In the last three decades of the 20th century, more than 1 million Russian Jews voted with their feet by emigrating, leaving behind little of what was once the world's biggest Jewish community.
"For the Russian Jewish community to do this is really amazing," says head designer Ralph Appelbaum, whose company, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, is the world's largest museum exhibit design firm.
"But it's not a 'Jewish museum,' " he adds. "Rather, it's a museum of Russian history, told through the eyes of the Jews who stayed here – not those who left – and demonstrating the experience of this 'other' community in Russia..... The aim here is that all Russians schoolchildren should come here, experience it, and think about what it means to live in modern Russia."
Honest about anti-Semitism
Organizers say the museum pulls no punches about the impact of anti-Semitism in Russian and Soviet life, but also sheds light upon the immense contribution of Russia's Jews to the country's cultural and scientific life, and the solidarity among all Soviet citizens when faced with an existential crisis by the Nazi invasion after 1941.
The central purpose is to reintegrate Russian history, by exposing Russians to the experiences of people who lived among them, but were often persecuted.
"This is a different kind of museum, it's more about ideas than things," says Mr. Appelbaum. "Russia is famous for its museums, which hold vast collections full of marvelously preserved things. That's great, but this museum is just about the stories of people's lives."