TJMHC Unveils New Core Exhibit – Judaism: An Intimate Perspective

What is Judaism? Is it a religion? An ethnicity? Perhaps a race, nationality, or culture? How does one decide who is a Jew, or how to represent Jewishness? These questions are often at the heart of Jewish communal debates, as well as Jewish entanglements in society at large. Jewish existence predates most modern categories of peoplehood in use today, rendering many of these concepts limiting in their scope.

Tucson Jewish Museum & Holocaust Center’s (TJMHC) newest exhibit, Judaism: An Intimate Perspective aims to answer a few of these questions. With this new core exhibit, the TJMHC team uses material culture to provide a glimpse into the vast, multifaceted, and extraordinary embodiments of Jewish identity, Judaism, and Jewishness.

TJMHC recognized the need for this new educational opportunity for Jews and Non-Jews by talking with visitors. Staff and docents listened to the questions and comments as patrons worked their way through the Jewish History Museum and current core exhibits and saw a pattern emerging. An overall unfamiliarity with Judaism seemed to fuel minor misconceptions and led to an over-reliance on tropes and stereotypes. Judaism: An Intimate Perspective is designed to help visitors depart from negative misconceptions of Jewish identity and to instead embrace a framework that offers positive examples of what it means to be a Jew or to live Jewishly.

We know that this exhibit will not be able to contain everything there is to being Jewish. Rather, the goal is to provide many “points of entry” to what being Jewish is all about, so that Jews and non-Jews alike can learn something and see where they might identify with elements of the exhibit. To that end, Judaism: An Intimate Perspective attempts to show, rather than describe, nuanced expressions of Jewish culture and identity in contemporary Tucson and across various historical & geographic constellations. The items featured in this exhibit include Judaica, pop culture items, artistic works, and literature, as well as other varied expressions of Jewish belonging.

The exhibit offers visitors an opportunity to interact with artifacts and items of varied cultural and religious significance. For some, these aspects of Judaism will blend together seamlessly. Others may gain a better appreciation for the distinct differences within the culture, such as the different denominations of Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist etc.). Overall, we hope that those who take in the exhibit will lean into certain contradictions: how a secular Jew might come to have a bar mitzvah, or how Ashkenazi and Sephardi can be both ethno-cultural and religious distinctions.

Judaism and Jewishness are, like all identities, fluid and dynamic. Over the years, Jewish traditions have been created and left behind, Jewish culture has been adapted and shaped according to the needs of Jews across the diaspora. Far from remaining static, liturgy, architecture, cuisine, communal events have all shifted as Jewish communities have waxed, waned, expanded, and contracted. In exploring this multifaceted Jewish material culture, Judaism: An Intimate Perspective allows visitors to witness a glimpse of the vast scope of Jewish culture.

This exhibit was made possible with the generous support of a Community Impact Grant from Jewish Philanthropies for Southern Arizona funded by Zuckerman Family Fund, Marilyn Haas Community Youth Fund, and the Burt and Brenda Lazar Endowment.

The public is invited to see this new exhibition and revisit the rest of TJMHC’s Core Exhibit in the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Center during open hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Schedule group tours by calling 520-277-7075 or emailing