Alumna Experiences Art History as an Assistant Curator in Jerusalem

11.02.2016
Racheli Berkovitz '14
Racheli Berkovitz '14"

Racheli Berkovitz ’10, a graduate student in art history at the Hebrew University, is working as an assistant curator at The Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art.

The 33-year-old museum, located in downtown Jerusalem, collects, preserves and displays objects pertaining to Jewish life in Italy beginning with the Renaissance period, featuring original artistic objects and documentation from Italy’s Jewish communities. 

As an assistant curator, Racheli helps research, plan and stage museum exhibitions. “Often that entails research into certain objects or explanation of broader subjects,” she said. “Right now we are working on a major exhibition opening on Sukkot to mark 500 years since the establishment of the Jewish ghetto in Venice. I’ve done a lot of reading and writing about the ghetto itself and related objects in our collection.” 

She is assisting the chief curator with certain aspects of the exhibition design and preparing objects for display, as well as writing some of the texts for the walls and the catalog.

Racheli moved to Israel a year ago to begin her master’s program, and hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in the field.

“Over the past few years I have done some volunteer work for the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem,” Racheli related.  “About two years ago I was put in touch with the chief curator of the Italian Museum. Because of its smaller size, I am able to contribute more and am given more opportunities than I would in a larger institution.”

She added that since the Italian Museum deals specifically with Judaica and Jewish life, “it is the best place for me to learn about the field I am trying to enter.”

Racheli majored in art history at Brandeis, fulfilling a direction she considered even when applying to colleges. 

“The Judaica piece of it entered the picture somewhere in my second year of college,” she recounted. “I was lucky enough to intern at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as they were developing their new Judaica collection. I had to read inscriptions, measure objects, study styles and look for hallmarks — real hands-on stuff.”

“It was probably at that time that I realized that paintings and drawings were not enough for me; I wanted to study objects, how they were used, what they say about a culture.”

“There’s often a lot to be said about famous figures and ‘high art,’ but the world of the laypeople and the objects that they used on a daily basis could use illumination,” Racheli continued. “One of the most exciting things is handling a piece and knowing that hundreds of hands held it before me, all tracing back to the first pair of hands that created it.” 

She said part of her job “is simply going through the online object database and making sure that all of the information on each object is properly entered.”

“For example, if I’m logging a Kiddush cup, I ensure that the medium, technique, date, place and measurements are in order, and often I will write a short description of the object that could later be used as a wall label should the object ever be displayed.” 

Racheli doesn’t have specific long-range plans beyond continuing her academic work. “I’m also hoping to continue in museum work and Judaica,” she said.

Meanwhile, she is living and working in a city that is “steeped in cultural events. There’s always something going on that is related to the arts, which is phenomenal.” 

“Being in the humanities can sometimes be disheartening because many people see it as a dying field, since science and technology are where the money is these days,” Racheli acknowledged. “In Jerusalem, people still see the value in the arts even if they themselves work in an entirely different field. The intellectual curiosity and the energy here always give my work a boost and remind me that the work I do has value and meaning.”

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