Rediscovering Beit Hatfutsot

Jan 17, 2018

Yesterday we visited the new wing of Beth Hafutsot, otherwise known as Tel Aviv's Museum of the Diaspora.

The museum was first opened in 1978, and in recent times has frankly been in desperate need of a spiritual and physical facelift.Aware of its own ageing, the museum sought and found exactly the right experts to revive it, and today’s new wing is spectacular. The exhibits, both permanent and temporary, are cleverly and colourfully created to engage the visitor. Interactive is the new de rigueur, and while I had been anxious that my 3 and 5 year old girls would whine and moan all morning, embarrassing us in front of Beit Hafutsot’s very lovely Racheli who guided us through the new spaces, in fact we faced the opposite problem: we literally could not drag them out of the exhibition spaces, ‘one more turn, just one more turn …’, as they pressed buttons, listened to music and created structures.

It’s not just the form of the museum which has changed, but also its inspiration. As Racheli told us the museum has evolved from being conceived primarily as a memorial to tragedy, to a celebration of culture, ideas, life.

As she aptly put it: ‘from oy gevalt to hallelujah’. Hence the new emphasis on great Jewish artists such as Bob Dylan (ne Robert Zimmerman) – the subject of the Forever Young exhibit. The exhibition examines multiple aspects of Dylan’s life and work, including his relationship with Judaism as Israel. His music and lyrics pervade the space in their different forms.

We also visited the permanent exhibition space which houses the old models of famous diaspora synagogues – the new space is surrounded by multimedia experiences such as stunning short videos about Jewish life and prayer, and a genius ‘build your own synagogue’ game.

Lastly we visited the ‘Heroes’ exhibition which is officially for kids, but we saw just as many adults enjoying themselves in the carpeted shoe-free space. Here the emphasis is on Jewish contributors to culture, arts, science and knowledge. Conceived as an expansive play area, through games, riddles and exercises children cannot help but meet and learn about great men and women.
The only way we could persuade our small children to leave the Heroes exhibit was with a solemn promise to return soon.

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