The city of Sarajevo, understanding the significance of the institution of a museum, which for ancient Greeks and Romans meant the temple of muses, and since the Renaissance the place for collections, founded in 1949 the city museum with the task to collect, study, present and preserve the relics of material and spiritual creativity of inhabitants of this area from the oldest times up to now.
Within the City Museum is the Museum of Jews of Bosnia and Herzegovina, situated in the oldest synagogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The synagogue, called by the Sephardim Il kal vjezu (the old temple) was built, according to the sigil kept in the Gazi Husref Bey's Library, in 1581. Civil engineers, art historians, as well as the visitors of the temple, admire its elegant and pure, a bit rustic architectural shape. According to their judgement, the synagogue is, by its look, architectural value and, especially, the atmosphere, one of the prettiest museum places in this part of the Balkans.
The Museum of the Jews of Bosnia and Herzegovina was opened in 1966,on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Jewish arrival to Sarajevo. The initiator of its foundation was the esteemed hispanist Mr. ph. Samuel Elazar, then the president of the Jewish Community in Sarajevo, with the support of many well-known personalities of Jewish and non Jewish circles.
The exhibition, placed in the ground floor and on two galleries, is composed of some ritual synagogal objects, parts of inheritance of prominent scientists, artists and social activists of Jewish origin, photographs, documents, paintings and maps, objects of glass, metal, textile and wood. This exhibition, though of a rather small volume, made unsystematically and discontinuously but from the museological and aesthetic point of view farly well set, provokes a great interest of both local and foreign visitors.
The authors of the exhibition present the history and achievements of
Jewish people in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the period of 400 years,
and the exhibits have become a valuable, often the only, source for reconstruction
and understanding of Jewish history and culture.
Among the ritual synagogal objects which are mainly presents of individuals and of which many, as usual with Jews, have incriptions, mostly in Hebrew, the following should be mentioned : silver bindings of preyer books from 1888/89, 1897/98, 1907 (belonged to Sloma Adanja, Mose Romano and Danijel Danon), scrolls about the queen Esther in silver cylinder boxes from 1876/77 and 1911/12, metal hanukkia with the inscription : "For the lamp is micva (religious obligation) and Torah is light"; silvercup for blessing above wine; a plate of Torah of silver coated iron sheet presented to the temple by Jehuda Diamant 1890/91; yard of the indicator of Torah and the gold plated silver amulet; besamim or scent box (end of the 19th century); ner tamid or the eternal light (silver, glass) presented in 1880/81 by Mose Jacov Alkalaj.
Valuable presents are also : a kethubah or the marriage contract of Estera Kabiljo of Zvornik and Avram Danon of Sarajevo from 1872; aleph, the knife for ritual slaughtering of cattle, which belonged to rabbi Avram Levi from Sarajevo; machzor de rosh hashanah en Judeo-Espagnol (New Year Preyer Book in Judeo Spanish) printed in Sarajevo in 1930.
Out of the values once kept in this temple we must mention probably last forever the menorah-hanukkia from 1367. That hanukkia, of exceptional form and value, and with an inscription with the year of its origin, as was written in the "Jewish News" of June 11, 1926 by the Sarajevo archrabbi Dr. Moric Levi, had probably been brought from Spain. That hanukkia was, beside the Sarajevo Haggadah, the most important object of the Jewish material culture kept in Sarajevo. We know about its existence from a text published in the "Judeiches Lexicon" (Vol. IV, T. CXXIV, Berlin, 1930), in which was given its miniature photograph with the text : "Menorah from the Sephardi Community of Sarajevo from 1367".
To preserve, collect, spread and get back the stolen exhibits of Jewish origin from this area, as well as because of the fact that handling Jewish collections needs special methodology and education, the Jewish Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina established links with similar institutions in the world. Unfortunately, the Museum is today far from material and staff possibility that is at disposal to similar institutions in the world. And the topic "Judaica of Bosnia and Herzegovina" is so serious and large that it should be realized with a larger help of our broader community and agencies in the world, after the war whirlwind in our country is over. Till then, we have to mark, at least in a modest way, the remains of the Jewish material and spiritual culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as our tribute to preservation of dignity and memory to the great Jewish people which has lived once and still live here. That is our patriotic and cultural duty.
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