The New Diaspora Museum Avoids Sinking into Kitsch—Precisely because It’s in Israel

After ten years of renovations, what was formerly Tel Aviv’s Diaspora Museum has reopened as ANU–Museum of the Jewish People. While the original focused on such topics as synagogue architecture and anti-Semitism, its new incarnation, filled with modern high-tech flare, aims to give an expansive picture of Jewish life, broadly understood. Sarah Rindner focuses on a few exhibits:

In a film area titled My Hero, contemporary artists reflect on the Jewish figures who inspire them. For Nicole Krauss, an American Jewish writer, the work of Philip Roth is deeply Jewish in its celebration of uncertainty and doubt, even when it challenges Judaism itself. For Tomer Yosef, a Yemenite Israeli musician of Balkan Beat Box fame, the Beastie Boys were awesome. As a young Bnei Akiva girl, the Israeli photographer Vardi Kahana was inspired by a Richard Avedon photograph of an haute-couture model standing between elephants. The area of the museum devoted to great Jewish writers features a quote from Marcel Proust followed by a question in bold that I have not seen in an American Jewish museum before: “What is Jewish here?” The answer, we are permitted to consider, may be not very much at all.

ANU is a more lighthearted museum than its predecessor, but it’s not as kitschy as it might sound, precisely because it is in Israel. Visitors to the galleries of the Jewish Museum in New York can absorb its rich offerings and simply forget that Judaism even exists as a religion apart from its remarkable cultural impact. Here, one has the unmistakable sense that the designers of ANU, and most of its current visitors, have a shared understanding of what Judaism is, even if they might not agree on all its meanings and implications.

My favorite installment was a lifelike replica of a bar, in which one can sit and enjoy an hour-long stream of contemporary Israeli stand-up comics projected on the wall. After more than a year of COVID lockdown, it felt nice to sit in a bar, even a fake one. The jokes poked at different areas of life in Israel: school, the army, quite a bit about Jewish religious life, and the various ethnic subgroups that comprise Israel’s rich culture.

Sitting there, in between bouts of laughter, I pondered whether a museum could ever capture the vibrancy of a people in the same way that comedy can.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Comedy, Israeli culture, Jewish museums

 

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas