In June 2014, a unique exhibition of artifacts from the RMS Titanic, salvaged from the icy north Atlantic Ocean, will dock in Israel for three months. This is the first time such an exhibition has been displayed in the country.
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The British passenger liner set out 102 years ago on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, amid fanfares that the luxurious, “practically unsinkable” ship – transporting over 2,000 of the European and American elite – was the safest ship ever built. Tragedy befell the voyage when, just four days after leaving port, the Titanic hit an iceberg south of Newfoundland, sinking more than 12,000 feet to the bottom of the sea.
The Titanic has become a legend ever since, firing the imagination and interest of people all over the world. The movie “Titanic” (1997), directed by James Cameron and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, launched the stratospheric careers of the actors and was a massive box-office success, garnering 11 Academy Awards and becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.
The world’s ongoing fascination with the Titanic can be linked to its containing all the elements of a good yarn, including great opulence, extreme poverty, human terror, gross negligence and heroism. But it is much more than simply a good story to sigh over, claims Dr. Yael Sternhell, a senior lecturer in History and American Studies at Tel Aviv University. “Beyond the morbid fascination with the sheer scope of the disaster and with the sight of people wearing furs and jewellery sinking helplessly to their death,” she says, “it was a significant moment in the inception of 20th-century modernity, with all the risks and possibilities that entails.”
Furthermore, adds Sternhell, it was an important moment in global history. “The sinking of the Titanic has been seen as symbolic of the sinking of the old order, which was about to commence on a larger scale in World War I, and of the shifting balance between the old European aristocracy and a new American supremacy,” she says.
“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition,” currently on display in Russia and slated for the Israel Trade Fairs Center, Tel Aviv, from June 5 to August 28, is being brought to Israel by Dudi Berkovich, owner of the Hadran ticket office, at a cost of $3 million – an unprecedented sum for an exhibition in Israel. Most of this will be spent on insuring the many priceless pieces of jewellery, eyeglasses, diamond-studded clothing and tableware – such as cutlery fashioned from precious metals and delicate chinaware.
The exhibition will also present original photographs and life-size reconstructions of key rooms on the ship and a model of the ship’s infrastructure, detailing its technical failings.
The exhibition is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors when it opens. The deal, signed with Premier Exhibitions – a New York-based company that has sole rights for the display of recovered artifacts from the wreck – has been under negotiation for three years, according to Berkovich: “From the moment I saw 6,000 people standing patiently in the rain in Paris, waiting to enter the Titanic exhibition, I knew I wanted it,” he explained. Berkovich’s insistence paid off and preparations for this mammoth exhibition, which covers more than 2,000-square meters, are under way.
On show will be artifacts recovered in 1987 during deep-sea dives, using advanced marine technology. A beautiful silver pot used to serve hot chocolate and café au lait in the first-class restaurants, and a blue and white Delft china plate decorated with flowers, reserved for second-class passengers, provide a vivid image of the class distinction prevalent on board. Also on show will be delicate toy marbles made of glass – a poignant reminder of the 53 children who died when the Titanic sank (about half the number of under-12s onboard the boat).
There were also Jews traveling on the Titanic, either returning to America or intending to emigrate there. The ship even had a kosher kitchen catering to strict Jewish dietary laws. The best-documented Jewish couple onboard was Ida and Isidor Strauss, co-owners of the legendary Macy’s Department Store in New York. They both perished after Isidor relinquished a place on one of the few lifeboats available and Ida refused to leave without him.