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Le chaim! The Jewish Museum of Switzerland has a New House
The Jewish Museum of Switzerland is moving into a new, large building at Vesalgasse 5 in 4051 Basel. The new property offers 750 m2 of space for permanent and temporary exhibitions, workshops and events, a library, and an office. Built in the 19th century as a tobacco warehouse, the building most recently served as a furniture storage. The Association for the Jewish Museum of Switzerland signed a long-term lease agreement in September 2020. Prerequisite for the renovation of the house is a building permit, which will be requested in June 2021. Daniel K. Röschli / Röschli Architektur AG, the architect in charge of the building project, will submit the building application on 11 June 2021, in what is the museum’s first milestone towards the new house. The museum is also advised by Prof. em. Roger Diener.
To finance the renovation and the operational costs until 2033, six million francs will be raised from private and public, Jewish and non-Jewish sources. A further ten million francs are to be raised after the museum re-opens to serve as capital for generating income to cover the museum’s operating costs.
In Europe, the Jewish Museum of Switzerland was a pioneer, founded in 1966 as the first Jewish museum in the German-speaking area after World War II.
Within Basel’s museum landscape, the Jewish Museum is a grand dame. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have come to Kornhausgasse 8 to see the museum’s various special exhibitions since the 1970s and to learn about Judaism, many for the first time. The founding director, Dr. Katia Guth-Dreyfus, led the museum from 1966 to 2010, and Nadia Guth Biasini, her daughter, is now the president of the Museum’s Association, and responsible for providing the museum with additional space at Petersgraben 31 (2017 to 2020). Dr. Naomi Lubrich has been the director of the museum since 2015.
On the Basel city map, the house is located in a symbolically significant area that was the center of the first, medieval Jewish community in Basel. The site of the house had been the first medieval Jewish cemetery on the territory of present-day Switzerland. Gravestones belong to the earliest Jewish testimonies in Switzerland, and several remain in excellent condition. Selected stones excavated during the construction of the Kollegienhaus of the University of Basel have been on display in the courtyard of the Jewish Museum of Switzerland since 1970. In Hebrew, cemetery is referred to as «Beit Chaim,» or «House of Life». In this spirit, the museum is to become a lively cultural center for Jewish culture.
The Patrons’ Circle is represented by:
- Dr. René Bloch, Jewish Studies, University of Bern
- Martine Brunschwig Graf, ex. National Councillor LDP, Geneva
- Joël Dicker, writer, Geneva
- Prof. em. Roger Diener, architect, Basel
- Christoph Eymann, National Councillor LDP, Basel
- Ralph Friedländer, Vice President SIG and DFA, Bern
- Josef Helfenstein, Director, Basel Art Museum
- Eva Herzog, Member of the Council of States SP, Basel
- Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violinist and composer, Bern
- Yves Kugelmann, publicist, Basel
- Dr. Lukas Kundert, theologian, president of the church council of the Evangelical Reformed Church Basel-City
- Renée Levi, artist, Basel
- Thomas von Planta, Baloise, Zurich and Basel
- Stephan Schmidt, Director, Music Academy Basel/High School of Music FHNW
- Dr. Emile Schrijver, Director General, Joods Cultureel Kwartier, Amsterdam
- Denise Tonella, Director of the Swiss National Museums, Zurich
- Petra B. Volpe, screenwriter and director, Berlin and New York
- Nina Zimmer, Director, Kunstmuseum Bern and Zentrum Paul Klee
The new premises can already be visited. The installation «Literally Jewish. A Lexicological History» leads through four hundred years of definitions of the word «Jewish» – from Dialect to Wikipedia and from antagonistic to affirmative. It is open to the public on selected Sundays.