Just before Thanksgiving I was a conferee at the Association of European Jewish Museums conference in Athens, Greece.
Six years ago Zanet Battinou, the Director of the Jewish Museum of Greece, visited our Museum where I hosted a luncheon for her to meet DC museum professionals. Since then, we have shared ideas especially since the Jewish Museum in Athens is in a small, historic building. That's Zanet on the left in the photo with me during my trip to Greece.
It was exciting to see the Museum in person. A beautiful neo-Classical structure in the historic Plaka was totally gutted and an amazing spiral floor plate installed to create seven levels of exhibitry tracing the history of the Jews in Greece from ancient times to today.
Today, 5,000 Jews live in Greece. We toured the city visiting a synagogue and cemetery as well as the ancient city of Chalkis. At the Chalkis cemetery extraordinary excavations have revealed 15th century tombs of Kaballists. Their synagogue has stood on the same site since ancient times. What will become of this small community now numbering only 50 Jews?
Presentations on exhibitions in Europe showed two standouts about the history of keeping Kosher created by two museums in Germany-- the Jewish Museums of Berlin and Furth. Workshops focused on collections storage in small spaces (how appropriate) and Greek synagogue religious objects. I was particularly interested in the silver amulets, unique to Greece, sewn on parochets (curtains covering the ark) and dedicated at holidays. Successors to amulets of the ancient Greeks, the curator showed examples of those ancient amulets: arms, legs and even a forehead sculpted in marble.
Two outstanding museum field trips rounded out the conference. First, the the new and acclaimed Acropolis Museum with its glass floor allowing us to see down into the excavations of ancient Athens. The windows of the Museum allow a view of the Acropolis as you view it's treasures in the Museum. The Benaki Museum tells the history of Greek culture through pottery, sculpture, jewelry and costumes from ancient times to today. The view of Athens from the cafe on its highest floor is incredible. And the traditional Greek food was great too.
If you are traveling to Athens, I encourage you to visit the Jewish Museum of Greece. I'm happy to suggest some of the places I was able to see along with some of the tastes of Athens that I enjoyed.