Brief history of the Jewish Museum of Greece

The idea of ​​establishing the Jewish Museum of Greece (JMG) was conceived in the late 1970s. The initiative belonged to the Jewish Community of Athens and some of its members who offered all kinds of support to this effort. In 1977 a small museum was founded, which was temporarily housed in a small room in the Beth Shalom Synagogue on Melidoni Street. Objects, mainly artefacts and documents of the 19th and 20th centuries, which had been salvaged from the WWII, were gathered there.

Added to this first collection was an extensive collection of religious artifacts, documents and personal belongings confiscated from the Jews of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace during the Bulgarian occupation. Between the years 1977-1982, a thorough and careful collection of artifacts from all the Jewish communities of Greece began, under the inspired guidance of Nikos Stavroulakis, director of the Museum until 1993. Thanks to the interest of several private individuals, the ethnological and Judaica collection of the Museum was significantly enriched with rare liturgical textiles, books, rituals and domestic objects. In 1981, the association of the “American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece” was founded and a little later, by members of the Jewish Community of Athens and Thessaloniki, “The Association of Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece” was founded, which from the first years has supported the Museum at every step.

The continuous enrichment of the collections as well as the expansion of the Museum’s activities soon outgrew its first premises and new ones had to be found. Thus, in 1985 and with the support of the American and Greek Friends of the Museum, the collection was moved to a rented space, on the third floor, of a building at 36 Amalia Street, and the exhibition was reorganized. In 1989 and after years of efforts, the Museum acquired legal status and since then it has been operating as a Legal Entity under Private Law, with a seven-member Board of Directors. The increasing needs of the Museum for new spaces, as well as the dream of acquiring its own premises, led to the purchase of a late 19th century neoclassical building at 39 Nikis Street, with the support of the Association of Friends of Greece and abroad, as well as the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. With the substantial financial support of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, the Association of Friends of the Museum, as well as the support of private individuals, the old building was restored and at the end of 1997, exactly twenty years after its foundation, the Museum moved to its permanent, now privately owned, premises in the historical center of Athens.

On March 10th, 1998, the new Museum was inaugurated, marking the beginning of a new era. Within a few years, the JMG developed and expanded all of its activities, giving particular focus on its educational programmes, significantly improved its services to the public and prepared a number of publications on the history and tradition of the Romaniote and Sephardic communities of Greece. Contact and interaction with museum visitors, research, museum education, as well as the development and promotion of international activities and relations are the main pillars of the JMG’s cultural policy.

The Jewish Museum of Greece
Athens, 2024