The Jewish Museum – London

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The Jewish Museum in London is the combination of two Jewish museums. One is the Jewish Museum which was founded in 1932 by Professor Cecil Roth, Alfred Rubens and Wilfred Samuel. Originally located in Woburn House in Bloomsbury, it moved to a building in Camden Town in 1994.

The other is the London Museum of Jewish Life which was founded in 1983 as the Museum of the Jewish East End with the aim of rescuing and preserving the disappearing heritage of London’s East End – the heartland of Jewish settlement in Britain. .

In 1995 the two Museums merged but between 1995 and 2007 the combined Jewish Museum still ran on two sites. Finally the museum bought a former piano factory behind the Camden Town site and raised the required funds to combine and remodel the buildings. The new Museum opened to the public on 17 March 2010.

The fist floor of the museum features a gallery entitled ‘Judaism: A Living Faith’, which is devoted to Jewish life through one of the world’s finest collections of Judaica, featuring objects used in all areas of Jewish religious life, in both the public and private spheres.

The second floor gives an insight into British Jewish history from 1066 to the present day. Jews first settled in England in 1066 after the Norman conquest and there were Jewish communities in many towns in the medieval period. However, in 1290 the Jews were expelled from Britain by Edward 1. They were only readmitted to Britain by Oliver Cromwell in 1656. This new community steadily developed until the late 19th century when it increased rapidly with the arrival of some 150,000 Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Many of the newcomers settled in London’s East End, which became home to a vibrant cultural and religious life. Numerous objects in the museum reflect this period.

The Museum’s Holocaust Gallery is made up of items and filmed survivor testimony from Leon Greenman, OBE, an English-born Auschwitz survivor who devoted his life to speaking about his experiences and campaigning against racism until his death in 2008.

The third floor of the building is for temporary exhibitions.

The Jewish Museum in London is a pleasant small-sized museum where you can spend between one and two hours, depending on whether you choose to visit the whole museum or focus on only one floor. It has a kosher café and a shop.

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10 thoughts on “The Jewish Museum – London

    • You’d certainly learn more on the second floor than in the first floor. I found that it was a fine introduction to British Jewish history with a focus on London.

  1. I actually was disappointed by that museum. I was there in April 2010, soon after it reopened. The first floor seemed to serve as a good introduction to Jewish culture for those with little to no background, but I didn’t learn anything new from it. The second floor was the part that I really didn’t like. It showed a glorified story of the Jews in the UK and basically made a point of saying “It sucked when the Jews were kicked out of England, but since they’ve been back, all’s been hunky dory.” It made the UK look like a really great place (and perhaps the ultimate place?) for Jews to live. And while Jewish life in the UK may be better than in other places, there was absolutely no reference to the rampant antisemitism that still continues today. Coming from Israel, I was surprised to see little to no security anywhere in London (including on the Tube, which has been a target for terror attacks), yet almost Israeli-caliber security at this museum — as a result of antisemitism. Another part that really bothered me was the tiny little section they dedicated to the birth of the State of Israel. No mention of the ships of Jews sent back to their deaths in Europe because the British wouldn’t let them into Mandatory Palestine. No mention of the British prisons in Acco and Atlit where Jews were arrested and executed. All it said was that the Jews in the UK were happy that the State of Israel was established.

    At the time when I was there, all of this was brand new, so maybe some of it has been changed? Since it had just reopened, there were ads for it all over town, including in all the Tube stations, which is great. I’m happy that a Jewish museum exists in London and that it works so hard to draw the public to learn more about Jews. I just am disgusted with the way they twist history and paint over anything that may possibly make it look as if bad things could happen in Britain or be done by Britain.

    • Elisheva, I am not surprised that you didn’t learn anything in the first section but I find that it is a good introduction for children or people who know very little about Judaism.
      The security on Sunday was rather light, they just opened my bag and looked through it.
      As for the positive focus, I found that they mentioned that Cromwell was not over-enthusiastic about accepting the Jews back in Britain. They also said something about the mixed welcome of Eastern Jews during the 19th century. But it seems fair that they expressed gratefulness that 10,000 Jewish children were welcomed via the Kindertransport while at the same time the USA refused to take them in.
      I am not British, as you know, but I think that antisemitism in Britain or France bears no resemblance with the darker years of nazi Germany, as some people would have it. Part of Britain (or France) is antisemitic but many Jews have reached high position in society and the chief feeling is not that they shouldn’t be there because they’re Jewish (politicians, writers, other artists…).
      There is a problem that had not been foreseen with a portion (not all) of the Muslim population but this does not represent all the nation. It certainly needs to be addressed but not by misrepresenting the countries concerned.
      As a final note on what you see as a bias, I’d say that the museum was conceived by Jewish historians not British ones.

  2. Your photograph is lovely, and fitting to precede your post, as you speak to us about the museum. From the sound of your post, the museum sounds as if it is educational to those who know little about Jewish life in England.

      • It is the same with the Skirball Cultural Center…they don’t allow photographs to be taken inside. On occasion, during a special exhibit that you have to pay for, they allow photography, but not normally.

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