FERRARA, Italy (JTA) – Italy got a Hanukkah present – the opening of a national Jewish museum.
The National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah, or MEIS, opened Wednesday with an inaugural temporary exhibit called “Jews, an Italian Story: The First Thousand Years” that illustrates the history of Jewish presence in Italy from ancient Roman times until the Middle Ages.
The exhibit, which will run until Sept. 16, is the first step in a multi-year program of exhibits and events that will culminate in the final form of the museum and its permanent core exhibit, which is expected in late 2020.
MEIS is located in a complex of buildings that once housed a prison in Ferrara, a historic town in northeast Italy between Venice and Bologna that has a Jewish history dating back to early medieval times.
President Sergio Mattarella and other dignitaries attended the formal inauguration ceremony on Wednesday. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who is from Ferrara and has been a longtime supporter of the project, was among those on hand.
“With this exhibition, a dream has been achieved and a great void filled,” Franceschini said. “A few years will be needed before MEIS sees its completion. However, today we have made an important step forward.”
The museum has been under development since 2003, when the Parliament passed a law mandating its establishment. Construction to date has been fully funded by the state, which has allocated about $55 million. Further funding is now being sought to cover operations.
Two buildings in the former prison complex have undergone reconstruction, and over the next three years modern structures inspired by the Torah and resembling giant, transparent books will be added to house the core exhibition, which is still in the early stages of development.