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After a $100 million renovation, Tel Aviv’s Jewish museum reopens.

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After a $100 million renovation, Tel Aviv's Jewish museum reopens.
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After a $100 million renovation, Tel Aviv's Jewish museum reopens.

 

Tel Aviv’s newly renovated Museum of the Jewish People attempts the ambitious task of putting nearly 3,000 years of Jewish history and culture under one roof, from Queen Salome to the late RBG, from Moses to Sandy Koufax.

The museum, formerly known as Beit Hatfutsot and now known as ANU (Hebrew for “We”), reopened to the public this week after a decade of $100 million renovations.

Officials say that the museum’s exhibition space has expanded, making it the world’s largest Jewish museum. Its original galleries, which included dioramas and models when it first opened in 1978, have been replaced with cutting-edge displays that include interactive touchscreens and original artwork.

The Nadav Foundation of Russian-Israeli Leonid Nevzlin, a former oil magnate, funded nearly a third of the renovation. Other philanthropists and foundations in the United States contributed $52 million, while the Israeli government contributed $18 million. The museum’s board of directors is chaired by Nevzlin’s daughter Irina, who is the wife of Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.

According to chief curator Orit Shaham-Gover, the refurbished museum takes a new approach to telling the story of the Jewish people. It emphasizes the richness of Jewish culture as well as the Jewish people’s victories, rather than their tragedies, she explained.

The museum’s CEO, Dan Tadmor, said, “Everyone coming in here wants to see themselves regardless of gender, denomination, or ethnic background.” “This is our story, and you have to feel like you’re a part of it.”

Historical artifacts and mementos are strewn about the 72,000 square feet (6,690 square meters) of galleries, including a jawza — a type of stringed instrument — belonging to the Al-Kuwaity brothers, one of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s signature collars, a Book of Esther scroll from pre-Inquisition Spain, and a monumental carved stone from a first-c.

The original artwork, which features lesser-known historical figures including Ottoman Jewish philanthropist Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi and Ethiopian warrior queen Yodit, is a big draw. Visitors may use a digital bracelet to record unforgettable items, such as literary quotes, recipes, and family trees, and then email them off.

The open-space gallery of contemporary Jews, according to curator Shaham-Gover, is “a celebration of life and community, lights and colors.”

She said, “The museum is not a hushed temple.” “It’s about life,” says the speaker. So you come here, and there are sounds, light, and colors. It’s a part of who you are.”

Its grand opening comes as the fundamental question of who is a Jew has resurfaced in Israeli politics ahead of the country’s fourth parliamentary election in two years, which will take place this month.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that people who converted to Judaism in Israel under the Reform and Conservative movements would be considered Jews when applying for citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return. The decision has angered members of Israel’s ruling Likud party as well as the ultra-Orthodox religious community, which has long had a monopoly on conversions.

When tourists reach the main gallery, they are greeted by life-size projections of Jews representing a wide range of affiliations and lifestyles — from Reform to ultra-Orthodox and all in between — who demonstrate how they define their Jewish identity.

Anat Lieberman, a Ramat Gan museum tourist, said the display in people of “all colors of the rainbow” was moving and demonstrated that the museum was “for the whole Jewish people.”

Tadmor avoided discussing the politics of the situation, insisting that the organization does not take a position on the definition of a Jew.

“We don’t get involved in politics.” We don’t have a favorite denomination. He insisted, “We’re floating 20,000 feet above all of that.” “All we want to do is make sure that everybody is portrayed and that you don’t feel like you’re being transparent.”

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