The JMG Collections
The JMG was founded with the aim of collecting, studying, preserving, and exhibiting the artefacts that reflect the history, customs, everyday life and traditions of the Greek Jews.
Its collections include more than 10,000 original artefacts, which document the material evidences of 2.300 years of Jewish history and culture in Greece. The core collection, besides a few objects that were gathered after WW II by the Jewish Community of Athens, comprises the items returned by the Bulgarian government, after the establishment of a communist regime in the country. These included personal artefacts, jewellery, domestic items, synagogual objects and documents, which belonged to the Jews of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace and were confiscated during the Bulgarian occupation. The confiscated items had been meticulously recorded and became the first significant body of artefacts of the collection. In the following years, the core material kept multiplying, mainly through the donations of individuals and communities, initially from Thessaly, Rhodes and Ioannina. Besides the 16th-19th century rare books and publications, a significant number of ritual textiles were assembled, during the years 1977-1982. Most of them are of the Ottoman period (17th-19th centuries), and soon became one of the Museum’s main thematic cores. In 1984, the interior of the Patras Synagogue along with its textiles and ritual objects were bequeathed to the Museum, after the local community had been dissolved for lack of members. These religious artefacts are extremely significant, invaluable and irreplaceable, since most of them, come from synagogues and communities which no longer exist.
More donations from individuals and communities from both Greece and abroad continued to pour in, further enriching the collection. Gradually, the Museum acquired a number of archives from individuals and organisations; these were organized and are now part of the Historical Collection. The Museum’s relocation to its new premises brought a renewal of public interest and more donations followed. In general, the Museum has been receiving an average of 250-300 new artefacts every year. These unique collections document more than two thousand years of Jewish life in Greece, with the oldest artefacts in the Museum’s collection dating back to the 3rd century BCE. During the years 2010-2012, the process of digitization of a large part of the Museum’s collections was achieved thanks to the JMG participation in the European programme Judaica-Europeana (www.judaica-europeana.eu) as a consortium partner. Judaica-Europeana is an innovative digital project co-funded by the European Commission under the eContentplus programme, whose aim is to offer a multilingual digital access to the collections of the Jewish culture, through Europeana’s digital library (www.europeana.eu).
More than ten thousand original artefacts in the collections of the JMG, are organized in five thematic categories and sub-categories. The large Collection of Judaica, in other words of Jewish religious art, consists of synagogual and ritual objects, such as Menorot, Tikim, Rimonim, Torah scrolls, Torah shields and pointers, Shaddayot, textiles, manuscripts, books etc., as well as objects for domestic worship, such as prayer books, Mezuzot, Hanukkiyot, spice containers, Shabbat candle holders and oil lamps. The subcategory of rare and important manuscripts of this collection, particularly the circumcision certificates (Alephiot) and the marriage contracts (Ketubbot) are worth mentioning here. The Museum’s Historical Collection comprises rare books, manuscripts, documents, tombstones and dedicatory plaques, photographs, coins, medals, inscriptions, newspapers and journals that trace the long presence of Jews in Greece. The Museum’s Ethnographic and Folklore Collection is particularly important and interesting, since it gathers Romaniote and Sephardic traditional costumes from the late 18th to the early 20th century, as well as jewellery, shoes, embroideries, household vessels, textiles, military uniforms, urban, religious, bridal and circumcision outfits.
The World War II and Holocaust Collection contains rare historical documents, archival material, testimonies, newspapers, journals, personal items from the time of the Occupation and uniforms from the concentration camps. In the category of testimonies the Oral History Archive is also included, consisting of more than 100 testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Prints, engravings, paintings, oil paintings, drawings and sculptures belong to the last major thematic category of the Museum’s collections, namely the Contemporary Art Collection. The collection includes works of art made by Greek Jewish artists, but not exclusively, and it was created in order to highlight and disseminate the contemporary artistic and cultural creative work of the Greek Jews.
All together, the JMG collections, with its different thematic units, reflect and show the rich and unique long history of Greek Jews over the centuries, whereas the blending of tradition and modernity transforms the Museum’s scope to an effort to maintain and spur public interest on issues such as history, tradition, identity, memory and coexistence.