News / Europe

Jewish History Museum Preaches Tolerance in Modern Russia

James Brooke
One century ago, Russia was home to the largest Jewish population in the world - about 5 million people. But Nazi genocide - followed by massive emigration - radically cut Russia’s Jewish population to only 150,000 today.

Now, Russian Jewish groups are embarking on a new tactic to guarantee the community’s survival. In early November, on a quiet side street in Moscow, they opened Europe’s newest - and largest - museum devoted to Jewish culture, the Jewish Museum & Tolerance Center.

Inside the $50 million, privately financed museum, interactive exhibits draw people into Jewish culture, life and history.

Exploration of the past

On a recent afternoon, Asyia Muravyova, a 21-year-old Russian university student, pauses from exploring the exhibits.

She says, “The museum is interesting in that it differs from others because a person can not only read something and understand it, but can also get a feeling of what occurred. Everything here is a channel to feeling.”

The museum explores anti-Semitism under the Czars, Jewish participation in the 1917 Communist revolution, anti-Semitism and the Nazi genocide during World War Two, Jewish contributions to the Soviet War effort, and the heavy emigration of Jews immediately before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Katsiaryna Yurechka, a university student from Belarus, says the exhibits showed her a hidden history.

She says, “Here you see the history - you see the people suffering, but at the same time you also see people who were very brave, who participated in the Second World War. You see their vision, and how they tried to maintain a family together, try to stay together.”

Bridge from Russia to Israel

Israeli President Shimon Peres was born before World War II in what is now Belarus. He flew from Israel to Moscow for the November 8 museum opening.

Now 89 years old, the Israeli leader told reporters, “My mother sang to me in Russian, and at the entrance to this museum, memories of my childhood flooded through my mind, and my mother’s voice played in my heart.”

He said to Russians in attendance: “I came here to say 'thank you. Thank you for a thousand years of hospitality.'”

Museum chairman Borukh Gorin sees the new museum as a bridge between Russia and the one million Russian-speaking Jews of Israel.

Connecting cultures

Israelis and Russians no longer need visas to visit each other’s countries. There are now six flights a day between Tel Aviv and Moscow - the same frequency as flights between Tel Aviv and New York.

He said that Russian Jews that live in Israel “see themselves much more connected to the Russian culture, to Russian literature, to Moscow theaters.”

In addition to welcoming Jewish visitors from overseas, Gorin hopes the museum will push for tolerance for minorities here in Russia.

He said, “The best thing is to talk, to explain yourself, to tell your story, to tell your history - and to be much more tolerant by yourself to the national history, to the nation’s problems. And this museum is aimed in this field.”

He added that Russian Muslim leaders visited the Jewish Museum on its opening day.

Their reaction? To decide to build a similar museum to educate Russians about their history and Russian Muslim contributions to modern Russia.

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Comment Sorting
by: Haron from: Afghanistan
November 18, 2012 8:39 AM
one thing is in Political points or views. Political points does not have permanent enemy or permanent friendship. and does not recognize any permanent enemy or permanent friendship. e.g: once upon a time Iran was the enemy of Russia. but, today they piece out an apple. one piece is eating by Iran and one piece is eating by Russia. if Jews feel that Russia will stand with them against Iran, Syria or China. this means they want to perish themselves. because political points does not accept any borders.

by: Tim Upham from: Tum Tum, United States
November 17, 2012 4:44 PM
It does not just preach tolerance in Modern Russia, but shows a part of Russian history. For Jews, and their culture and history are very much a part of Russia. The majority of American Jews are descendants of Jews from Russia. Lenin was a mixture of German, Swedish, Jewish, Chuvash, and Kalmyk. When it comes to Jews and Russia, how can you separate one from the other?

by: Rob Swift from: Great Britain
November 17, 2012 11:09 AM
It would be a good idea to open one in Gaza.
The pen is mightier than the sword.
In Response

by: Tim Upham from: Tum Tum, United States
November 17, 2012 5:53 PM
This is not World War II. The Jews in World War II were not a political entity. Recently, a sister of a Hamas leader was treated at an Israeli hospital. Hamas has recognized the pre-1967 borders, and Hebrew is now being offered in Gaza schools. Hamas is more than capable of recognizing the State of Israel, but they need international pressure to do so. Turkish President Abdullah Gul has called upon Hamas to recognize the State of Israel. But more international pressure is needed.
In Response

by: jimmy from: Orange county Cali
November 17, 2012 4:58 PM
Gaza is our generations version of Germany concentration camp. People are not allowed to go in or out. It’s sad when people say “They don’t recognize Israel’s right for existence”. It’s the same as Hitler saying “Yeah, for some reasons the Jews don’t like me?”

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