There are plenty of great museums in Israel – this young, yet ancient country has been working hard to preserve and commemorate matters important to the Jewish nation’s collective memory. We take a look at the top 10 places where ancient scrolls meet provocative contemporary art, from Jerusalem to Haifa.
Founded in 1965 in Jerusalem, the Israel Museum is the first lady of Israel’s museums, recognised by the government as a national gem. Visitors can admire the interior of a 16th-century Italian synagogue, of which every single piece has been transported from Italy to Israel, renovated and reconstructed inside the museum. Among the signature objects in the museum’s significant collection is the famous urn-shaped building called the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and artifacts discovered at Masada.
Another must-see for those visiting the holy city of Jerusalem, Yad Vashem is an official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Upon its creation in 1953, the main goal of its founders was to give recognition to the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ – the people who chose to save Jews from death while risking their own lives – by planting a tree for every single one of them. Today, apart from the vast garden, the complex also contains the Holocaust History Museum, the Memorial and the Hall of Remembrance, and the Museum of Holocaust Art. Over time, the Yad Vashem has become the world’s biggest centre dedicated wholly to collecting information about those who died in the Holocaust, how they had lived before the tragedy and how they were killed. Here, guests can see the very stones that were moved to Israel from Umschlagplatz (the place where Jews where gathered to be transported to death camps), a wide collection of videos recorded by Nazi soldiers, harsh accounts of everyday life in the Warsaw Ghetto and many shocking testimonies by those who survived the genocide.
The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem is the first and last museum in the world dedicated exclusively to the study of the biblical times and the civilisations that blossomed back then. It’s the perfect place to bear witness to the achievement of the magnificent cultures of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites and Phoenicians. Open for over 20 years, the museum is constantly widening its collection and has gained international acclaim as a centre for educational programming and research. Its collection of magnificent treasures from the ancient times is a goldmine for those who would like to get closer to eras gone by.
The last Jerusalem-based museum on our list is the Museum on the Seam, famous for its readiness to provoke socio-political controversy. The contemporary artworks showcased here present art as a way to communicate without barriers and ignite debates on social issues in the public sphere. The rotating exhibitions at the museum aim to discuss ideas of a national, ethnic and economic significance, in both local and universal contexts. The Museum on the Seam is certainly the right place to experience modern Israeli left-wing activism in its artistic representation. Some of the most internationally acclaimed exhibits put on at the museum have included Dead End, Equal and Less Equal and Bare Life, which dealt with issues such as violence, modern slavery and human rights.
Moving from the holy city to modern and vibrant Tel Aviv, we should not forget to visit its most important museum – a place where the history of contemporary Israel really started. The Independence Hall is a site built on the famous Rothschild Boulevard, where the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, lived, and where, on 14 May 1948, the founders of the Israeli state led by Ben Gurion signed the Declaration of Independence of the Jewish state. The entire venue where this momentous event happened remains intact. Visitors can actually see the very chairs and tables where Jewish leaders of the Zionistic movement waited for the result of the UN’s vote. Visiting the Independence Hall is an interesting experience not only for those who want to find out more about the creation of the Israeli state, but also for the ones who like to touch history with their own hands.
What comic books are to the USA, posters are to Israel. Farkash Gallery is home to posters discussing social issues, calling to build up a new country or fight for freedom with enemies, presenting heroes of the state and promoting the nation’s values. In fact, the gallery’s collection is the largest collection of vintage Israeli posters in the world. The display takes us from the times of pre-state Israel to the present day, and showcases posters as diverse as military announcements and film ads.
Long story short – guns, rebellion, fight for independence, women in uniforms. These are just some of the reasons why the Israel Defense Forces History Museum is one of the most important cultural establishments in Tel Aviv, a place dedicated to the history of Israel’s military from the underground organisations active during the British Mandate for Palestine to modern Israel Defense Forces. And here is a little spoiler: Jews and Arabs once fought arm in arm against the Brits.
Holon, a small Israeli city near Tel Aviv, is famous mostly because of the Design Museum – the first of its kind in Israel, as it’s dedicated exclusively to design. Its futuristic building is a piece of art by Israel’s most famous industrial designer, Ron Arad. In addition to showcasing innovative design, the museum also triggered cultural development in the area – thanks to its varied activities and original exhibitions, the city of Holon is gaining more and more popularity as a destination. After the opening of the museum four years ago, a library, theatre and cinema joined the town. Nearby is the design faculty of the Holon Institute of Technology – its alumni and students also contribute to the museum with their fresh ideas. With its vibe and inspiring atmosphere, the Design Museum is absolutely worth visiting.
Haifa, a university city in northern Israel, is keen to promote all of its museums – and although many are definitely worth a visit, one is more remarkable than the others. It’s the Museum of Japanese Art, perched atop the famous Mount Carmel, and dedicated exclusively to the preservation and exhibition of Japanese artworks, which makes it the only of its kind in the Middle East. In 1959, its founders, architect Felix Tikotin and Abba Khoushy, once mayor of Haifa, decided that Israelis should learn about and become more familiar with Japanese culture. They aimed to promote a dialogue between what they perceived to be East and West. Half a century on, the museum is filled with an amazing collection of Japanese art, housed in an oriental-style building.
Last but not least, the Haifa museum also known as Madatech is, colloquially speaking, geek heaven. Not only did Albert Einstein plant a palm tree in the courtyard, but a huge collection of scientific devices and tools is on display, most of which would not have appeared in the public’s wildest dreams. Open since 1983, Madatech is an excellent way to experience the Israeli contribution to the world of research and high tech development.