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The Hebrew Music Museum: Two Levys’ dream

A look inside Jerusalem's new Hebrew Music Museum.

A look inside Jerusalem’s new Hebrew Music Museum.

By Deborah Fineblum, JNS

Is it a coincidence that the two people most intimately involved in creating the Hebrew Music Museum are both Levys, descendants of the ancient Jewish tribe dedicated to providing music in the Holy Temples?

For 12 years, Laurent Levy, the museum’s sponsor, and Eldad Levy, its director, both had a vision of creating an interactive, state-of-the-art museum in the heart of Jerusalem that would celebrate Jewish music.

“When we met five years ago we were both amazed that we shared this dream,” said Eldad Levy, a professional musician. “He said ‘Let’s do it’ and that was the beginning.”

During five years of planning, they collected hundreds of instruments from around the world, conducted real estate negotiations in the city’s trendy Ben Yehuda neighborhood and designed and built a one-of-a-kind exhibit space.

Representing an investment of some 20 million shekels — roughly $5 million — the Hebrew Music Museum swung open its doors in April.

Today, the Levys’ dream has become a reality. The place attracts more than 1,000 visitors a month who come to see, and hear, what it’s all about.

They’re immersed not only in the history of Jewish music, which has taken so many guises depending on place and time, but also how it ties back to the music of the two ancient Temples, one of which stood not far from their location.

Inside the museum, 260 musical instruments, from seven lands where Jews have lived in the Diaspora, are spread throughout seven rooms.

Each room is decorated sumptuously in the style of the country it represents: Yemen, Morocco, Central Asia, Iraq, the Balkans.

There are also room dedicated to Israel and Europe (don’t miss that gorgeous hand-painted ceiling). It’s in that room where you’ll find a lyra, a harp much like King David played while composing his Psalms.

In each room, visitors can listen to the music of each place and time using tablets programmed with explanations in five languages.

The message is a potent one: each place Jews have lived, they have adopted the local instruments, and often the folk music of the region, then infused it with Jewish tradition, lyrics and soul.

“When designing the museum, we kept asking ourselves, ‘How can we touch people’s hearts with the power of Jewish music from our history?” Eldad Levy asked.

“We knew they’d need to hear the music, see the instruments and learn something about the culture we developed in each place we lived.”

One recent example of this fusion is Klezmer, which originated in Eastern Europe and was further popularized in the US by Yiddish-speaking immigrants. It continues to attract devoted fans today.

Dating back much further is Jewish life in Iraq. There’s a faithful replica of the kind of Babylonian harp Jews played there 3,000 years ago. The original instrument was excavated by German archaeologists, who’d been conducting digs in Iraq in the early 20th century.

As amazing and beautiful as [the instruments] are, the real story is what’s behind the instruments,” Levy adds. “They were each an expression of Jewish life in these places.”

By far the highlight for most visitors is the temple room.

It features a large model of the Second Temple, which stood on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount for 420 years before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Patrons put on virtual reality headsets, which took three years to develop and program, in order to gain an inside view of a recreation of the service inside the Holy Temple.

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