fbpx

Identity and History: A Conversation with the Chair of the World’s Largest Jewish Museum

The Jewish Journal recently shared a few questions with Irina Nevzlin to discuss ANU’s efforts to bolster the relationship between the American and Israeli Jewish communities.
[additional-authors]
June 9, 2023
ANU Museum marketing department under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv is the world’s largest Jewish museum, welcoming more than 600,000 visitors in the last year. In the last 15 years, the museum has completed a $100 million expansion project. Initially founded in 1978 by former World Jewish Congress President Nahum Goldmann, the museum was envisioned as a central location for the global Jewish community that could bring to life the Jewish people’s faith and spirituality, culture and contributions to humanity. Goldman originally named the museum the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora. However, the now rebranded exhibition spans 72,000 square feet to present stories of Jewish life.

In April, the ANU Museum hosted the Koret Center for Jewish Civilization’s Jewish Peoplehood International Conference, a gathering of Jewish leaders and educators from around the world, designed to explore critical and timely conversations for the Jewish world.

Irina Nevzlin is the chair of ANU Museum’s Board of Directors and guided the museum through its expansion. The Jewish Journal recently shared a few questions with Nevzlin to discuss ANU’s efforts to bolster the relationship between the American and Israeli Jewish communities.

Jewish Journal: What was the driving force behind the recent renovations to the museum? What has changed since the renovation?

Nevzlin: Over the last 15 years, we transformed the name and the concept of the museum to talk about everything Jewish people. We are talking about Jewish life, success and continuity. Most importantly, we do it in a way that engages our younger generations.

Jewish Journal: How would you describe the central problem the museum faces?

Nevzlin: The Jewish people of Israel are in an identity crisis. We’re a very young country; therefore, we’re currently building the Israeli identity, or the identity of a Jewish majority. The center’s job is to develop a curriculum for this identity situation, answer identity questions, and build a new leadership to speak a language more applicable to the current crisis. Every day I am blessed to meet people who are so passionate about figuring out how to make things work. The Jewish people’s common denominator is curiosity and ambition, which is why the crisis is so intense. I am optimistic because I think, on a very deep level, we all care.

Jewish Journal: Where do you see the commonality between the American and Israeli Jewish communities? How do you go beyond the day-to-day politics to illustrate what Israel can do for Jewish people?

Nevzlin: We live in a world where all information is available. We’re constantly bombarded with information that makes you question how you define yourself. Helping people deal with questions of identity early on helps them figure out who they are. Being part of the Jewish people is the most stable thing you can connect to because that never changes. You’re born Jewish; you die Jewish. The perspective on Israel changes the moment you set foot in the country. There is something about Israel. We should make the effort for people to come and experience Israel and then help them process what they feel before, during and after.

Jewish Journal: What role does Israel play in bringing Jewish people back to the community?

Nevzlin: Israel must be a leading resource of hope. The “how” will take years to solve, but there must be a new way of talking about Jewish people. We require a new language, honestly. The answer lies in how we respond to changes while still staying true to our roots. Being Jewish keeps us strong, keeps us going and keeps our lives interesting.

This interview has been condensed for clarity.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Are We Going to Stop for Lunch?

So far, the American Jewish community has been exceptional in its support for Israel. But there is a long road ahead, and the question remains: will we continue with this support?

EXCLUSIVE: Inside Hollywood’s “Meeting of the Masters” Brunch

Guy Shalem’s Meeting of the Masters is more than just a dinner club; it’s a testament to the power of food, conversation, and community in bringing people together and creating a space where everyone, regardless of background or belief, can find common ground and friendship.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.