One of Jerusalem’s hidden treasures is the Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art located in the downtown Jerusalem area. It contains a stunning collection and an Italian synagogue. In many ways it is almost just like visiting the famous Venice Ghetto with all the convenience of Jerusalem.
The Museum of Italian Jewish Art celebrates the rich legacy of the Italian Jewish community form the 15th -19th centuries through its Judaic art focusing on religious objects d’art from the Renaissance and Baroque periods in Italy. The museum is home to Judaica collected from different areas of Italy. The collection covers the full extent of private and communal Italian Jewish Life – silver Judaica, Holy Arks, textiles, ketubot, ornate prayer books and Bibles, articles from the natural cycle of life.
Umberto Nahon an Italian Jew living in Israel personally travelled the length and breadth of Italy in the 1950’s rescuing much of the Judaica in the museum’s collection.
The Museum of Italian Jewish Art has a fascinating permananet collection and also mounts temporary collections from time to time. Unusually perhaps, for a museum of this size it has two on site dedicated wood and textile restoration workshops.
The museum is fascinating and worth a visit in its own right, but, without a doubt the jewel in the crown is the Conegliano Veneto Synagogue. Conegliano is a town 60Km from Venice – and the synagogue dates from 1701. The story of the rescue and of a special visitor who prayed in the synagogue as a soldier are incredible – but to tell them here will spoil the visit.
The synagogue has all the trappings that you would expect of an Italian Synagogue elaborate décor and the bima at the back of the synagogue. It has been in regular use for 70 years by Jerusalem’s Italian community who pray using the ancient “Minhag Bnei Roma” (the Italian Prayer Custom ), which is one of the most ancient rituals in Judaism, closely related to that prevailing in the Land of Israel during the Second Temple period.
The building that houses the Museum of Italian Jewish Art also has a fascinating history from Templar times – but again we will leave this story for your visit.
There are several synagogue museums in Israel and around the world, and this is not the largest by any means, but there is something very special about the Museum of Italian Jewish Art. Perhaps it is the combination of the stories, a genuinely interesting collection and a still functioning synagogue that makes it so special.
Getting to the Museum of Italian Jewish Art, Jerusalem
The museum is tucked away in the heart of tourist downtown Jerusalem yet if you didn’t know it was there you would miss it. Next time you are in Jerusalem walking to or from town go in and enjoy.
27, Hillel Street (parallel to Ben Yehuda)