Museums rush to offer welcome activities online and, where possible, in person

Cultural institutions in most places remain shuttered, while those in Jerusalem can reopen; all are providing online distractions geared especially to displaced Israeli families

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Rotem Sapir from Kfar Maimon celebrated her bat mitzvah at the Tower of David Museum, with a free photo shoot offered for evacuees from the October 7, 2023, Hamas attacks; her mother, Liat Sapir, commented, 'When we put our story in the perspective of 2,000-plus years, how much hope it gives' (Courtesy Tower of David Museum/Sharon Marks Atshul)
Rotem Sapir from Kfar Maimon celebrated her bat mitzvah at the Tower of David Museum, with a free photo shoot offered for evacuees from the October 7, 2023, Hamas attacks; her mother, Liat Sapir, commented, 'When we put our story in the perspective of 2,000-plus years, how much hope it gives' (Courtesy Tower of David Museum/Sharon Marks Atshul)

Ever since Hamas terrorists launched their October 7 invasion, carrying out atrocities and sparking war, most of Israel’s museums have had to stay closed amid ongoing rocket attacks.

But as survivors of that black Shabbat were evacuated to hotels and homes around the country, local museums have rallied, opening galleries and creating activities for those who badly need distraction.

At the Israel Museum, staff from the museum’s youth wing have reached out to families evacuated to Jerusalem and Eilat, said museum director Suzanne Landau.

“The staff prepared these beautiful kits and took them to the hotels filled with evacuees at the Dead Sea,” said Landau. “We tried to reach out to wherever we could.”

Now the museum has received permission to reopen its youth wing to small groups, making sure that all visitors could fit in its protected area in case of rockets. It is also planning on offering tours, “first of all, for the families from the south,” she said.

When the war broke out, museums were just starting to rally after COVID-related closures, with tourism beginning to return to pre-pandemic numbers. Now, there is no telling what the coming months will hold.

The Israel Museum staffers holding art workshops for evacuees from the south in the weeks following the October 7, 2023 Hamas assault (Courtesy Israel Museum)

“We all envision that it will be a difficult time for all the museums in Israel,” said Landau, who was in New York briefly this week for a meeting with the American Friends of Israel Museum board. “There won’t be any tourism or government support.”

The Ministry of the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience this week budgeted NIS 2.5 million (around $614,000) to cultural activities for evacuated families — planning hundreds of events revolving around humor, music, dance, plays, circus, workshops and lectures around the country for Israelis forced to leave their homes in the north and south. There have been more than 600 events so far, taking place in hotels and kibbutzim housing the evacuees, according to a ministry report, with more planned for the next month.

Larger gatherings

In Jerusalem, where there have been relatively few rocket attacks and the Home Front Command is allowing sizable gatherings, museums and other cultural institutions can open on a limited basis.

There’s free entrance and guided tours for evacuated families from the south and north at the Old City’s Tower of David Museum, which has a bomb shelter onsite and can count all of its galleries, once ancient guard rooms, as safe rooms.

The museum is also organizing free photo shoots on the museum grounds for bar and bat mitzvah kids whose celebrations were moved or postponed because of the war.

The Hagbi and Madmoni families from Moshav Yakhini down south, evacuated following the Hamas assaults of October 7, 2023, at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem (Courtesy)

For those who want to connect to Jerusalem from home, there’s a Tower of David’s Jerusalem street game, created by architect David Kroyanker, offered online for free.

“It is hard to find hope in the darkness right now. We are all trying to do what we can to restore that light,” said Eilat Lieber, director of the Tower of David Museum, which is also raising funds for independent tour guides who are financially challenged again with the abrupt end to tourism.

About a ten-minute walk from the citadel is the Jerusalem Cinematheque, which is screening films for free twice daily, for kids in the morning and adults in the afternoon, and has sufficient safe rooms available for viewers in the case of an emergency.

Its big screens are showing light fare, such as the Thursday, October 26 options of “The Princess Bride” and Charlie Chaplin; simply sign up ahead of time.

Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film School is also treating evacuees to free screenings in the school’s theaters, in hotels housing evacuees, and at home with student films available on video on demand.

Sam Spiegel Film School is setting up film screenings for evacuees in the school’s theaters, on VOD and in hotels (Courtesy Sam Spiegel)

Museum doors can’t be opened in locations such as Tel Aviv and the country’s center, because of the number of rocket barrages that have hit those areas.

Museums in the center are mostly sticking to online programs, such as those being offered by Foodish, the culinary department of ANU – Museum of the Jewish People, which has put together a program of leading chefs, speakers and researchers of Jewish cuisine for a series of free online talks, cooking demos and workshops.

The first event is with cookbook chef Jake Cohen on Thursday, October 26, raising funds for food, equipment and kitchen utensils for evacuees.

Participating culinary experts include Joan Nathan, sharing her recipe for chicken soup; Ben Siman Tov, known as Bengingi, an Israeli New York-based baker; Instagram Challah Prince Idan Khabsov and his Magen David challah, along with other chefs and culinary experts.

Anu is also opening its doors to the public, with free transportation for families evacuated from north and south arranged by its board, free tours and visits to the public, and activities online, via its website.

Holon’s Design Museum staff has also created activity kits, found on its website, Facebook and Instagram pages, while the museum remains shuttered for now.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art also closed, is fundraising to create thousands of activity kits for kids from the south and north, said director Tania Coen-Uzzielli. There are also activities available online, at the TAMA site, for kids, tours and art encounters for adults, and exhibitions online.

“Demonstrating our unwavering commitment to safeguarding the artworks within our collections, which encompass masterpieces by renowned artists such as Picasso, Klimt, Van Gogh, and more, we have promptly taken steps to take down and relocate these artworks to a secure location and they have been safely stored until further notice,” said Coen-Uzzielli.

One final plan at the Israel Museum is to create an art van that will travel to the south and north, wherever there are families in need. Museum director Landau proposed that idea to her US board this week.

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