Burg Altena, Germany

The South African Jewish Museum; Bridging the Past and the Future

The South African Jewish Museum was officially opened by Nelson Mandela on 13 December 2000. Set in the heart of Company Gardens in Museum Mile, the SA Jewish Museum is a major attraction for local and international tourism. The heritage site of the Gardens Synagogue, the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and Gitlin Library has set a pace for vibrant cultural activity, enhanced by a museum shop and trendy kosher café.

The Museum is a metaphorical interpretation of the three themes which pervade its content: Memory (origins), Reality (integration) and Dreams (visions for the future). A unique feature of the building is its central spiral staircase, linking the present to the past, while elements of floating glass bring Table Mountain into the museum experience, creating a physical context for the visitor.

The Museum narrates the story of SA Jewry from its early beginnings, set against the backdrop of South African history over a period of more than 150 years. Its entrance is situated in the Old Synagogue, which dates back to 1863. This is linked to a new gallery by a bridge; the bridge between the old and the new, the gangway to the shores of the Cape and the picturesque beauty of the immigrants; new homeland.

The Museum is interactive and high-tech, using different media to represent selected highlights of South African history, weaving the Jewish community's story into a meaningful dialogue of individual and organizational roles and contributions, communal delegations and political crossroads.

The Museum includes the Judaica artefact collection belonging to the original Jewish Museum, video footage of animated characters such as the famous Barney Barnato and Max Rose, docu-drama enactments of Sammy Marks, documentaries and live interviews, reconstructions and dioramas (perspective models). These enable the visitor to appreciate and experience the past and realize the present. The Discovery Centre houses a bank of online computer terminals exploring origins, roots and family trees, aspects of Jewish religious practice and information on life in Israel.

A video wall entitled " Culture Among Cultures" portrays similarities and differences in the rites of religious passage of South Africa's diverse communities, promoting understanding and commonality

The SA Jewish Museum is a vehicle for education, information and dialogue. Through its exhibitions and cultural programmes, it offers a dynamic and relevant experience.

The challenge of the South African Jewish Museum is to confront critical issues such as Jewish identity and religious pluralism, racism and anti-Semitism, immigration, emigration and integration, South African history and the Jewish community's response; and roles and contributions of Jews in developing towns, cities and sectors of society.

The Museum is a forum for honouring the past and looking to the future. It is a repository for hundreds of stories, bearing witness to the pioneering spirit of the immigrant Jewish community.

For further information contact:
SAJM December 2001

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