Migration through the eyes of the Israel Museum

woman and child looking out of circular window

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem is one of the largest cultural institutions in Israel providing a backdrop for Israeli heritage, culture, identity and history as communicated through objects, images and exhibitions. Central to this history is the story of migration. 

Migration describes the movement from one region to another, often implying a sense of improvement from the condition of one place to the next. This sense of development extends to Jewish migration; as seen by the diaspora of Jewish communities making Aliyah (ascending) to their ancestral Land of Israel. The idea of ‘rising up’ from the depth of social fractures towards togetherness is implicit.

With the mass movements of the diaspora to Israel from Europe and beyond, Jews brought their families, stories, trinkets, customs and photographs to the Promised Land. he Israel Museum is home to a photographic collection that reveals these stories of migration from the Jewish diaspora.

EXPLORE MORE: Migration journeys gallery

The collection speaks of the hardships embedded in migration, as seen in the farewells, reunions, and adaptation to new cultures and languages. These photographs touch on universal qualities within the migrant experience, extending beyond the Jewish history, herein describing migration to be an experience of extreme solitude but also togetherness – as seen in Tim Gidal’s Hebrew Lesson. It is also described as physically strenuous as in Cornfield, and perhaps Man Ray describes the migrant’s experience to be physically isolating as in his Untitled image of Notre Dame in Paris, France.

Tim Gidal’s Berlin (1929) describes migration purely by the directionless movement of people. Their destination or point of departure is unknown – highlighting the notion of movement in migration instead of foreignness. Gidal’s work draws on larger questions: at which moment does movement translate to migration? At which geographical line or linguistic barrier, does one become known as ‘foreign’?

EXPLORE MORE: Browse more collections from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

We return to these images as they speak to the Jewish experience but also an inextricable human quality around what it means to be foreign, and at which point we see ourselves or our environment as such.

One may too consider these photographs a means by which we remember our common humanity, considering that we all return home or become foreign depending on how we perceive the border we cross. 

By Alexandra Martinez Dean, Student Intern at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Feature image: Shmuel Joseph Schweig, Grandmother and Grandchild on their way to the Homeland, 1950s, The Israel Museum, In Copyright

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