The Jewish Museum of Greece: Brief Description, Mission, Issues and Programmes

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The Jewish Museum of Greece was founded in Athens in 1977 to house a small number of artefacts, sad remnants from the Greek Jewish Communities, which unlike their owners survived the destruction of the Holocaust. In 1997 the Jewish Museum left its long-time home, on 36 Amalias Avenue, and moved into its own premises, a restored neo-classical building on 39 Nikis Street. On 10 March 1998, the official inauguration of the museum took place, marking a new era for this historical and ethnographical institution, dedicated to preserve, study and present historical, cultural and material evidence of 2,300 years of Jewish life in Greece.

This new, permanent home of the Jewish Museum has retained its graceful exterior, while the interior has been completely rebuilt to cover the needs of a modern museum. It has four floors, three of which graduate into three different-level landings. All levels radiate around a central atrium, creating an ascending spiral, which lifts spirits and emotion with its upward movement, crowned by a domed, clear glass skylight bringing natural light into the museum. This architectural choice creates a very interesting and challenging environment, with many angular shapes and patterns departing from the central circular well. To soften this effect and to create a neutral background for the rich and colourful exhibits, the interior has been painted in shades of cream and light peach. White marble and natural wood alternate as floor coverings, the latter enhancing the warm, intimate feeling already conveyed by the building itself.

The environmentally controlled building is safeguarded by a state-of-the-art security system, 24-hour monitoring, a security guard and fire and flood alarm systems. The available space has been organised in permanent exhibition areas with thematic modular exhibits, a temporary exhibitions area, an art gallery, a discovery room for educational programmes, a research library and study hall, a photographic archive and laboratory, a conservation laboratory, staff offices, and a reception-cum-cloakroom area, within the gift shop.

The collection, of almost 8,000 individual artefacts pertaining to the religious and domestic life and the history of the Greek Jews, as well as the visitor services and staff areas, is housed in a total area of 800 square metres. The collection includes synagogal and domestic religious objects and textiles, traditional costumes, ornaments, household linen and embroideries, jewellery, amulets, photographs, documents and books. It also comprises historical documents, objects, photographs, archives and oral testimonies, pertaining to the fate of the Greek Jews during the Second World War.

A brief guided tour through the new building is attempted in the following paragraphs. The basement houses the environmentally controlled and monitored storerooms, where two thirds of the collection are kept, in three separate rooms according to their material: metal, paper-parchment-wood and textiles-costumes. The artefacts, which have been put through a month-long bio-disinfecting procedure, are stored in especially designed storage units, which ensure safety, easy access and ready surveillance, as most of them have glass doors. The conservation laboratory, and the photographic archive and laboratory are also to be found here.

In the ground floor, a discovery room for educational programmes has been established. Replicas of Jewish religious and domestic artefacts, the Hebrew alphabet, Romaniote and Sephardic costume components made to size, drawing materials and projects, educational board games and exploration expeditions within the museum, are some of the current and forthcoming offerings for youngsters on organised visits.

The permanent exhibition areas start at the synagogal level, with the restored interior of the Romaniote synagogue of the Jewish Community of Patras, as well as cases exhibiting the Sefer Torah and its ornaments, synagogal artefacts and textiles, and the traditional Romaniote Tikim (wooden cases for the Torah). …