Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center Memorial (Еврейский музей и центр толерантности Мемориал)

Orange brick facade of the Jewish Heritage and Tolerance Center

Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center Memorial (Еврейский музей и центр толерантности Мемориал) is in Moscow, Russia and it is the nation’s first state support Jewish heritage museum. It originally opened in 2012, when the museum initially opened it was opened privately – to the presidents of Russia and Israel and opened to the general public in 2013.

The history of the building starts in 1926 as the Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage. In the 1990s a fire broke out leaving the site completely dysfunctional. In 2008 following mass restoration efforts reopened as the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. In 2012 it reopened once again as the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.

The main focus of the museum was to create accurate content so Russians and people from around the world could get real facts and information about Jewish heritage instead of popularized beliefs. It focuses on being a large and engaging museum dedicated to the complex history of Russian Jewish history with a modern approach. The content of the museum favors personal testimony, archival video footage, and interactive displays—all translated into Russian and English, exhibitions are divided chronologically, and helping visitors to understand the life of Jewish communities as they traveled across medieval Europe, settling in shtetls before moving to the cities while not ignoring atrocities committed to the Jewish people – life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is particularly well presented as is the fate of Soviet Jews and the role of Jewish soldiers during World War II. Those expecting to find just a stark representation of pogroms, Holocaust, hardships, and suffering will be pleasantly surprised to find Russian Jewish history presented as something much more complex, filled with both struggles and achievements.

Some of the problems that museum and public history face are a troubled and conflicted past, widely divergent popular memories, and national narratives.





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The Geo-Political Battle for West Bank Antiquities

The front glass entrance to the Bible Land Museum, located in Jerusalem, on a bright, sunny day
Entrance to the Bible Land Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

For the past fifty years, the Israeli government has been collecting confiscated artifacts from smugglers coming out of the West Bank region. Rather than sit on these ancient artifacts, the Bible Land Museum in Jerusalem has put on display 40,000 of these artifacts in an exhibit called “Finds Gone Astray”.

However, as many things are in this region, this exhibit was not without it’s controversy. Since 1967, following the Six Day War, Israel has occupied the West Bank territory. With the land under their control, they also control any archeological digs and artifact recovery operations. Thus, any and all confiscated artifacts since then have been in the possession of the Israeli government. Contesting the legality of the artifacts possession, the Palestinian Authority has demanded the immediate return of these artifacts to Palestine on several grounds.

Palestine claims that since the West Bank was their territory prior to the Six Day War, and since Israel is occupying it, then they deserve the right to own these items as the land is considered theirs. Palestine also claims that Israel is in violation of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which prohibits the display of cultural and historical artifacts by an occupying force. Lastly, Palestine also claims that Israel is using the exhibit as a propaganda tool to argue for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, another hotly contested issue and a tool used by both countries.

This begs the question: What will become of these items in the event of peace? Who owns what? Will the contention of these items continue to sour already strained relations? The public has a right to view these historical and cultural artifacts, but the main point of contention is who should display it? The ethnic owners of these items, Israel, or the land’s occupiers, Palestine?


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