Jews have been living in Europe continuously for two thousand years through a shifting landscape of integration and segregation; dislocation and migration; tolerance and discrimination; opportunity and persecution.
Although Europe has been home for Jews in different places at different times, they have also remained aware, even in the best of times, that they have another home. Jewish life, ritual, and prayer remained literally and figuratively facing East: to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.
Yet these yearnings did not prevent Jews from creating “homes away from home”— autonomous communities with highly developed systems of self-government, and there was a fertile cultural dialogue between the Jewish community and the wider society in which they lived*. Tradition requires Jews to “pray for the peace of the kingdom”— whichever kingdom that may be— expressing loyalty to the ruling power, even to those who were less hospitable to them.
When circumstance allowed, Jews rose to positions of prominence and authority within the government and participated in European cultural life. This was most apparent in the modern era, after the Enlightenment, when the walls of the ghettos came down.
Well over a million Jews live in Europe today. They are an integral part of multi-cultural Europe, active participants in almost all aspects of their countries’ civic and public life. Jewish contributions to the arts and sciences continue unabated in Europe.
Yet, the memory of the twentieth century still lingers, heightening the need for continued tolerance and mutual understanding between Jewish communities and their neighbours. This exhibition gives a brief overview of the fascinating story of the Jewish Diaspora in Europe, stretching over two millennia, as told through selected historic and contemporary materials in the collections of the National Library of Israel.
*This cultural dialogue, which was evident everywhere
the Jews lived, is especially clear in art. The National
Library of Israel has collections of Jewish art from many
countries. To see them and find artcreated near you, scan