The Museo Nazionale dell’Ebraismo Italiano e della Shoah - MEIS (National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah) was founded with Italian Law 91 of 17 April 2003, amended by Law 296 of 27 December 2006, to “bear witness to the events that have characterized the two thousand years of Jewish presence in Italy”.
This decision recognizes, and enhances, the exceptional continuity of the rich, uninterrupted — but not widely known — path travelled by the Jews, their traditions making a fundamental contribution to the history and fabric of the nation; a cultural contribution wrought between periods of calmer coexistence and fruitful interaction and other tragic times of persecution and banishment, culminating in the tragedy of the Shoah.
In recounting the life experience of a consolidated minority, MEIS serves, above all, as a place of meeting and sharing. Open to all, it is a laboratory of ideas and reflections to stimulate the debate on Judaism, its future in Italy and on the value of dialogue between cultures.
The exhibit Jews, An Italian Story. The First Thousand Years communicates the uniqueness of Italian Jewish history, describing how the Jewish presence in Italy was formed and developed throughout the Peninsula from the Roman Age (second century BCE) to the Middle Ages (tenth century CE) and how the Jews of Italy built their own unique identity, even when compared to other places in the diaspora.
Through the video contributions of different experts, precious and rare objects, immersive pauses, multimedia inserts, reconstructions (the Temple of Jerusalem, the Arch of Titus, the Jewish catacombs of Ostia and Bova Marina), sounds and music, the path identifies places of origin and areas of dispersion of the Jewish people, tracing the routes of their exile to the western Mediterranean. It documents their time in Rome and southern Italy, speaking of migration, slavery, integration and religious intolerance – both in relation to the pagan and Christian worlds. It follows the blossoming of Judaism in southern Italy in the Middle Ages, before its expulsion, and then the establishment of an Italian Jewish culture throughout the country.
Two thousand and two hundred years of Jewish history and culture in twenty-four minutes.
This is the multimedia show Through the Eyes of the Italian Jews, realized by Giovanni Carrada (author and curator) and Manuela Fugenzi (iconographic research).
Sweet bay, myrtle, thyme, lavender and marjoram grow in the MEIS Garden of Questions; these are the herbs used in the havdalah, the prayer recited at the end of the Sabbath or Shabbat, to symbolically mark the end of a holiday and day of rest and usher in the new week.
These herbs have been planted and arranged so as to trace out an itinerary – a learning path – where explanatory panels help provide an understanding of the rules of kasherut, the Jewish dietary laws, with particular reference to the use of meat, milk, fish and eggs. Each of these four types of food is associated with a different point of entry into a small labyrinth. As they proceed, the visitors answer questions about the use of these elements in Jewish cuisine. A wrong answer sends them back, but an explanation of the correct rules gets them back on track.
Through a playful, interactive approach, the Garden thus brings the public closer to Jewish culture through its smells and flavors, answers certain rather widespread questions – for example, why Jews do not eat pork. It forces us reflect on our differences – as well as our many similarities – with other traditions.
The Garden also has an olive tree – one of the seven species mentioned in the bible along with the fig tree, pomegranate, grape vine, wheat, barley and date palm. It is a modular, environmentally-friendly place that extends over an area of thirty-two square meters, partially covered. It is an original, one-of-a-kind project in Italy.