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Detail of a wooden ark with toy figures

Bar Mitzvah Ark

With a Wide Variety of Toy Animals, from Monkeys and Zebras to Dinosaurs to Penguins

An ark has dropped anchor at the Jewish Museum Berlin. It’s more than one meter long from bow to stern and more than one meter tall to the tip of its mast. What’s the story behind the vessel? Why are we presenting it? And what makes it so special for our museum? To answer these questions, let’s journey back in time to the Fraenkelufer Synagogue in Kreuzberg in 1990.

Map with all buildings that belong to the Jewish Museum Berlin. The W. M. Blumenthal Academy is marked in green

Where

W. M. Blumenthal Academy
Fromet-und-Moses-Mendelssohn-Platz 1, 10969 Berlin Postal address: Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin

Benjamin Marcus’s Bar Mitzvah

It was here that Benjamin Marcus celebrated his bar mitzvah on October 20, 1990, reading from Parashat Noah, which he had studied with his religion teacher. As the name suggests, Parashat Noah is the weekly Torah portion that tells the story of Noah’s Ark.

Footage of Benjamin Marcus reading from the Torah for the first time at his bar mitzvah; Jewish Museum Berlin, donated by Mirjam and Mario Marcus.

The Marcus Family and the Fraenkelufer Synagogue

The Marcus family has been associated with the synagogue on Fraenkelufer for generations. Various family members have celebrated their bar mitzvahs or bat mitzvahs there, and some have been married under the wedding canopy there.

Building an Ark

The bar mitzvah invitation was decorated with an illustration of an ark. But this was not all: inspired by the story, Mirjam Marcus decided to have a small ark built for the celebration. She asked the director of the Jewish Community Youth Center, Uri Faber, for help. The ark turned out to be much bigger than expected, offering plenty of room for toy animals.

A Celebration in the Museum

A puppet show and children playing and eating ice cream in a museum? The celebration in the rooms of the Jewish Department of the Berlin Museum was made possible by Vera Bendt, director at the time. She approached Mario Marcus after hearing he was looking for a suitable venue. She did not think the museum should limit itself to presentations of Jewish history. She wanted it to be a place for contemporary Jewish life. The ark was displayed in front of the rotunda on the upper floor of the Martin-Gropius-Bau, where the Jewish Department’s permanent exhibition had opened in 1986. This earlier institution was the precursor to today’s Jewish Museum Berlin.

Return of the Ark

After more than thirty years, the ark has returned to the rooms of the Jewish Museum Berlin. It will be permanently displayed in front of our library in the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy. It is only a stone’s throw from a much larger ark: ANOHA, the Children’s World of the Jewish Museum Berlin.

Tamar Lewinsky, collection curator

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