What and Whom Are Jewish Museums For?

Historians in the News
tags: museums, Jewish history


These questions are swirling around the future of the Jewish Museum Berlin, one of the city’s most popular visitor attractions, after the abrupt departure last month of its director, Peter Schäfer. He left after a string of controversies in which critics — including the Israeli government and the main organization representing Jews in Germany — said the institution had gone beyond its mission and become overly political.

In particular, a recent exhibition about Jerusalem was seen as pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Other controversial exhibitions from Mr. Schäfer’s tenure dealt with attitudes toward circumcision and women’s head coverings, among other themes.

The museum, housed in a landmark zinc-clad zigzag building by the architect Daniel Libeskind, now finds itself caught between opposing sides as it seeks a new leader.

On the one side are representatives of Berlin’s Jews who say that under its previous leadership, the museum’s focus was not sufficiently Jewish; on the other are international scholars and museum professionals who praise the institution for its willingness to serve as a place for dialogue on issues of identity in an age of growing anti-Semitism across Europe.

A search committee for a new director, led by Germany’s culture minister, Monika Grütters, is seeking “an internationally experienced museum professional,” to develop the institution, the museum said in a statement. Mr. Schäfer, though a highly respected scholar of Judaism, had no prior experience leading a museum before taking the position in 2014. He was also not Jewish.

Read entire article at NY Times

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