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15 very unusual Israeli museums

July 16, 2024

If you think museums are boring, but these extraordinary museums on your itinerary next time you’re touring Israel. You won’t be sorry.

In a country bursting with history, science, creativity, and innovation, it is not surprising that Israel has more museums per capita than any other nation on Earth – roughly 250, though most lists of Israeli museums include fewer than 100, probably because they can’t keep up with them all.

On your first trip to Israel, stop by some of these top 12 destinations such as the Israel Museum and Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem and the Eretz Israel Museum and ANU in Tel Aviv. For kids, find the best choices here.

When you’re ready for something different – ranging from highly unusual to wonderfully weird — consider the sites listed below. All these museums have signage and/or tours available in English.

  1. Museum of Illusions, Tel Aviv Port

Fifty exhibitions combine entertainment with education for a uniquely fun experience. Not only will you float in the Anti-Gravity Room, feel like the floor is moving in the Vortex Tunnel, walk on the walls in the Rotated Room, and shrink to miniature size in the Ames Room, but you’ll also learn the secrets behind these optical illusions and get tips on snapping the perfect social media-worthy photo.

  1. World Jewish Sports Museum, Kfar Maccabiah, Ramat Gan

The recently opened Iris Smith World Jewish Sports Museum in Ramat Gan features multimedia displays and more than 1,000 original, rare items from over 130 years of Jewish sports across the world – everything from Olympic rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram’s leotard to the baseball glove of American pitching superstar Sandy Koufax.

  1. Museum of Tractors, Ein Vered

In this gem of a museum southeast of Netanya, farmer/collector Erez Milshtein displays more than 100 salvaged tractors and other agricultural machinery used in Israel since the beginning of the 20th century. Though kids can’t climb on the vintage vehicles, they can play with a tractor in a sandbox, enter a real fire truck, commandeer a variety of riding toys, and more. On Saturdays, a tractor-drawn cart takes visitors on a tour of the surrounding orchards.

  1. Nisco Museum of Mechanical Music, Ein Hod

Nisco is a portmanteau for Nisan Cohen, founder of the Museum of Mechanical Music at the Ein Hod artist village in the Haifa region.

Cohen, a nonagenarian American émigré, gives hourly musical tours of his collections of antique music boxes, hurdy-gurdies, gramophones, hand-operated automatic pianos, a player piano, and other antique musical instruments. Among the treasures in the gift shop are handmade mezuzah cases that play tunes including “Hatikvah.”

 Uri Geller Museum, Old Jaffa

Two thousand twisted pieces of cutlery adorn a 1976 Cadillac parked in the Uri Geller Museum, a former soap factory where the world-famous spoon-bending psychic displays 200-plus rare items from the rich and famous – Pablo Picasso’s easel, Harry Houdini’s handcuffs, Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves, a gilded “extraterrestrial” egg from John Lennon, a jacket signed by Michael Jackson, the death mask of Frédéric Chopin, and much more.

  1. Museum of Yemenite Judaism, Rosh HaAyin

This brand-new museum is housed in a building formerly used as a reception center for 49,000 Yemenite Jews flown to Israel between June 1949 and September 1950. The multimedia displays depict life in long-ago Yemen; sacred objects, traditional clothes, jewelry, and music; as well as the story of the massive airlift operation and personal profiles of the Yemenite founders of Rosh HaAyin. Visitors can listen to the songs of Israeli Yemenite singers such as Shoshana Damari, Ofra Haza, Gali Atari, Dana International, and Achinoam Nini (Noa).

  1. Shulman Chocolate Museum, Kibbutz Dafna

Dmitri Shulman at his chocolate museum in Upper Galilee. Photo courtesy of Shulman Chocolate Museum

Upper Galilee is a unique museum about the art of making chocolate. All displays and videos have English translations, and workshops in English can be arranged for groups of 15 or more. The proprietor, Dimitri Shulman, is a chocolate artist whose sculptures include a Golda Meir portrait, a guitar, a hanukkiah, and a pair of stilettos.

For information, contact shulmanchocolate@gmail.com or 972-(0)54-590-2198.

  1. Great Mini World, Yokne’am Illit

Great Mini World is the creation of the late miniatures craftsman Herbert Moshe Samter. A former bookbinder, Samter began building models in 1986 using natural materials such as sticks, seeds, and leaves. Here you can see amazing miniature houses, shops, gardens, libraries, musical instruments, doll furniture, and more.

 Vidor Center, Hazeva

The Vidor Center in the Arava region of the Negev, established in 2014, uses a variety of interactive exhibitions showing how Israel makes the desert bloom and introducing the farming families living off this arid land. You can buy Arava-grown products at the end of the tour.

For information, click here. To arrange a tour in English, email visit@arava.co.il

  1. Fetter Nanoscience & Art Museum, Ramat Gan

Opened last summer at Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA), this museum shows what happens when scientists and artists put their talents together. The artworks give a dynamic view of the microscopic magic in BINA’s 71 biologies, physics, chemistry, engineering, and computer science labs. In one display, 150,000 rubber bands depict the healing process of damaged neurons; in another, 16 electric violin players pinpoint the moment that synchrony transitions to chaos.

 Mizgaga Museum, Nahsholim

Mizgaga, an unusual pairing of archeology and glass, is housed in a 19th-century two-story stone structure at Kibbutz Nahsholim on the northern coast. It was built as a factory for producing glass wine bottles, managed by none other than Meir Dizengoff, who was later to become the first mayor of Tel Aviv.

The venture failed, partly because of the local sand’s unsuitability for glassmaking. The factory sat abandoned until 1980 when members of the kibbutz began to restore the structure. They decided to display archeological treasures from nearby Tel Dor, along with contemporary glass and ceramic art.

Tours can be booked in advance for English-speaking groups of 10 or more.

 Tzedaka for Centuries, Jerusalem

This exhibition is about the history of charitable giving (tzedakah) from biblical to modern times and is housed in Pantry Packers, the food distribution arm of Tzedakah Central/Colel Chabad, a network of social services established in 1788.

Among the artifacts are 19th-century documents from Sir Moses Montefiore, a major benefactor of pre-state Palestine. Peruse the informative displays when you arrive for a scheduled visit to pack food for distribution to food-insecure Israelis.

 Beit Ussishkin Museum, Dan

This unique nature museum in Upper Galilee is devoted to nature, geography, and archeology in the lush Galilee panhandle. The beautiful stone structure was designed by noted 1930s Bauhaus architect Leopold Krakauer. It was built in the 1950s by stonemasons from Jerusalem at the time that Lake Hula, later to be rewilded, was being drained to create farmland.

Individuals can tour the museum’s three-dimensional dioramas, beautiful nature films, and special exhibitions on life in the biblical period. Groups can book an English-speaking guide who will add custom-tailored activities, games, and lesson plans.

 House of Copper, Safed

Israel’s newest museum, House of Copper, just opened in the home of the late Arieh Merzer, one of the founders of the Artists Quarter of Safed (Tzfat).

This preserved heritage site presents Jewish copper art, a genre that Merzer helped develop as the only survivor of a group of Jewish coppersmiths in Nazi Europe. Among the works curated by his grandson is Merzer’s copper carving of the famed Ari Synagogue of Safed.

Visits must be scheduled by appointment; 052-471-7092.

  1. Otzar HaSTAM, Safed

Otzar HaSTAM is the largest center in the world engaged in writing scrolls for Torahs, tefillin, and mezuzahs (the Hebrew acronym for these items is STAM, and otzar means “treasure”).

Sitting in a revolving theater, visitors watch a 3D movie about Jewish scribal arts and the Hebrew alphabet. Then a professional scribe guides them in trying their hand at the craft. At the end is an automated quiz on the topic. Outside, giant sculptures of the Hebrew letters are set in a landscaped garden with a magnificent view.

By Abigail Klein Leichman (Israel21c)

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