‘Between Two Worlds: Personal Memory and Immortal Souls in Jewish Culture’

This exhibition deals with the particularities of funeral rites and commemorative customs as practiced by East European Jewry, as well as the reflection of such traditions in objects of Jewish material culture, fine arts, and literature.

The exhibition comprises materials from the museum’s collections. Accompanying academic and informational work has also been provided by the museum.

At the core of Jewish funereal culture lay mystical ideas about the eternity of a person’s soul and a belief in the resurrection of the dead. In Jewish culture, transition from the material world to the eternal world may be regarded as being in many respects more significant than the moment of coming into being: ‘The day of death is better than the day of one's birth’ (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

The main sections of the exhibition present the activities of the Hevrah Kadisha burial society, the arrangement of a Jewish cemetery, and rites of commemoration. Collectively these sections serve to illustrate Jewish attitudes regarding passage into the next life.

The central item on display in the exhibition is a catafalque from Transylvania (in Romania) that once belonged to the local Hevrah Kadisha burial society.

Visitors will also see a collection of commemorative sheets called ‘yortsayt’ (‘anniversary of death’), which constitute a specific genre of Jewish visual culture. These yortsayt sheets serve as a colourful example of traditions for remembering the life journey of the deceased from beginning to end.

In addition to telling of revered ‘holy’ graves and the customs linked to them, the exhibition familiarizes the visitor with the culture and norms surrounding the preparation and appearance of gravestones, as displayed not only in photographs but also in artistic works. All the items in the exhibition are unique. The majority of them have never before been put on display in Russia or abroad.

The exhibition represents a joint project of the Museum of Jewish History in Russia and the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre, with the support of the Safmar Foundation.