This and That

Random bits of my life

Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art

Posted by Avital Pinnick on September 15, 2010

Italian Synagogue, Jerusalem

Or “How to photograph a small museum collection in thirteen minutes….”

Yes, these photos and the ones in my Flickr set really were taken in thirteen minutes, with the exception of the courtyard shot, which I took after we had left the museum.

I went with several fiber enthusiasts to see an exhibit at the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art. Our small group, led by Haya, a Jerusalem-based weaver, included Phyllis Kantor, an American weaver of Judaica, and Megina Schlein, Judaica embroidery teacher and author. Haya was intrigued by an unusual piece of lace that reminded her of pomegranates. I wanted to show it to other lacemakers to see whether anyone recognized the style. Ten minutes before closing time, I asked the man at the desk whether it was possible to purchase a photo of this unusual lace Torah scroll binder, since a sign said that photography was forbidden. He said, “You can take pictures if you don’t use a flash.” Woohoo! This is by no means the complete collection, although it’s a small museum. Here are a few highlights.

The photo above is the Torah ark of the restored Italian synagogue, which is still used for services. The men sit below in the pews. The women’s section is above, behind the carved wooden panels. It’s a very small synagogue but it looks rather impressive when photographed with a wide angle lens. (I’m very glad that I thought to take the lens with me, although I never imagined that they would let me photograph inside the museum.)

Here is a view of the synagogue in the opposite direction, towards the bima, where the Torah scroll is read:

Italian Synagogue, Jerusalem

The museum is located on Hillel Street in downtown Jerusalem. If you are walking down the street from King George, it’s on your left, past the Absorption Ministry and a small shopping mall. The photo below was taken in the courtyard. The original photo was terrible. We were rushing off and I didn’t have time to change from a wide-angle to regular telephoto lens, so I had to correct the distortion with Photoshop. The colours were horrible because the sky was white and cloudy behind the building, so I coloured it sepia.

U. Nahon Museum of Jiwish Italian Art

The collection included some splendid eighteenth century ketubbot (marriage contracts). This detail shows an idealized picture of Jerusalem surrounded by the signs of the zodiac. You can see the other ketubbah photos in the Flickr set.

Ketubba deail

Ketubbah (Marriage Certificate), Italian, 18th cent.

Another ketubbah, with a naked Adam and Eve painted in a naive style. They are flanked by an Italian couple in period dress.

Ketubba deail

The photo below shows several charity collection boxes. The doors are wood with metal hinges and reinforcement. They are set into marble. The inscriptions above the boxes indicate different funds. From left to right: Rabbi Meir (possibly the fund of Rabbi Meir Baal haNes), Jerusalem, hospital, candles, charity, old people’s home, and building maintenance.


Torah binder (also called wimpel or binder), 19th century bobbin lace, very similar to Milanese in style. Cotton threads on silk backing.

Italian Torah Binder

This is the mysterious lace Torah binder that led to my taking all these photos. It’s cotton bobbin lace on a silk backing.  It looks very freeform, but one person has said that she can see pattern repeats. A couple members of the Arachne lace list think it’s some form of Binche lace.

Torah Binder

Another Torah binder, made from 16 squares of linen joined with lace inserts. Each 20×20 cm square has a word embroidered in chain stitch in Hebrew, forming the dedication:  “Blessed is he who gave the Torah to his people, Israel, in his holiness / I shall pay my vows to God / By Tamar, wife of the honoured teacher, Moshe/ The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree / Year 1572” (Baruch shenatan torah le-amo yisrael bikedushato /  Nedarai la-shem eshalem / na’am marat Tamar ishat km”r Moshe yz”v / Tsadik katamar yifrach / Shanat [1572]).

Torah binder

Carved Torah ark, Eliyahu’s chair on the left, candlestick in front.


7 Responses to “Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art”

  1. Karen R in GA said

    I love seeing your part of the world – love the history and beauty you capture.

    • Avital said

      Thanks, Karen. I was lucky this time — and very glad that I’d packed my wide-angle lens even though I didn’t think I’d have an opportunity to use it. It’s a very small museum and we were studying the pieces quite seriously. Maybe that’s why the man let me take the photos. I would never have gotten permission at the Israel Museum.

  2. aswirly said

    Facinating! And amazing you captured it all in 13 minutes. Again, really cool to have your explanations. It’s like having a personal tourguide!! 🙂

    • Avital said

      Thanks, Amber. The lace Torah binder mystery is getting more interesting. I’ve been discussing it with an expert in the US (bobbin lace historians are rather thin on the ground, as you can imagine…). She is pretty sure it’s Binche and emailed me some photos of pieces in her collection. I hope to blog about that piece soon.

  3. Fanie said

    It’s been too long since I’ve been to your blog because, somehow, it got lost in my Google Reader. Your pictures are always so beautiful! I really appreciate thoses pictures you took in the museum, the details in theses art and craft work are amazing. I’m glad you could take pictures in the museum without a flash… ah, that is the beauty of today’s photography technology! 🙂

    • Avital Pinnick said

      Thanks, Fanie! I was lucky. Now I think my camera needs to be repaired — the autofocus stopped working. Good thing it happened to day and not at the museum. Thanks for your comment!

  4. pam said

    Spectacular images. I am sending my Step-father a link as I know he will especially enjoy seeing this post.

    You have done such a beautiful job of making it seem as if I were actually in the museum with you. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: