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South African Jewish Museum in the heart of the Company Gardens
You’ll see rare artefacts, fascinating stories and gorgeous architecture
Ground Breakers: A History of Progressive Judaism in South Africa, at the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town, is a fascinating exploration of how much the Jewish community has contributed to South Africa's history. Plus, the museum is home to wonderful and engaging interactive and audio-visual displays, rare artefacts and spectacular, history-rich architecture. Heads up: students under 12 can get in for free.
IT'S THE FIRST-EVER EXHIBITION ON PROGRESSIVE JUDAISM IN SA
This fascinating exhibit gives you the chance to listen in on the stories of a small but brave minority group within the Jewish community. These incredible people contributed greatly to advancing women's role in society, building bridges to other faiths and taking outreach projects into African townships.
One character, in particular, may catch your eye. You'll probably know his work but not his name. The composer behind the world-renowned Jewish Folk song Hava Nagila is South African ethnologist Abraham Zevi Idelson, who was also one of the first proponents of Progressive Judaism in South Africa.
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TAKE A MOMENT TO ADMIRE THE STUNNING ARCHITECTURE
The SA Jewish Museum, designed by architect Michael Hackner, is made of a beautiful combination of metal, glass and wood to help give it a modern feel. However, paying homage to its history and with a nod to biblical roots, the museum is built with Jerusalem stone. Pro-tip: take the time to look out a window or two. When designing the South African Jewish Museum, Hackner positioned each window specifically to look out onto Table Mountain.
Although this museum is an architectural marvel in itself, it's also connected to one of South Africa's oldest and most beautiful synagogues: the Old Synagogue. Thanks to a glass and steel bridge that connects the Old Synagogue to the museum, Hackner further achieved a fusion of the old world with the new. This is a must-see for any architecture lover.
THERE ARE MANY MORE FASCINATING EXHIBITIONS TO FIND
The information on South African history in the Jewish museum is substantial. Take your time to absorb as much as possible. There are plenty more exhibitions, rare artefacts, sightseeing bus tours, audio-visual and interactive displays to catch up on. The museum is even home to one of the world's largest and most noteworthy Netsuke collections, finely-detailed Japanese miniature art that today is sought after with a deep passion by collectors.
TAKE A BREAK AND HAVE A SNACK AND A SHOP
There is a cafe where you can order a range of snacks and drinks after you’ve explored the museum. You can buy pieces of Judaica (materials relating to Jewish culture) in the gift shop, as well as fascinating books on Jewish art, history, cooking and culture.
THERE ARE STRICT COVID-19 REGULATIONS FOR YOUR SAFETY
You can't learn about South Africa's rich Jewish history without a mask. No mask, no entry. A temperature screening will be done at security, and there will be plenty of sanitizing stations available inside. Space is limited; no more than fifty people will be allowed inside the museum at a time.
Its operating hours are 10am - 4pm Sunday - Thursday, and 10am - 2pm on Fridays. The museum is closed on Jewish holidays but opens on public holidays. For more information, visit their website.
If you love visiting museums, there are plenty of other museums to visit in Cape Town.
Explore African art and culture at the Iziko Museums.
Spend the day admiring art at one of Cape Town’s many galleries.
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