NEW YORK (Aug. 1)
The State of California will provide the Simon Wiesenthal Center with some $5 million in state matching funds to aid in construction of a “museum of tolerance” on the grounds of the Yeshiva University in Los Angeles.
Governor George Deukmejian signed Senate Bill 337, which provides the state funds, Tuesday following approval July 18 by both the State Senate and Assembly. Deukmejian, according to his chief of staff, Steven Merksermer, supported the funding because he felt sympathy for the suffering of the victims of the Holocaust and other tragedies.
The proposed funding for the museum triggered considerable discord within the Jewish community of California with the state offices of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, among others, voicing strong opposition to the legislation.
Construction of the museum is expected to begin in early 1986. The total campaign for the museum is $35 million, according to Center officials. The Center has raised some $12 million from the private sector, and along with the $5 million from the state leaves the Center some $3 million short of the $20 million needed for the “bricks and mortar” aspects of the museum’s construction. A campaign to raise a $15 million endowment for museum operations will soon begin, Center officials said.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a telephone interview that the museum “will seek to explore the origins of hate and prejudice by utilizing the Holocaust as the watershed event of the 20th century.” Construc- tion, he said, is expected to take one year. It will be designed by Karl Katz, chief designer and planner for the Museum of the Diaspora at Tel Aviv University.
Hier said the museum will be what he described as “an experiential museum, where the viewer will be expected to do far more than just be a passive visitor.” The viewer “will be forced to confront the question of what is legitimate prejudice … and what makes one cross over from the legitimate prejudice to become a bigot,” he said.
The bill signed by the Governor also requires that a community advisory committee be formed for the new museum and that the Legislature be briefed on construction progress. The bill was authored and introduced last February by State Senate President pro-tem David Roberti, a Los Angeles Democrat, and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Katz, a Democrat representing the San Fernando Valley.
Roberti and Katz praised the Governor for signing the legislation. Roberti said, “I am proud as the leader of the California Senate … to assist the creation of this new museum.”
He said some 10,000 California residents sent messages supporting the Senate bill, adding, “Their call for action was heard.” Katz said, “We hoped that the slogan of never again will come to have meaning for all people.”
While Sens. Alan Cranston (D) and Pete Wilson (R) and Mayors Tom Bradley of Los Angeles and Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco supported the funds for the museum, some Jewish organizations opposed it, fearing a breakdown in the separation of church and state.
The ADL, in a letter on behalf of its regional offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Ana and San Diego, said that while they supported the idea of a museum to chronicle the Holocaust and other genocides of the 20th century, “the funds should be given to an appropriate public institution such as the University of California or the California State University for this objective.”