The Judah L. Magnes Museum of Berkeley California was established in 1962. Its mission is to explore Jewish life and culture in all of its complexity. The museum offers exhibitions showcasing of Jewish fine arts and ceremonial objects, as well as books and manuscripts. The Magnes reaches out to the community by offering educational programs, special exhibits, and publications. The museum is engaged in many issues concerning modern Jewish life as well as the long cultural history of the Jewish past.
Over 30,000 objects are housed at the Magnes Museum and available for sale. You can find all different forms of artistic expression, including paintings, posters, sculptures, prints, photographs and films, all dealing with some aspect of Jewish life. The Western Jewish History Center at the museum contains the world’s largest archive specifically featuring the culture and history of Jews living in the 13 western states of the U.S. Included are many original documents, such as letters, news clippings, photographs, diaries, books and public records. It also makes oral histories available. The museum’s Judaica Collection ranks as the third largest of its type in the U.S. It contains over 8,000 objects such as textiles, ceremonial silver, and ritual items used by Jewish communities all over the world, some going back over 300 years.
Paintings and sculptures form a prominent part of the Magnes’ collections, and can make for romantic holidays. The art is mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries. Artists are Jews from Europe, the U.S. and Israel. You may be familiar with some of the artists’ names: Isaac Israels, Moses Sayer, Max Lieberman, Jacques Lipshitz, Fritz Hisrchenberger, Joan Perlman and Harry Clewans. Not to be outdone, the Print and Drawing Collection has over 2,000 rare prints and drawings created by Jewish artists. You can view many types of media in these collections, including woodcuts, engravings, etchings, screen prints, lithographs, watercolors, posters and drawings.
Scholars make great use of the Blumenthal Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Over 12,000 rare books, many illustrated, can be found there, as well as manuscripts, sheet music, maps, Haggadot (Passover service books) and recordings. You can find information on just about any topic, from the meaning of life to life insurance rates. If the visual arts are of interest to you, you must visit the Photograph, Film and Video Collection. You can view over 2,000 slides and photos, both historic and artistic, that depict Jewish life in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa. There is an extensive collection of short films made from 1950 to 1990 by the United Jewish Appeal, as well as other agencies. Jewish filmmakers from around the world are represented by over 250 videotapes at the Magnes. The museum, though free, requests a small donation from visitors and offers free two-hour street parking.