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We Are Diverse

In the Russian Federation, people of many different religious and cultural groups, social and ideological associations, hundreds of ethnicities and nationalities live side by side... this is our strength. -- Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center

Moscow, December 22nd 2014 and January 6th 2015

From the outside, Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center didn't look like a museum, at least to me. Together with the chill and fall of snow, the walls from the outside brought me an eery feeling of concentration camp.

"Muzey?" I asked the security guard. He pointed at a giant steel door. I thought my pronunciation was weird that he didn't understand what I was looking for. But I pulled the door anyway. Security gate again.

And then, okay... this is more than I expected. It's actually so much bigger inside than it looks from outside.

Perfect English speaking reception and information desk. Cool! "In case you need anything, I'll be always here," she told me.

I started with the 4D Cinema which summarized the Book of Genesis and Exodus. WOW.

... until the time when Jews found themselves in Russia, was continued by uncountable photographs and documentations in the next sections of the museum.

In antiquity, most Jews lived within the borders of the Promised Land - the Land of Israel. In 70 CE, Roman troops destroyed the Second Temple and brutally quelled a Jewish revolt. Both these events were turning points in the history of the Jewish people, and were followed by the eclipse of Jerusalem as their spiritual and religious center. Thus began the period of exile. The Jews' understanding was that God had exiled them from the Promised Land for their sins, and that this dispersion would end only with the coming of the Messiah. Over the centuries, as Jews moved ever further from Jerusalem, they settled over wide swaths of the Middle East and Europe, where they established new communities. Wherever their fortunes took them, they carried with them their faith and their sacred scriptures and traditions. Yet over time they also adapted their customs to their new living conditions. When Russia annexed the territory of eastern Poland, in the 18th century, it acquired the large Jewish population there.

Still copying from another information board about the origins of Russian Jewry:
As Russia enlarged its borders in the process of political and military expansion, it acquired new territories where a large Jewish population had resided for many centuries. Small communities had long existed in the Caucasus and Central Asia near the Empire's southern borders. Along its western border with Poland there were fairly large communities of Jews, who had settled there after fleeing persecution in Central Europe. For hundreds of years, Polish Jews had enjoyed living in self-governing communities. They considered themselves a crucial element of Polish society, and viewed their religion and culture as not only autonomous but also superior to those of the Polish people In the late 18th century, Poland was carved by the Prussian, Habsburg, and Russian empires. When Russia took the lion's share of the territory, it also acquired the lion's share of Poland's Jews.

Speaking of religion, Torah is unmistakably the core of Judaism.

Torah is regarded so holy that one uses a pointer instead of his own finger. Now, here's an example of the pointer but on a touch-screen Torah. Point on a verse, and then a highlighted square would appear along with an audio of the reading. With the pointer, tap on the right arrow to scroll left, and vice versa.

The Torah is also printed in book form, such as this one published in Vilna.

A statue of a Jew wearing a Tefilin, a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which are worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers.

I was thrilled to see this: sangkakala, in my homeland's language. As a kid I had always been thrilled by the story of the walls of Jericho blown off by hundreds of these. And then as a teenage, by the song "Bila Bunyi Sangkakala" stirred me up. One Day, when the trumpets blow, I'll see my King of kings on His throne, and when my name is called, I'll be there. I always look forward to the day of a trip. Nevertheless, that Day, would be my most looked forward Day of all.

Holder for etrog (citron)
Bukovina, 1920s
White metal

Families often have special holders for their etrog to protect it over the holiday. What holiday? Sukkot. (Lev. 23:42-43) Interestingly,

Sukkot is celebrated by a number of Christian denominations that observe holidays from the Old Testament. These groups base this on the fact that Jesus celebrated Sukkot (see the Gospel of John 7). The holiday is celebrated according to its Hebrew calendar dates. The first mention of observing the holiday by Christian groups dates to the 17th century, among the Subbotniks in Russia.

Even when Jews were a minority in the shtetl, its Jewish character gave them the feeling of dominance. Never through their long history of wandering had Jews felt as comfortable as they did in the shtetl. The cultural traditions and dialects of Eastern European jews may have varied throughout the Pale of Settlement, but in essence their way of life remained the same everywhere. Adjoining the central marketplace of the shetl stood the main synagogue, a house of study, and a ritual bath; nearby were small prayer houses and schools, workshops and stores, the poorhouse and various dwellings, from the shacks of the poor to the residences of the prosperous Jews who were leaders of the community.

Here's a prototype of Jewish cafe in human size.

The marble table is actually just a flat screen, but! You can move aside the magazines, "swipe" the pages, and choose which article you wish to read by tapping on the title.

Some of the articles will turn into movies playing on your table. When you tap on the exit icon, the page will turn back and then you can choose another magazine. Or, you can have some coffee. I mean, you can have some play. Try to tap on the spoon, the cup... see what will happen. I couldn't believe my eyes, because I just meant to be silly.

Jews started settling in Poland as early as the 11th century, and their numbers grew dramatically starting in the 16th century. As Poland expanded to the southeast, into what is now Ukraine, Jews also gravitated towards the new lands. They sought to take advantage of new economic opportunities and they succeeded in doing so. Large Estates belonging to Polish nobility emerged in the acquired territories, bestowing upon Jews as a key economic role as leaseholders, middlemen millers, and innkeepers. Towns where Jewish inhabitants constituted the majority often became commercial and trading centers for the local peasant population. Jews called this kind of settlement a shtetl. When Russia annexed large territories of Poland, in the late 18th century, it also acquired hundreds of such Jewish settlements. These shtetls remained the center of Jewish life in Russia for another hundred years -- until the end of the 19th century.

Reading history of Russia, though, it doesn't look as happy and as smooth as the stories in this museum. Jews weren't always welcomed. If you read it on a paper book, you'll probably find yourself going back and forth the table of contents to go back to the previous chapters. If you read it on an electronic device, you'll probably scroll up and down trying to make sure who was who and when was when.

Whatsoever, if I may summarize all I see here in one word, it's acknowledgment.

Under the title: Patriotic War: Soviet Jews in the Red Army, it was explained as follow:
Like all Soviet citizens, Jews participated in the defense of their homeland and contributed in no small way to the crushing defeat of Nazi Germany. An extraordinarily high collective price was paid for this victory. Some 27 million lives were lost in the war. Jews constituted 10 percent of the death toll, a number representing more than half the Jewish population of the USSR, which had made up only 2 percent of the prewar population. Hundreds of thousands of Jews fought in the Red Army, many of them decorated with orders and medals for bravery in combat. On the home front, Jewish specialists made important contributions to the Soviet war industry. The tragedy of the war was shared by all Soviet citizens. The particular tragedy of the Jews, however, was that the Nazis were intent on their full extermination. In the words of the writer Vasily Grossman, they sought to destroy "the roots, not just the branches and leaves" of the Jewish people.

T-34 Tank
85 percent original; some parts reproduced

The manufacture of his legendary tank, known as "the tank that won the Great Patriotic War", was directed by Isaak Zaltsman, first at the Nizhniy Tagil factory, where its production was launched in a record 33 days in 1942, then at Cheliabinsk's largest tank factory. He was in charge of tank production for the entire USSR in 1942 and 1943. The T-34 gave the Red Army a critical advantage over the Germans and is considered the most important weapon of the war. For his accomplishments, Zaltsman was named a Hero of Socialist Labor (1941) and promoted to the rank of Major General (1945).

Polikarpov PO-2 BI-Plane
Original engine and chassis
Reproduction fuselage and wings

This was the type of light, low-flying bomber flown by the "Night Witches," female pilots who carried out bombing raids over enemy lins during the Great Patriotic War. Among them were Jewish women, including Senior Lieutenant Paulina Gelman, who was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union for her distinguished service. As a navigator, she carried out 860 bombing raids against enemy targets in the Crimea, Byelorussia, East Prussia, and Berlin.

As far as I know, "Hero of the Soviet Union" is the highest honorary title awarded by the Soviet Union.

Drops filled my eyes. Acknowledgement of the minority, is for me, a rarity.

Tuvia Bielski (1906 - 1987)
Leader of the Bielski partisans, Bielski carried out attacks against Nazis and collaborators. His group often worked with Russian partisan groups. Bielski hid over 1,200 Jews in Naliboki Forest, in pre-war Poland (today's Belarus), for two years during the war, saving them from the Nazis.

Nikolay Kiselyov or Nikolai Kiselev is another story. At the souvenir counter I bought the DVD "Kiselev's List", something similar to Schindler's List. Copying from the DVD back cover:
In 1942 a Russian partisan Nikolai Kiselev saved lives of 218 inhabitants of the Jewish shtetl Dolginovo, who miraculously survived after fascist horrors. Leading these people thousands of miles through Nazi-occupied territory, Kiselev took them beyond the front line.
The film tells about one of the most terrible pages in history, about loftiness of the human soul and about heroism of Russian partisan Nikolai Kiselev.

In the Russian Federation, people of many different religious and cultural groups, social and ideological associations, hundreds of ethnicities and nationalities live side by side. We are diverse, and this is our strength. Respect for other people's cultures, history, and traditions is an essential prerequisite for peace, harmony, and prosperity.

In the Tolerance Center, you'll have the opportunity to join a discussion about the importance of inclusiveness to our social and cultural enrichment.

The movies played here are not specifically about tolerance with Jews but with the other ethnic groups / nationalities in Russia, and other parts of the world. Tolerance here includes the disabled, like in my favorite movie: "Dancer".

You can either watch the random movies on the big screen, or choose your own title on the mini screens. Instructions can be in Russian or English. English subtitles are also provided. At the end of each movie, you can opt to join a short questioner about your point of views regarding to tolerance. If you have selected "English" in the beginning, the quiz will automatically be displayed in English.

This museum was way beyond my expectation that I had to visit it twice. That's why I have written two dates on top: 22 December 2014 and 6 January 2015. I didn't know there was this much to explore and play with. Therefore on my itinerary for 22 December 2014 I had scheduled "Communist Evening Walking Tour" after the museum visit. Ah, what a day. Jewish in the morning, communist in the evening. Ahahaha.

These are not even one third of what's in Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. I call this place a school and playground combined. Tapping on this and that, feeling amused... at the restroom.... Hmmm, let's save that for another post. Too much is always no good.

Posted by automidori 08:46 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow russia nazi judaism jewish_museum_and_tolerance_cen russian_jew red_army

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