There’s a museum in Moscow that definitely belongs on the list of places worth visiting. Note that you can go there any day except Fridays and Saturdays. As you surely have guessed by now, it’s about the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, a place that lives in accordance with Jewish traditions and is a source of admiration for even the most hard-to-please art lovers. Why, you ask? The answer is simple: firstly, the Jewish Museum is currently the most high-tech museum in Russia; secondly, the Museum boasts an extensive collection of materials presenting the history and culture of the Jewish people as well as the Russian history in an interesting and visual manner; thirdly, the quality and level of the Museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions leaves any European museum far behind.
In terms of using state-of-the-art technology and implementing new ideas the young Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center follows the traditions of the place it occupies. The fact is that this museum opened in 2012 in the Bakhmetyevsky Bus Garage – a Constructivist landmark built by K. Melnikov and V. Shukhov in the Marjina Roscha area of Moscow. Back when the Garage was built, its unusual design amazed its contemporaries just as the interactive display areas of the Jewish Museum amaze its visitors today. All sorts of museum ratings unanimously rank the new cultural center among the top of their lists, and that’s not an accident: before 2011 the Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage used to house the Garage Center for Contemporary Art, so when the Jewish Museum came along, it had no choice but to live up to the expectations set for this place by their predecessors. Being highly responsive to all current social trends, the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center is designed as a full-fledged cultural and educational complex consisting of numerous organizational structures. Its Exhibition Center helps visitors familiarize themselves with all major names and movements in fine art; the key mission of the Research Center is to promote the Judaic studies in Russian; the Educational Center focuses on proprietary courses, film screenings, lectures and workshops related to the Museum’s scope of activities, whereas the Children’s Center is designed as a learning environment for children and their parents. There’s also the Shneerson Library, storing and managing a collection of ancient Jewish books and manuscripts from the Russian State Library reserves, and the Center of Avant-garde, dedicated to the art and culture of the 1910s-1930s. It is because of its diversity that the Jewish Museum received the status of a tolerance center becoming a true symbol of the unity between different cultures of the world and a place where a museum experience can be integrated to form one’s own worldview. The Jewish museum has a café and a shop that sells exhibition catalogues, out-of-print art albums, souvenirs, original works of jewelry, and Jewish symbols.
The Museum’s permanent exhibition is split into twelve interactive thematic spaces, equipped with panoramic cinemas, audiovisual installations and huge panels that feature unique photo and video archives, documents and interviews showing the Russian history through the prism of everyday life and culture of the Jewish people from the early days of Empress Catherine II’s rule all the way to the present time. The tour of the Museum starts with The Beginning cinema screening a 4D movie about the Creation and the formation of the Jewish diaspora. The second exhibit hall has an interactive table showing a gigantic map of Jewish migration. A display area called Shtetl (which is a Jewish word for a small settlement or village) fully re-creates a typical Jewish settlement from the days of the Tsarist Russia. The next block recreates the atmosphere of an Odessan café of the late 19th – early 20th centuries, where visitors can have a sit at small interactive tables and use this informal setting to immerse themselves into the Jewish reality and challenges of that time.
The fifth section covers the October Revolution, the Civil War and the role played by the Jews in these events; it also covers the Belfour Declaration of 1917 that preceded the establishment of the Jewish national state in Palestine. Spread across the ceiling in The Soviet Hall is a five-pointed star shining down on the images of life and portraits of prominent figures of that era projected onto the walls. The next few halls present personal testimonies of the World War II veterans and victims of the holocaust, as well as a Memorial established to commemorate those who died during the war and the holocaust: every second a few names light up on the wall emerging from the darkness of this room. Visitors can light a candle in memory of the deceased. A part of the exhibition devoted to the post-war period talks about the antisemitism in the Soviet Union, engaging the viewers in the life that used to be happening in a typical kitchen of a Soviet “Khrushchyovka” (a type of low-cost apartment building developed in the 1960s during Nikita Khrushchev’s tenure). The last section of the Museum focuses on the Perestroyka period and the modern Russia, where the Jewish people received the long-awaited freedom of religion and movement.
The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center offers a wide selection of guided tours (conducted in Russian, English, French and Hebrew): from ‘Jewish Art: Lost in Translation’ to ‘The Sabbath Queen and Her People’. All tours are split into three thematic groups: culture, history and traditions, with most of them taking place on Sundays. The Museum also offers an off-site tour around the unknown Jewish Moscow, consisting of two parts.
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