Any larger city wants to be proud of their Jewish Museum. London, claiming to be the centre of the universe, had to have one as well.
It is easy to walk by the Museum without spotting it. An inconspicuous building is neither fenced nor loudly inviting by banners or signs. A quiet place in the middle of crazy Camden Town that for an average London visitor has nothing to do with Jews. Some bargain clothes and hippie people: yes, Jewish culture not at all. The place however offers more than a moderate facade and little letters “The Jewish Museum”.
Those who had a chance to visit the Jewish Museum in Berlin are in certain way “disabled” to appreciate any kind of interactivity that a museum can offer. The Germans used probably all the possible ways of making a visit not only informative but comparable with fun you get in an amusement park. With regards to that the London museum has a lot to learn from Berlin. The items are displayed in a very standard way – object, some text about it and that is all. Some of them are telling their stories (or the stories of their owners) through speakers or headphones. Perhaps more could be done with regards to the presentation.
Londoners focused a lot on the British Jews throughout the years. Firstly a short introduction to judaism: this part designed around the principles of religion with exquisite Judaicas brought from different part of the world with the migrating Jews. All the dos and donts of Judaism, luckily explained in a way that literally everybody can understand. Partly because of the fact that some rules are explained by children. Their talks are absolutely adorable. After this light introduction to judaism in general the visitor is taken for a tour in history. London used to be a place of high importance for the Jews as it is today as well. Even though being a Jew openly has been prohibited for more than 350 years the Island has had a unique allure that has been appealing to Jews all over the world. There are many things to be showcased as the first Jewish settlements can be tracked in Great Britain as soon as in 1066. The glossy posters reproduce the landscape of Jewish London, the Jewish areas that have been demolished and the legacy that has not been forgotten, but can be seen only beyond the museum's walls. There are butchers, shoemakers, bankers and young people who aspire to be famous – all of them reduced to their testimonies, diaries and pictures. Obviously, due space is given to the migrants who came to the UK in the 20th century and have been significantly changing the Jewish landscape of the country.
For me the standard of any Jewish museum is set by the Holocaust section. Perhaps this methodology is wrong, perhaps it does not capture the the efforts of the curators working on the whole display, but presenting this extremely delicate issue is always an issue. How to avoid showing the Shoah in an inappropriate or misleading way? How to make the place informative and bias-free? The Jewish Museum in London decided to follow a well grounded way of telling Holocaust by telling a personal story. Londoners decided to pay tribute to a Holocaust survivor, a UK citizen, Leon Greenman. Not only has he went through 6 nazi concentration camps, but his whole life after the war has been dedicated to campaigning against racism. Greenman died in 2008 and today his vivid testimony explains what Shoah was. His whole story is placed a bit apart. In a separate room. The idea is fantastic because Holocaust being the part of the history of Jews often seem to cover and blurr all the other aspects of the history and culture. Here the story is present but does not make the whole exhibition sadly dominated by its burden.
Care of the curators has to be acknowledged. There is a visible line of the story that is being told. There is a plot that visitors follow and they are well guided. No matter if they are Jews or not, they are able to learn. However, the problem is that even though there is a leading though is visible, the story is sometimes boring. A talking LCD is obviously not the most that a modern museum can offer.
Writen by Pawel Pustelnik