The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, billed as the world’s largest Jewish museum, opened in Moscow, inviting visitors to experience the story of the Jewish people as told through the lens of the many generations living in Russian-speaking lands.

“This is another step in quelling anti-Semitism in Russia,” President Vladimir Putin told Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar on the eve of the museum’s inauguration last week.

Spearheaded by Lazar, who directs the activities of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries throughout the former Soviet Union, and his Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, the center is housed in the Bakhmetyevsky Bus Garage, a Russian landmark that was saved by condemnation and donated to the FJC for restoration.

“Every individual should be educated about the past, the present and the future of the Jewish nation,” Lazar said at the opening.

Designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the museum is divided into 12 galleries and features a host of high-tech displays based on the latest interactive media technology, with 4-D circular cinema where visitors can experience wind, smoke, smells, splashing water and vibrating seats as they watch a 10-minute film called “The Beginning” that evokes the biblical creation of the world.

While teaching visitors about Jewish traditions and the everyday life of Jews, the museum charts the history of the wars and disasters that affected every Russian family in the 20th century, such as the October Revolution, Civil War and World War II, as told through the eyes of Jews of that time. Visitors can wander through a cobbled market-square from Czarist times to the thunder of approaching hooves and then hear the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire from World War II.

Israeli President Shimon Peres inspects an interactive computerized Torah scroll at the museum.
Israeli President Shimon Peres inspects an interactive computerized Torah scroll at the museum.

“This museum is a declaration of tolerance,” said Israeli President Shimon Peres. “There is no other museum like this that reflects history like this one. I want to thank you in the name of the Jewish nation and the State of Israel for building this.”

The museum is designed with landscapes that imitate valleys, cliffs, rifts and plateaus, allowing visitors to connect to the experiences of Jews within Russia who lived an unsteady life of acceptance within Russian society. It thus expresses the Jewish nation’s aspirations, tragedies, and eventual arrival as an accepted part of Russia.

“Russia is proud and honored with the erection of this museum,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “I am proud that this museum gives the embodiment of the dialogue between the two nations.”

The speakers praised the fact that Russia’s battle against the Germans was the fatal blow that contributed the end of the Holocaust.

In total, more than 12 hours of video were produced for the museum.

“This is a new era,” said Lazar, “for Russian Jews.”