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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Comedy, Israeli culture, Jewish museums

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria