Another great model is of the Cairo Geniza (a geniza is where holy articles, scrolls and books are kept when they are worn out and no longer in use, often buried after some time). Built into the attic of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fostat (old Cairo) back in the year 882, the Geniza contained hundreds and hundreds of years of papers, books and scrolls. In the late 1800s, the contents of the Geniza began to appear around the world, now divided up to museums and collections. As there are estimated to be some 300,000 manuscripts, the Diaspora Museum does have a little handful of them on display. Here, the Geniza:
One particular model/recreation is full sized, the Rashi Chapel in Worms, Germany. Built in 1624, the Chapel was built onto the existing Worms Synagogue, where Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, a famous medieval French rabbi and scholar, pioneer of commentary on the Bible and Talmud) studied in his youth.
Another exhibit that I found to be interesting was a 12-part collection of the modern-day Israeli citizen. Each of them coming from a different land, and each a different trade, these twelve individuals are a slice of the life here in Israel – a rainbow of colours and background, a palette of traditions and legacies. Towards the end of the main museum house, at the end of the dark hallway, was a cutout of a menorah with an artsy image of Israel behind it – symbolism, I believe, of a paradisaical Land of Israel reached only by the use of the menorah, the symbol of the Temple, the ideal Jewish connection to religious life.
With that I walked out and found the temporary exhibition “Threads of Silk – The Story of Bukharan Jewry”, which was interesting and colourful. After that, I ran through an art gallery and then headed outside. Finding a kosher place to eat, I grabbed a grilled pizza sandwich and hurried through the vast campus, headed for the next museum – the Eretz Israel Museum.