The JMG celebrates the International Museums Day

The Jewish Museum of Greece will soon complete 45 years among Greek museums. We have chosen to celebrate this unusual Museums Day, by digitally presenting 18 characteristic and hopefully, interesting artifacts, each one connected to a human story, life and creation, from our Collections and Archival holdings. We have prepared this small offering working remotely, due to the corona virus pandemic measures, to honour the date, 18 May 2020. Furthermore, the number 18 is very significant in Jewish numerology, as it represents the numerical value of ‘hai’, meaning ‘life’, constituting thus the shortest and most potent wish one can express. In celebration of life and health therefore, we dedicate this presentation to museum workers and audiences the world over.

The JMG Team

This pewter bowl from the JMG Judaica Collection is one of the few items from the Talmud Torah of Thessaloniki that survived its destruction by the Great Fire in 1917. The complex of the Talmud Torah Hagadol included a synagogue, schools and community institutions. According to the Ladino inscription on the bowl, Baruh Nathan Amaragi dedicated it in 5665 (1905) to the Talmud Torah, recently inaugurated at the time. This pouring vessel was most probably used for netilat yadayim, the ritual hand washing.

The JMG recently received a donation of unique archival material from the Greek Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Thessaloniki, containing valuable information on various professional activities of the local Jewish Community, as this is depicted in the local press and in various legal documents. Among the archival contents, there is this advertising postcard of the famous typing school of Saul Molho in Thessaloniki. The photograph shows a group of young girls during their typing lesson at the school in the 1920’s.

The JMG Photographic Archive comprises a multitude of thematic categories pertaining to Jewish life in Greece from the early beginnings of the art of photography until our days. One of the recent acquisitions was this photograph depicting the exterior of the Kahal Kadosh Yashan of Ioannina. This present building of the Old Holy Congregation, the sole synagogue of Ioannina that survived WWII, was constructed in the late 1820’sThe large, double-arched windows in the projecting alcove of the façade shed light on the Bimah, the elevated reader’s desk, which is a wooden construction on the inner side of the alcove.

Among the unique JMG collection of Esther Scrolls, there is this Megillah case decorated with silver filigree and provided with a small plaque, bearing the initials of its former owner, David Moses. This is non-other, than the well-known Rabbi David Angel of Larissa. In 1833, he was married to Gracia, daughter of Salonica-born Rabbi Shemtov Amarillio, who was the Chief Rabbi of Larissa in the first half of the 19th century. By the 1850’s, David Moses Angel succeeded his father-in-law in his office. A Megillah, which contains the biblical story of Queen Esther and is read during the Purim festival, was traditionally bestowed by the bride’s father to the groom on the first Purim of the couple’s joint life.

The Contemporary Art Collection of the JMG holds artworks created mainly by various Greek-Jewish artists, including a great part of the oeuvre of Giulio Kaimi (1897-1982), a painter and writer from Corfu. These sixteen artworks show his preference for realistic portrait sketches and oil paintings depicting outdoor scenes, memorizing a specific moment. This oil and charcoal painting on canvas is depicting a Mediterranean seascape, in particular the Pontikonissi church in Corfu. Characteristic for the painter’s oeuvre is also here the strong sensation of open space, as well as the use of vivid colours with a play of light on the sea surface.

hiviti plaques are a category of Hebrew manuscripts with devotional and apotropaic character. This small-sized Shiviti manuscript was created by the Chief Rabbi of Athens Joseph de Chaves about 1910, to be kept between the pages of one’s prayer book. Such documents are inscribed with the Tetragrammaton, the ineffable four-letter name of God, and the first words of the verse “I have set the Lord always before me…” (Psalm 16: 8), as a prompt for contemplation on the presence of God. It bears also the text of Psalm 67, written in the shape of a Menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum, and various acronyms of biblical verses, invoking divine blessing.

Dora, Zaddik, Louis and Rachel (from left to right), the children of the Cohen family from Xanthi, dressed up to have their picture taken at the local photographer’s studio in 1925. This family photo is one of the nostalgic glimpses into the prewar daily life of the once very active Jewish community of Xanthi, offered by the JMG temporary and digital exhibition “Jewish Neighbourhoods of Greece”.

Dr. Manolis Aruch was one of the most active partisan doctors during WW II, serving in the ranks of EAM. After the War, he contributed significantly to the herculean task of reviving the devastated Jewish Community of Athens. In this photograph, donated by his loving family, he stands against the wall, second from the left, with the command of the II Battalion of the 34th ELAS Regiment, where Manolis served as a doctor. Seated in the centre is the military commander, Captain Vasilis Kornilakis, on his right the legendary Kapetanios Kostas Antonopoulos (“Kronos”), and officers Christos Veronas, Dinos Papaserafim and Michalis Kostakis.

The Archive of the 72nd Primary School of Athens constitutes a significant recent acquisition of the JMG, as it includes structured archival content, illuminating in detail the operation of the only public Jewish school in Athens, from the early 1930’s until 1960. This is an exceptionally important source of information on the history of Jewish education in Greece, before, during and after WWII. Part of this archive, the school registry of the Jewish Primary School of Athens (1931-32) and pages of the school’s curriculum of the school year 1945: three hours per week of Hebrew and two hours of religious history for the last four classes (out of six) of primary school.

The JMG Collection of Architectural and Funerary Monuments holds this marble funerary plaque from the destroyed Jewish cemetery of Serres. The tombstone bears a nine-line Hebrew inscription in careful lettering, with characteristic apices on the letters. The plaque is decorated with the relief image of a Torah, indicative of the title or office of the deceased. In lines 6-8, the name of Rabbi David Yitzhak HaCohen is commemorated, who according to the epigraphic text “departed for the eternal Home, on the 24th day of the month Kislev, in the year 5698”. The Hebrew date corresponds to November 28th, 1937, according to the Gregorian and Julian calendar.

Part of a marble funerary plaque from the destroyed Jewish cemetery of Kastoria is kept today at the JMG Collection of Architectural Funerary Monuments. The tombstone, which is broken on all sides, bears a four-line inscription partially preserved and traces of a fifth-line in Judeo-Spanish (ladino). The plaque, which commemorates the grave of a man whose soul (l.4 alma) rested there, was donated to the Museum by Berry Nahmia from Kastoria. Berry Nahmia survived Auschwitz and she was president of the Union of Greek Jewish Holocaust Survivors for 30 consecutive years. The funerary plaque constitutes one of the few surviving historical and archaeological artifacts from the once thriving prewar Jewich community of Kastoria, as well as from its cemetery.

Embroidery on cream silk, decorated in appliqué, a technique using mixed material as printed cardboard, cloth and twisted gold thread. Depicted is the biblical High Priest Aaron in front of the Tabernacle, wearing a costume similar to the one of Greek-Orthodox bishops, including the traditional chasuble (cape) and stole (long, narrow band). It is interesting that this small handcrafted work is one of several examples in the JMG Ethnographic Collection, embroidered by Dr. Abraham Decastro (1948/9 – 1911) from Ioannina. It would seem that this soothing pastime helped the good doctor deal with his stressful profession.

The Entari was the common outer coat dress worn both by women and men during the Ottoman period. Examples of Entaris, such as this one, in the JMG Ethnographic Collection, show that Jewish women from Ioannina during the first half of the 19th century preferred their Entari made from silk brocade with stripes alternating with bands of flowers and embroidered with gold cord in the characteristic epirotic style. Τhis popular kind of Selimiye fabric was mostly produced at the textile workshops in the Uskudar district of Istanbul, founded by Sultan Selim III, at the end of the 18th century, in order to compete with the import of French silk brocades.

Within the well-assorted JMG collection of prayer and liturgical books, there is a rare publication of a Hebrew song book published by the “Ne’im Zemirot ” and “Noten Zemirot “ singers’ clubs of Thessaloniki in 1929. Next to an introduction on Jewish music by the historian Solomon Abraham Rozanes, the book offers a broad repertory of synagogual hyms (Piyutim), songs for Shabbat (Bakashot) and other holidays, popular in the Jewish community of Thessaloniki. The book belonged to Hayim Joseph Hassid – most probably a singers’ club member – who bound his copy in fine leather and added his name and date in gold letters on the binding.

During the 19th century, it was popular among Jewish, as well as non-Jewish, brides in the urban centers of the Ottoman Empire to wear a velvet wedding dress in wine-red or purple hues, embroidered with gold thread in couching technique in the Turkish Baroque style. When the white wedding dress came into fashion in the beginning of the 20th century, the velvet ones, which were part of many Jewish women’s trousseaus, were often transformed into Torah Ark curtains. Following this hallowed practice, Hannah Matsa from Ioannina re-stitched the sleeves and front part of her grandmother’s dress into a curtain and dedicated it to her local synagogue, in memory of her husband Abraham and her son Moses, in 1921.

The bride’s trousseau in traditional Greek-Jewish families of the 19th century included a set of gold embroidered articles to be used throughout their lives in ceremonial life cycle occasions. However, some of these cherished heirloom items were singled out and adapted to be dedicated to the synagogue. Hannah Meir from Trikala chose in 1922 a precious cushion cover from the late 19th century, cut it in half, possibly to remove a damaged piece in the middle of the item, and arranged it anew so that it would become the central section of a Mappah, a wrapper for a wooden Torah case in the Romaniote synagogue of her home town. To perpetuate her name, she added a meticulously done dedicatory inscription in the top centre of the textile.

The JMG Jewellery Collection mainly consists of pieces dating to the 19th and early 20th century, belonging to the Bulgarian Hoard, valuable personal items looted from the Jews of East Macedonia and Thrace in 1943. Most of these items came from the mainly Sephardic communities of SerresDramaKavala and Komotini, all decimated and destroyed during the Holocaust. Among them, this unusual wedding ring, a gold broad band engraved with a floral pattern, on top in high relief the monogram “SK” in Latin letters, for the bridal couple Solomon and Klara. The inner hoop is engraved in Hebrew ‘Shlomo (and) Klara Klein 5671’ (1911). We know nothing more of this Jewish couple from central or eastern Europe, who somehow settled in Greece, only to share the fate of the rest of the Jews of that area in the Holocaust.

This mixed-media work of art, entitled ‘Genocide’ was donated to the JMG Contemporary Art Collection by the artist, Artemis Alcalay, in honour of the museum’s inauguration in its new premises in 1998. It consists of a wooden box with four figures, representing a grave. The work is part of the unit “Remembrance”, a series of puppets and small sculptures, the featureless marionettes painfully evoking the anonymity of death and conveying the artist’s feelings for the heavy losses her family suffered at the Nazi extermination camps. They also constitute a form of tribute for the moral duty of the following generations to the martyrs of the Holocaust.