Twenty-three years ago when Yeshiva University Museum first opened, its inaugural exhibition consisted of ten superbly crafted architectural models of historic synagogues. Among these are Dura Europos ( 244-45 C.E.), Beth Alpha (c. sixth century C.E.), Touro in Newport, Rhode Island ( 1763), and the Altneuschul in Prague (c. 1280). The models were accompanied by three audiovisual pieces illustrating the development of the synagogue following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. The concept, research, and construction of the exhibition were overseen by a committee headed by Professor Rachel Wischnitzer, the eminent art historian and expert on synagogue architecture, who was then professor of art history at Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women.
Since then, many diverse exhibitions have occupied our halls and galleries that reflect the sweep of Jewish artistic and cultural expression. Most notable are "Ashkenaz: The German Jewish Heritage" ( 1986-88), "The Sephardic Journey: 1492-1992" ( 1990-92), and "Beta Israel: The Jews of Ethiopia" ( 1993-94). We are delighted that "Sacred Realm" offers us the opportunity to return to our roots, as it were, to revisit the origins of the synagogue and explore its development, this time with the full force of a seasoned professional staff of our own, led by Guest Curator Steven Fine, with whom we have enjoyed a long and happy association.
Under Dr. Fine's expert guidance, the story of the synagogue has taken shape in a way that is especially reflective of the mission of this museum: to preserve, exhibit, and interpret artifacts that represent the cultural, intellectual, and artistic achievements of three thousand years of Jewish experience.