Hundreds attend emotional farewell to the Jewish Museum in Camden

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Hundreds attend emotional farewell to the Jewish Museum in Camden

Now the building is closed to the public, after more than a decade of exhibitions, the business of packing up and selling begins — expected to take until the end of the year.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Frontage of the Jewish Museum in Camden, north London.
Frontage of the Jewish Museum in Camden, north London.

Hundreds of people, young and old, crowded into the Jewish Museum in Camden Town on Sunday to bid an emotional farewell to the charity’s building, which has closed after more than a decade on the site.

Moderated by interim director Sue Shave and her predecessor Frances Jeens, who is a trustee of the Jewish Museum, the closing ceremony featured a prayer for the museum and its staff by Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler, who has been a long-time volunteer at the museum.

In tribute to the long-standing Holocaust education programmes run at the Jewish Museum — in which thousands of school students have heard first-hand accounts of their experiences by Holocaust survivors and Kindertransporte refugees — several of those involved in the programmes lit memorial candles.

Elsa Shamash, who has been involved with the programmes for 16 years, said she had “preached tolerance and equality to thousands of schoolchildren”. And she drew a sad parallel with refugee children of today, facing deportation to Rwanda. Bea Green, who lit another of the candles, is now 98 and arrived on the Kindertransporte when she was 14; and survivors Mala Tribich and Eve Kugler also lit candles and praised the importance of the programmes.

Jewish Museum London Chair Nick Viner with Coronation Display Case, May 2023.

The last candle was lit by Hephzibah Rudofsky, daughter of survivor Lady Zahava Kohn, who died a year ago. Ms Rudofsky said she wanted to continue her mother’s work.

In his prayer for the museum, Rabbi Shisler said that diverse communities learned to live peacefully alongside each other “when they understand each other”. The Jewish Museum had greatly added to this work by opening up to people of other faiths who were interested in learning about Judaism, he said, a point well made to an audience which included a large church group from the Immanuel churches in Edgware and Westminster.

The event concluded with a display of some objects from the museum’s collection — there are 40,000 in total — including a huge menorah, made of two pieces of solid silver and brought into Britain by a survivor. He bequeathed the piece to the Museum on condition it was used for Chanukah every year.

Now the building is closed to the public, the business of packing up and selling begins — expected to take until the end of the year. As Frances Jeens reminded the audience, this is not the first move the museum will have made since its foundation in 1932. She and Sue Shaves said they had “mixed emotions” on this final day but were looking forward to the next version of the museum, which they hoped would be “somewhere prominent” in central London, in a place with a greater footfall than in Camden Town and perhaps adjacent to other museums, thus attracting more tourists.

Some of the collection will be diverted into a loans programme which will go to other parts of the UK, and there will be an increase in online events. Already, said Ms Shave, the staff had collected more than 200 images relating to “diverse Judaism” projects, and the “hidden stories” which accompanied them.

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