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Writer and broadcaster Nigella Lawson and Alan Yentob, Creative Director of the BBC and one of the museum’s patrons, will today launch the newly transformed Jewish Museum London in Camden Town, opening to the public tomorrow (17 March 2010). The museum, which has undergone a £10 million redevelopment, has tripled the space it has available to showcase its world-class collections which celebrate Jewish life and cultural diversity.
Visitors to the museum will be able to experience life in the Jewish East End at the turn of the 20th century; smell chicken soup in a typical immigrant kitchen; ask different Rabbis their views on issues of faith and ethics; devise different kinds of synagogues; have their photo taken by renowned wedding photographer Boris Bennett; hear from a range of contemporary Jewish people talking about their very different lives and see a medieval mikveh (ritual bath) on display for the first time amongst many other things.
Through ground-breaking audio visual displays, hands on exhibits and many personal stories brought to life through objects and photographs, the story of Jewish history, culture and religion will be told in an innovative and compelling way and engage with people of all backgrounds and faiths to explore Jewish heritage and identity as part of the wider story of Britain.
The only museum in London dedicated to a minority group, the museum’s expansion and redevelopment was made possible following a £4.2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other donations from trusts, funds and individuals.
Displayed across four permanent galleries, the huge variety of objects, films, photography, hands-on exhibits and personal stories on display will paint a rich and nuanced picture of British Jewish life and religion as well as exploring contemporary social issues around immigration and settlement. The new museum will also house a Changing Exhibitions Gallery, a 100-seat auditorium, an Education Space and a café and shop.
The four permanent galleries are:
Welcome Gallery – This innovative multimedia exhibit is the first you encounter as you enter the museum. It introduces visitors to a diverse range of Jewish people including a fourth generation smoked salmon manufacturer, an Indian-born marathon-running grandmother, a taxi-driver and an ex-army engineer who was commended for her action during the London bombings of 2005.
History: A British Story – Visitors can play the Great Migration board game, or smell the chicken soup in an immigrant home. The Same Old Story? interactive display allows visitors to explore attitudes to immigration over the past two centuries. Comedian David Schneider’s Yiddish Theatre karaoke will invite visitors to participate in Yiddish re-workings of plays such as The Merchant of Venice and dress up on coresponding costumes. This gallery explores how and why Jewish people have come to the UK from around the world and the challenges of making a new home in a new country.
Judaism: A Living Faith – Newly commissioned films in this gallery will reveal a range of contemporary Jewish families celebrating festivals and Jewish lifecycle events such as a wedding and bar mitzvah. These are shown alongside rare and beautiful ceremonial objects including silver Torah scrolls made by George III’s silversmith and religious textiles, such as a fabulous Torah mantle commissioned by the Mocatta family, one of the oldest Jewish families in Britain. Interactive displays enable visitors to design their own synagogue and to hear the chanting of the Ten Commandments from a Torah scroll.
The Holocaust Gallery ¬ - this unique space explores the impact of Nazism through the experiences and poignant personal items of London-born Auschwitz survivor Leon Greenman OBE and other survivors who have made their home in Britain.
The first exhibition in the Changing Exhibitions space will be ILLUMINATION: Hebrew treasures from the Vatican and Major British Collections from 25 June until October 2010. The museum is bringing together rare and exquisitely beautiful illuminated manuscripts which are among the most important Jewish works of scholarship and learning. Other future planned exhibitions include Jews in Entertainment, Jewish Food and From Calcutta to Cochin an exhibition on the Jews of India.
The new museum has been designed by Long & Kentish Architects, an award-winning practice who have a long history of developing museums and galleries including the British Library Centre for Conservation, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Museum of the Year 2007) and the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth. The new museum triples the space at its Camden Town site, combining its premises in Albert Street with an adjacent former piano factory.
Nigella Lawson, writer and broadcaster said: "I'm very happy to be at the opening of the new Jewish Museum which has been brilliantly transformed to enable the fascinating contribution of Jewish immigrant culture to be shared and enjoyed by so many more people".
Alan Yentob, Creative Director of the BBC and museum patron said: "The reopening of the Jewish Museum in Camden, increasing its size and scope threefold has been much anticipated and I'm delighted to say that it really does exceed all our expectations. Here is a new national museum which reaches out to all faiths and all communities, both secular and religious and tells a riveting story of the nations oldest minority group in the kind of human detail which promises to surprise and enthral."
Rickie Burman, Director of the Jewish Museum said: “What it means to be British and the issue of cultural identity has never been more hotly debated. At the new Jewish Museum we explore these issues in the context of one of Britain’s oldest immigrant communities. We hope our ground-breaking new displays will inspire people to take a stand against racism and build interfaith understanding and connections.”
Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund said: “I'm hugely looking forward to the Jewish Museum opening its doors again to the public. It's been greatly missed but thanks to this major redevelopment it is looking better than ever. Now housed under one roof, the collections are truly inspirational, bringing together many different stories told in a wonderful range of voices."