a day at the museum

Today, I went to the Israel Museum, the Bible Land Museum, and a lecture at the Goethe Institute, a full day, and a lot of impressions are swirling through my head.  I went to the museums with Franziska, a German friend visiting from Switzerland, as well as Matt, our inofficial tour guide, his wife and, most importantly, the Bongaroo. I will upload pictures tomorrow, the connection is to slow tonight.

The Israel Museum is (supposedly!) in the final stages of renovation, and the exhibits on display were not that interesting, but as always, I was impressed to see the Aleppo Codex and the various scrolls they do decide to exhibit. It does not hurt that the architects of the Shrine of the Book did a great job recalling cave-like moments. Considering that there is almost nothing to be seen, there was a surprising number of visitors.

Far more impressive was the virtually empty Bible Lands Museum, and here in particular the exhibition on Angels & Demons, Jewish Magic Through The Ages. Many of the objects came from what must be one impressive collection, and many were quite recent. Yes, there were magic bowls, some Jesus bowls (those were in the exhibition on Monotheism), some with Arabic magic signs, some with scrawny-looking humans. Lots and lots of amulets for childbirth and to avert the evil eye, for healing (esp. male impotence), all nicely presented. We also saw some recent books on practical Kabbalah that made me feel hyper-rational.

In the evening, I went to a lecture by my former boss, Profesor Meir Schwartz, the initiator and director of Beit Ashkenaz, the Ashkenaz Memorial. He is a fascinating man. Born in Nuernberg, his father was murdered already two years before the Pogromnacht in 1938 and he left on the kindertransport for Israel soon thereafter. Later, he was a commander of one of the ships accompanying the Exodus, the Ocean Vigor. You can listen to his experiences as a member of the Hagana here.

But tonight, Professor Schwarz spoke about Beit Ashkenaz, his passion for the last 20 years, and a desperate race against time to compile a comprehensive list of the synagogues destroyed in the Pogromnacht and, with it, the cultural memory connected to these communities. When I worked there as a lowly secretary and researcher in the 90s, the project was located in Hechal Shlomo, the Central Synagogue in Jerusalem and we mostly compiled lists of destroyed buildings. Today, the project includes research on names or in the ways in which some dialects  reflects Jewish influences. I was again impressed on the emphasis on southern Germany, in particular Franken.

Meir Schwarz’ last and greatest goal is a memorial, to be erected both in the Shu”m communities and in Jerusalem. Shu”m is an acronym recalling the great communities of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz, the heart of what would later become Ashkenaz, and Jerusalem, of course, is where some of the survivors found a new home. Good luck, Professor Schwarz!


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