In 'eloquent declaration,' Russia opens world's largest Jewish museum
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was born in Belarus, inaugurated the Jewish Museum, noting its powerful testament to how a country can change.
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Honest about anti-Semitism
Organizers say the museum pulls no punches about the impact of anti-Semitism in Russian and Soviet life, but also sheds light upon the immense contribution of Russia's Jews to the country's cultural and scientific life, and the solidarity among all Soviet citizens when faced with an existential crisis by the Nazi invasion after 1941.Skip to next paragraph
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The central purpose is to reintegrate Russian history, by exposing Russians to the experiences of people who lived among them, but were often persecuted.
"This is a different kind of museum, it's more about ideas than things," says Mr. Appelbaum. "Russia is famous for its museums, which hold vast collections full of marvelously preserved things. That's great, but this museum is just about the stories of people's lives."
One key difference from the past is that the Kremlin is no longer a forbidding obstacle to the revival of Jewish life in Russia, experts say.
President Vladimir Putin donated a month's salary toward the project and said, in a statement read out at the museum opening by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, that he hopes the museum will be "a place for dialogue and agreement between peoples."
"This is a new era for the life of Russian Jews," Russia's chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, told the opening ceremony. "Many years for Jews were very hard and tragic. But now there are great changes."
Some experts warn that intolerance and ethnic hatreds are once again on the rise in Russia. Last weekend, thousands of Russian nationalists marched in downtown Moscow, shouting xenophobic slogans, such as "Russia For the Russians," which are aimed mainly at brown-skinned immigrants from Russia's south and former Soviet central Asian republics.
In a pre-election manifesto last winter, Mr. Putin warned that keeping nationalist energies under control is Russia's biggest single political challenge.
"Nationalist passions are growing in Russia, posing very serious problems for interethnic relations," says Alexander Brod, head of the independent Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. "We need more public education, and actions that help develop tolerance. This new museum can fill a critical gap. By outlining the tragic destiny of the Jewish people [in Russia] it can help people to think about issues like discrimination, genocide, and the value of human life. We may hope that it will make a difference."