Jewish Historical Museum, Jewish Cultural Quarter

Located on lively Waterlooplein (in English, Waterloo Square), the Jewish Historical Museum is a renowned institution devoted to documenting four centuries of Jewish life in Amsterdam. The Jewish Historical Museum is a key part of the Jewish Cultural Quarter (which also includes the Portuguese Synagogue, National Holocaust Museum, and the Hollandsche Schouwburg), and as such it’s home to a series of permanent exhibits that document Jewish history, culture, and religion. Regular temporary presentations cover an array of topics pertaining to Jewish art, customs, and traditions, while the Museum Café serves a delicious menu of kosher favorites.

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History of the Jewish Historical Museum

The Jewish Historical Museum occupies four historic buildings that once served as synagogues, and it’s within these restored structures that visitors will find several exhibits that showcase the attraction’s impressive permanent collection of ceremonial objects, informative films, and educational materials. The two most famous of these historic buildings—the Great Synagogue and the New Synagogue—date to 1671 and 1752, respectively.

In one form or another, the Jewish Historical Museum has existed for almost 100 years now. When the organization was first established, its primary focus was on presenting notable works of Jewish art to the public. During World War II, a significant portion of the museum’s collection was seized, but the institution reopened during the 1950s. The Jewish Historical Museum moved into its current location in 1987.

Jewish Historical Museum Highlights

The cornerstone exhibit of the Jewish Historical Museum is entitled Religion, and it’s located in the Great Synagogue. This majestic facility dates to 1671, and is considered the first widely recognized synagogue in all of Western Europe. Though it’s no longer in active use as a place of worship, visitors to the Religion exhibit will be able to garner a sense of what it would have been like to attend services here in times past. The artifacts on display as part of this show have been carefully chosen to provide a sense of Jewish traditions. An audio guide for Religion may be acquired at the museum’s ticket desk.

Other highlights of the Jewish Historical Museum’s permanent collection are presented in the exhibit Jewish Life Between 1600 and 1900, which uses a wide selection of historic objects and documents to tell the story of 300 years of Jewish life in Amsterdam; and Jewish Life After 1900, a fascinating look at the years leading up to World War II, the atrocities of the Holocaust, and the ways in which the Jewish community in Amsterdam rebuilt itself in the second half of the twentieth century.

The Jewish Historical Museum also routinely hosts all types of temporary exhibitions. By their very nature these special shows are ever-changing, but just for context, some recent temporary exhibitions staged here include New Era, New Art, which displayed artwork by acclaimed Jewish artists working in the Netherlands between 1880 and 1940; The Neighborhood Inside Out, an archival exhibition covering the history of Amsterdam’s Waterlooplein area; and Every Picture Tells a Story, a curated presentation of highlights from the Jewish Historical Museum’s photography collection.

More to See and Do at the Jewish Historical Museum

With so much to see and do at the Jewish Historical Museum, you’ll want to be aware of a few additional details in advance of your visit. Keep reading for more information about this popular attraction.

•The Jewish Historical Museum “Junior” exhibit is an area of the attraction specially designed for children. This unique portion of the museum has been built to resemble the home of a Jewish family, and within this kid-friendly space your little ones can learn all about Jewish life, tradition, and history.

•The Jewish Historical Museum Café is a great place to enjoy a meal before or after your visit. The menu features an assortment of classic Jewish dishes—many of which have been given Dutch cuisine-inspired twists and all of which are kosher. Favorite offerings here include gefilte fish, matzo pies, latkes, and a pear kugel, as well as pitas, wraps, and bagels.

•The Museum Shop is open every day of the week, and it’s a terrific place to pick up a gift, souvenir, or educational item. From art books to scholarly texts, this well-curated store sells a wide range of Jewish literature, in addition to a variety of jewelry, accessories, and objects pertaining to the museum’s temporary exhibitions.

•Admission to the Jewish Historical Museum entitles you to visit all other attractions associated with the Jewish Cultural Quarter organization. These include the Portuguese Synagogue, the National Holocaust Museum, and the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a historic theater that has been transformed into a memorial and exhibition space.

•Visitors with flexible travel schedules will be delighted to know that their admission to the ticket to the Jewish Historical Museum is good for an entire month. During that time period, ticket holders are entitled to visit each Jewish Cultural Quarter attraction once.

Why the Jewish Historical Museum Should Be on Your Must-See List

The Jewish Historical Museum is arguably the centerpiece attraction located within the Jewish Cultural Quarter, where visitors can gain a better understanding of the history, customs, and traditions that have defined the Jewish community within Amsterdam for centuries. Anyone desiring to know more about Jewish life in this vibrant city will absolutely want to add the Jewish Historical Museum to their Amsterdam must-see list.