Funny, you do look Jewish:
One day in the early 1990s, Barry Ragone, a Miami Beach dentist, spotted a wood panel in an auction-house storeroom in Fort Lauderdale. It had Hebrew writing on it, and it looked old. He bought it for $37.50. After years of research, Ragone discovered that it was a lot older than he’d thought—a thousand years old, give or take. According to experts in medieval Jewish art, it was originally the door to a Torah ark in Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue, where Maimonides prayed and the Geniza was housed.
At first, Ragone wanted the door to be in a Jewish institution. But after speaking with Gary Vikan, director of Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum, he changed his mind. He liked Vikan’s concept of a medieval-art gallery where Christian, Jewish, and Islamic art are commingled, showing how the cultures overlapped. And he liked the idea of a portal linking the Jewish community to the museum. For a sum that was less than half of the $1 million he believed the panel to be worth, he partially sold, partially donated it to the Walters, which acquired it in partnership with Yeshiva University Museum. The object will be featured in a show about Jewish life in medieval Egypt opening at the Walters in fall 2012 and later traveling to YUM.
The Walters is one of a number of mainstream museums that are intensifying efforts to incorporate Jewish ritual objects–everything from ancient ceremonial silver to cutting-edge Hanukah lamps– into exhibitions, collections, and programming. Read more in my story “Out of the Ghetto,” today on tabletmag.com.