diamond geezer

 Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Jewish Museum London
Location: Albert Street, Camden Town NW1 7NB [map]
Open: 10am - 5pm (closes at 2pm on Fridays)
Admission: £7.50 (Art Pass holders go free)
Five word summary: a celebration of British Judaism
Website: www.jewishmuseum.org.uk
Time to set aside: one to two hours

London's Jewish museum is well hidden in a residential terrace up a Camden sidestreet, between the market and the zoo. It opened its doors here in 2010, bringing together the collections of two rather smaller split-site buildings, but wholly revamped in an attempt to tell the story of Judaism as it relates to the UK. It's a sad reflection on our times that where the coat check used to be is now a security office and a second guard waits outside, welcoming visitors but keeping an eye open just in case.

The museum has an open door policy with entrance free so long as you don't want to go upstairs. You're allowed access to the well-stocked shop and also to the cafe (which offers a pescetarian menu, but is no longer strictly Kosher). You can stare at the excavated mikveh (a medieval ritual bath recovered from the City of London) and ponder its many cleansing uses. And you'll likely be distracted by the temporary 'Great British Jews' exhibition, a colourful showcase of unfamiliarly famous names... Gerry Anderson, Fenella Fielding, Claire Rayner, Daniel Radcliffe, to name but four. But that's your lot until you pay up.



There are three more floors up the stairs. The first explores Jewish religious life and features a fine collection of ceremonial objects. Some of these are very beautiful, even exquisite, and testament to the craftsmanship of generations. A holy Torah scroll takes centre stage, midway through its annual progression, surrounded by several cabinets exploring the faith's central pillars. I learnt a lot from a series of multimedia presentations, so I think (for example) I can now tell the difference between Hanukkah and Purim, but I felt I was only scratching the surface of what being Jewish really means. Nevertheless there's a lot here crammed into a small space, and I can well imagine school RE classes ending up here on a field trip.



Floor two is rather larger, and features an exhibition recounting a millennium of Jewish life in Britain. For many centuries this was a life of persecution, most notably back in 1290 when Edward the First expelled the entire Jewish population from the kingdom. It took until 1656 for Oliver Cromwell to invite them back. Although there are nods to settlers in Norwich, Portsmouth and elsewhere, this is chiefly an account of Judaism in the East End of London. Numerous synagogues, bakeries, tailor's workshops and an entire immigrant community were shoehorned into a nucleus of Whitechapel-ish streets, and their life hereabouts is celebrated in all its rich diversity.



Linking in with Sunday's post one display contains Israel Zangwill's most famous novel and his personal seal, plus a commemorative plate inscribed with a pertinent putdown to a heckler who dared call him an "alien Jew". Roll up and try your hand at Yiddish theatre karaoke (encouraged via video screen by the irrepressible David Schneider) or lift the lid on a pre-war kitchen (and smell the chicken soup). Trace the history of Jews in the military, from 'had to pretend to be Christian' (1757) to 'carried an ID tag to ensure, if shot, they'd get a Jewish burial' (WW1) to 'given a non-Jewish alias to ensure that, if the Germans captured them, they'd survive' (WW2). Again there's a lot here, a fair amount of it interactive, and wandering round took rather longer than the space might have suggested.

There is, of course, a Holocaust Gallery. Rather than attempt to retell the whole horrific story, the museum concentrates on telling the tale of a single survivor. Leon Greenman was born and married in the East End but had moved to the Netherlands when the Nazis invaded. Separated from his wife and two year-old son at the gates of Auschwitz, Leon's subsequent experiences make for a poignant and sobering account of Hitler's Final Solution in all its hideous cruelty. Leon chose to devote the remainder of his life to telling his truth to others, especially in schools, and was a friend of the museum until his death in 2008. Circulating around a cabinet of his rescued belongings, this compact gallery packs a real emotional punch.

And floor three is for unpermanent exhibitions. The latest is 'Jews, Money, Myth', which was supposed to close in July but has been extended due to popular demand (and not just because they haven't got the next one ready). It explores how Jews gained a reputation as financially devious, from Judas's thirty pieces of silver to medieval moneylending to the Rothschilds, and how disingenuous stereotypes eventually stuck. Numerous examples of anti-semitism are included - the curators make no bones about it - confirming that much of the thoughtlessness we see today has been going on for years. So yes, the museum's a must-visit for any Jewish folk in the capital, but Gentiles will find plenty of interest and enlightenment here too.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream