Trawling Twenty Centuries by Alexander Kaufman

Trawling Twenty Centuries

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A professional designer describes his contribution to the research and development of a new museum.

Kaufman (The Precipice Option, 2013) was approached by Karl Katz, the director of the Jewish Museum in New York, to help create a new museum that celebrated the Jewish Diaspora’s global flourishing, a significant departure from previous artistic collections that focused on the history of the Jewish people’s suffering. Kaufman, a professional designer of museums and special exhibits, agreed, and what quickly ensued was an epic adventure. Almost immediately, it was decided that the new museum, which was to be situated in Tel Aviv, would thematically focus on expertly built replicas of synagogues around the world. Since there are no specific Jewish laws governing the construction of synagogues, each served as an expression of how a displaced Jewish community practiced its faith in diverse environs. Kaufman, who served as the general manager of the project, scoured the globe to study the synagogues selected by a panel of academic scholars. The challenges he encountered were considerable. Multiple unproductive committees often lost themselves in intramural conflict. The egos of participants and sponsors alike had to be constantly assuaged. One synagogue director in Dubrovnik objected to his building’s inclusion since he believed visitors would stop coming from Israel if they could see a reproduction of it in Tel Aviv. There were plenty of amusing episodes, too: at one point, while visiting a synagogue in Florence, Kaufman requested a helicopter; he had to settle for a fire truck. Along the way, the author furnishes a running commentary on Jewish history, especially as it unfolded in Europe. His recollection is both edifying and inspirational, treating the reader to scores of beautiful color pictures of the replicas Kaufman designed. Readers will also learn about his philosophy of museum design, which focuses on illuminating rather than competing with the exhibits it presents. Kaufman’s emotional ardor for art is often poignantly expressed. While contemplating the creation of a replica based on a synagogue in Florence, he reveals his combination of awe and anxiety: “I was jittery with the anticipation of imagining the kind of replica model this would make.”

A delightful read for anyone interested in Jewish history, museum design, or the intersection of the two.

Pub Date: April 26th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0578117638
Page count: 328pp
Publisher: Intervale Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2017


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