Monday, September 27, 2010

London's Jewish Museum

The next time you are in London, make it a point to visit the Jewish Museum .

I was there over the Rosh Hashana holidays. The museum is located near two Northern Line tube stations in Camden Town. It is new, open, sunny and not overwhelming.

I started out on the top floor which is showing a temporary exhibit of illuminated Hebrew manuscripts some of which were on loan from the Vatican -- which I know begs the questions: where did they get them from? And several others which came from various British universities.

Most are of Jewish interest though some are also of Christian interest.

The exhibit which ends on October 10 is modest in size -- as is the museum, but worthwhile.

Downstairs is a permanent installation on British Jewish History. Just the right amount of visual ... and artifacts.

Jews first came to England in 1066. I learned that the first blood libel took place in Norwich in 1144.
And that Jews were forced to wear distinctive badges.

In 1290 the Jews of England were expelled. That explains why Shakespeare who died in 1616 could not have come across many Jews.

The Jews were allowed to return to England in 1656.

By 1855 there was a Jewish Lord Sheriff.

In 1858 Rothschild was allowed to be sworn in on a Hebrew bible as a member of Parliament.

In the 1880s England experienced a great immigration. This coincided with the pogroms on Russia. The East End became a major Jewish neighborhood -- like New York's Lower East Side. So Jews were big in Whitechapel.

I learned further that Jewish women did piece work: making cigarettes and were paid 2 shillings and sixpence for 1,000. The tools they used were on display.

At their economic situation improved, the Jews moved to better neighborhoods like Stoke Newington.

Between the wars there was upward mobility and that is how it transpired that many Jews became cabbies in London. Yiddish was out and English was in.

In 1938-39 the community took in some 10,000 children from Europe ...rescued from Hitler's clutches.

On the main floor there is a general exhibit on Judaism which I thought was very well done. Plenty of good explanations for beginners. There is also a small Holocaust section anchored to a British Jewish citizens who found himself in Europe and survived the Holocaust.

Israel does not feature prominently -- but it does feature -- in the museum; this is not a museum about Israel. It is mostly aimed at British people including non-Jews.

There is a gift shop and a cafeteria which sells sandwiches (kosher + meat) and soups as well as hot drinks. A bit overpriced for my budget but pleasant.

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