The size of a magazine shop and filled with exhibits, gifts and a lunch counter, this is the Museum of Jewish Montreal.
Zev Moses jokes that the Museum of Jewish Montreal has “sort of gone backwards.”
“Most museums set up their space then they get their tech side up to date,” says Moses, the museum’s founder and executive director. His museum did the tech thing first: In the years after its founding in 2010, it existed largely as a website. The physical space finally followed this summer.
“It’s only been online until now. We’ve been offering tours for years, but now we have a space on the Main,” he says. “It’s a big thing!”
While this is a big development indeed for the museum, the new space on St-Laurent (known as “the Main” to Montrealers) is small – roughly the size of a magazine store, which is what it happens to have been in its previous life. The new space consists mainly of a gift shop, and a lunch counter that serves Jewish dishes every Friday, Saturday and Sunday (early reports are positive).
There are a couple of walls that serve to host temporary exhibitions too (like the really interesting one about synagogues that Billy checked out on a recent visit).
Moses launched the project six years ago in the hope of deepening the public’s cultural and historical understanding of the city’s Jewish heritage. His background in urban planning means that for him, history lives in the city streets. He helped created a series of tours around the city, and these were complemented by a rich mobile website packed with information.
Despite finally having a physical space, Moses and his colleagues will continue to insist that a museum is – or ought to be – more than just a place you visit. It can have a presence out in the world.
“You don’t necessarily need to have walls to be a museum,” Moses says. “We’re most interested in sharing and figuring out ways to make things available and to make stories accessible to people.”
Telling the story of Montreal’s Jewish community naturally involves the stories of places all over the city. So Moses figures the museum may as well set up at these very places, with stories and photos, “and do what an exhibition would do, but more interactively.”
Courtesy Museum of Jewish Montreal
“When you’re standing next to the building itself and you can touch it and see the full context around it – the alleyway next door and the shed in the backyard – it brings history to life in the way a display case couldn’t.”
There are four tours offered now by the Museum of Jewish Montreal, with subject matter ranging from an exploration of Eastern European Jewish immigration on the lower Plateau to intellectual Jewish enclaves on the upper Plateau, to the rabbis, writers and radicals of Mile End, and finally a much more involved and sensorial food tour called Beyond the Bagel, which lasts four hours and includes lots of feasting. This last one plays well into the museum’s future plans of creating pop-up food experiences with guest chefs (watch the website for more info in the new future).
Courtesy Museum of Jewish Montreal
“What’s frustrating for some tourists is that we’re constantly changing almost every week. It’s a little like a museum startup. So what you get this week might be bigger or different in a month from now,” Moses says. “But if the visitor is ready to experience us as we grow, it can be pretty exciting.”
4040 Boulevard St-Laurent, ground floor, 514-840-9300