A Jewish Children’s Museum

I’m a big advocate of Jewish-themed museums as a potentially potent tool for reaching unaffiliated intermarried and interdating Jews. They lack the religious baggage of synagogues and the political baggage of Israel Independence Day festivals. Unlike JCCs or synagogues, there is nothing clubby about them–they are essentially public spaces marked more by anonymity than community. And the less you know, the better–museums are fundamentally giant adult learning centers. Unlike almost all other Jewish institutions, museums make no assumption that visitors will come in with a pre-existing capital of Jewish knowledge.

A new addition to the Jewish museum scene is the Jewish Discovery Museum in Tampa, a temporary interactive exhibit where kids can learn about Judaism. The exhibit includes interactive components such as Noah’s Ark Theater, painting and weaving at Joseph’s Diverse Dreamcoat and Mr. Abraham’s Neighborhood, where children can learn to set a seder table.

The exhibit is currently housed at the Tampa Bay JCC, which may have scared off a few visitors who would have come to a more neutral location. But, according to the St. Petersburg Times, “To ensure they catch the eye of unaffiliated Jews, the community center’s leaders marketed the discovery center in secular venues such as Rooms to Go Kids, Starbucks and Barnes & Noble.” And if the exhibit proves successful (and they can get the funding), they would like to build a permanent musum on the JCC’s campus.

While the exhibit has value of its own, it can also serve as a “baby step” for interfaith families unsure of whether or how they want to engage with Judaism. While the exhibit is aimed towards the sensibilities and learning styles of children, I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few parents are also learning a few things about Jewish culture and religion that they didn’t already know.

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