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Jewish Museum - entry and security check
After the tack at The Wall
on the previous day and the sheer kitch of Checkpoint Charlie
, I was seriously depressed. It's not so much that I wanted something to cheer me up. I just wanted to be somewhere that took itself seriously. So, next on the list, the Jewish Museum. I knew these guys would be the business and boy were they just.
This is a museum not to be missed, though you would really want to spend at least a week there to get even half the measure of it. It is packed with content which is very well presented and the whole thing is very well thought through. Don't ever think of opening a museum without having been through this place.
The building you see above, is and isn't the museum. It is effectively the entry point, security check and anti-room to the museum itself which is a different building entirely. You are warned to allow time for the security check but it was very slack when we arrived so there was no delay. The check is like that at an airport. Bags and stuff go through an xray machine and you walk through the frame. It was almost, but not quite as stringent as the airport. I didn't have to take my braces off at the museum.
The Museum Proper
The museum itself is a metallic looking strucrure and only the side of it is visible from the road. What you see here extends way backwards in a zig-zag of corridors. The connection with the entry building is underground, so you enter the museum itself a few floors below ground level.
Directly across the road from the museum is the Jewish Museum Academy, which houses a library, archives and a conference room.
But back to the museum itself. I mentioned to the chap collecting the tickets at the top of the stairs that I was looking forward to the visit as the only thing Jewish which had seriously impacted on me so far was a visit to Dachau
in the 1970s. He was quick to point out that this was not a holocaust museum. It concerned the history of the Jews in Germany over two millennia, though, of course the holocaust was a significant part of this.
And he was right. Much of what is dealt with in the museum concerns the intellectual and cultural contribution of Germany's Jews over the centuries. And it is a proud record. It brought to my mind the contribution of Dublin's Jews to the life of that city over the last century and more. So many people whose names you knew as part of city life. And you only realised they were Jewish on the odd occasion when this became relevant.
Dublin's Jews were accepted and integrated into the community, insofar as this was possible in a priest ridden and church dominated land. Their numbers diminished after WWII, not because they were chased away, but because many of them either sought a better life in growing economies or resettled in Israel.
Germany's Jews, on the other hand seem to have suffered a number of persecutions over the centuries, of which the Third Reich was probably the most extreme. The museum does cover this. There is a holocaust axis which recalls the names of the many concentration camps and recalls aspects of the lives of some of the victims. At the end of the corridor is an unmarked room behind a closed door. You could easily miss it if you weren't Donal who poked in everywhere. It led to a dead end. A bare high dark chamber which would send a shiver up your spine and have your head spinning between showers and Zyklon B
Upstairs in the permanent exhibition there was also a corridor which dealt with the run up to the holocaust. The persecution of Jews under the Third Reich, the letters written by, often unsuspecting, victims as they suffered the long train journeys to the camps. Heart rending stuff.
I'm not going to go through all the stuff in the museum. You can get a flavour from Wikipedia
and the Museum's own website
. I'm just going to show and comment on three things which I found particularly interesting.
This is a robot which is writing a full Torah by hand, as it were. It writes at the same speed as a human scribe. Why bother, you might ask? Well, the idea is to illustrate a crossover or integration between the world of computers and mechanics on the one hand and the human scribe on the other. The title is Torah [bios] and it evokes a comparison between the computer's BIOS (Basic Input Output System), which enables the computer to function and communicate with the outside world, and Scripture which underlies good human living.
The computer can replicate the requirements for producing a Torah, on 80 metres of parchment with ink and a quill pen, but it cannot replicate the learning and understanding which the human scribe brings to producing a Torah that is acceptable in the Synagogue. Lots of food for thought there.
And it is really beautiful to watch. Don't forget that you are looking at it here from the wrong side and the writing is actually going right to left.
It's a very clean and interesting concept.
Fallen Leaves in a Void
My second item is a truly creative and provocative piece. It is called Fallen Leaves. Some 10,000 faces punched out of steel are scattered on the ground. The work is dedicated not only to Jews killed in the holocaust, but to all victims of violence and war.
You are invited to walk over the faces and listen to the sounds they make as they shift beneath your feet.
This is what you see in front of you as you try to keep your balance.
And this is what you nearly fall on top of.
It is hard to convey the emotional impact of this place. The noises made by the shifting faces remind you both of screams, varying in pitch and volume depending on the sizes and shapes of the faces making them, and of something like a clanking tank running over fleeing victims. It is quite unnerving.
Then, in the middle distance, a shaft of light which turns the faces to gold. What does it mean? Hope amid despair? Gold from the teeth of the dead? Just plain Shekels? Even more unnerving
My third item is the olive tree. Presented here as a symbol of fertility and peace. Visitors can write a wish or prayer for placing on the tree.
Unfortunately, the olive tree for me has become a symbol of the wanton destruction of the livelihood of Palestinians on the West Bank by illegal settlers. So this item brought me up a bit short.
And then a mental exercise suggested itself to me and I would like you to go back to the beginning of the Fallen Leaves
and slowly go through the sequence again. Only this time, still being true to the artist's wider conception, imagine they are the faces of the Palestinians of Gaza.
Even more unnerving.
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