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.