Rabbi Moshe Englander stared down at a bookmark where he calligraphed a woman’s name in Hebrew as a half-dozen or so visitors to the Museum of the Bible watched the lettering appear piecemeal on a display screen.
It was the first time the woman, who gave her name as Hannah, had ever seen her name written in Hebrew characters — an artistic script that has been used for thousands of years.
Rabbi Englander’s demonstration at the museum in Southwest Washington is similar to what he does as a sofer — a professional who transcribes the Sifrei Kodesh, or holy scrolls, that comprise the Torah, also known as the Five Books of Moses. Those inscriptions take 18 months of dedicated, daily effort, the rabbi said.
The in-person demonstration of Hebrew lettering is one of many elements at the museum that don’t always translate into online presentations, said Jeff Kloha, the museum’s chief curator.
The Museum of the Bible is “not like an art gallery where they have a beautiful painting and you can kind of see that online,” Mr. Kloha said. “Here it’s very interactive, immersive, the sound, the touchscreens — everything requires a physical presence. So it is very much a hands-on experience, rather than an online virtual experience.”
With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and fears, Mr. Kloha said he expects the number of annual visitors to return to 450,000 a year, up from a low of “about 180,000” at the pandemic’s peak. In 2022, he said, attendance was “a bit over 300,000.”
“We’re just kind of riding the wave of D.C. tourism and trying to get people back into buildings,” he said.
Opened in November 2017, the MOTB offers “many different forms of engagement,” Mr. Kloha said. “If you want to do more kind of classic reading [of exhibit descriptions], you could do that, if you get a little more tired and you want to be a little more passive, you could do that. That’s quite intentional, to hit different age groups, different learning styles and present material in fresh ways.”
The curator said having special exhibits from the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the Vatican Library add to the variety of available materials. The MOTB renewed its pact with the Vatican Library in January and is “finalzing” a similar renewal with the Israeli organization, he said.
A “Scripture and Science” exhibit that opened in January has engaged visitors and drawn raves, Mr. Kloha said.
He said the displays, which include the Communion set astronaut Buzz Aldrin used on the moon as well as ET’s communicator device, are “helping people walk through these key questions that people have and how science and people of faith approach those questions. So the response has been very, very positive.”
Future exhibits will highlight the story of the Haigha Sophia in Istanbul, the onetime Christian church-turned-mosque that is now a global tourist attraction; an exhibit on the history and restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; and a display of Nativity cribs from Malta, which is becoming an annual event, he said.
The Museum of the Bible is located at 400 Fourth St. SW and online at www.museumofthebible.org.