The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life: Transitions and Trends in the Wing’s Activities

While the Israel Museum was established in 1965, its collections date back to the Bezalel Collection, originally founded in 1908 by Boris Schatz. Schatz regarded the Bezalel Museum as a national museum, and as such, it played a prominent role in his Zionist vision. When the Bezalel Museum was transferred to its new (and current) location, the Museum took on its new name, The Israel Museum, and sought to establish itself as an international institution. Contrary to Shatz’s original intention, the Israel Museum, to this very day, is not considered a national museum.

In the 1950s, large quantities of Jews were making Aliyah to Israel. This motivated the Museum to initiate a fierce endeavor of collecting artifacts from the emigrating communities during the 1960s and 1970s, in a collaborative effort with the new immigrants. The Israel Museum paid careful attention to representing the various communities in its exhibitions, emphasizing their unique nature in the face of the prevailing approach of Israel as a Melting Pot. The Wing for Jewish Art and Life was later distinguished from the Art Wing, and has since evolved into its current installment with a focus on Jewish material culture.

Recent decades have formed the understanding that the gaps inherent in Israeli society are becoming pronounced, and, as a result, issues relating to current affairs arise; How to represent a range of communities without promoting a sense of ethnic polarization? How must we approach the secular public, a population that rejects Jewish culture, perceiving it as archaic and irrelevant, leaving it solely with the ultra-Orthodox community? And how do we present the culture of a traditional society while ensuring an honorable place within it for women?