The History of the Jewish Star in the Realm of the Union Jack - a Review of the Jewish Museum London





One of the first objects you see in the newly expanded Jewish Museum London, which opens on Wednesday, is also one of the museum’s oldest: the remains of a 13th-century Jewish ritual bath (a mikvah) uncovered during a 2001 construction project in the City of London. As seen here, it is a bit too robustly reconstructed, its age and fragmentary character mollified with the use of modern materials and mirrors mounted like rays above its well.

But it offers testimony to a long history in which England and the Jews were locked in a complicated embrace, mixing tension and sympathy, conflict and allegiance. This relic from a Jewish home in one of London’s medieval neighborhoods offers evidence of some stability and prosperity. Yet it also provides a reminder of the community’s ruin: at the end of the 12th century, the Jews of York were horrifically massacred; at the end of the 13th, Jews were expelled from the country.

How could such an object not be in ruins?

Similar tensions can be sensed throughout this carefully thought-out museum, which has just undergone a £10 million (about $15 million) expansion. Designed by Long & Kentish Architects, the museum has tripled its space, establishing itself as an important addition to a new generation of Jewish institutions in cities including San Francisco and Warsaw.

Two converted buildings and a former piano factory in the Camden Town neighborhood have been joined to create four permanent galleries offering a modest but stunning array of Jewish ritual objects, a broad history of the Jews in England, a look at early-20th-century Jewish immigration, and a glimpse of the Holocaust through the life of a single survivor....


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