Diaspora Museum Shuts Down After Employees Declare Strike

The entire work force of Beth Hatefutsoth, the frequently visited Nahum Goldman Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, has been fired and the museum has been temporarily closed.

In the brief dismissal notices the approximately 100 employees received earlier this month, they were informed that the museum was being closed down indefinitely “for vacation.”

The museum was shut down after employees, angered by what they viewed as an arbitrary 8 percent deduction from their wages, declared a strike June 15.

Repeated phone calls to Giora Goren, the museum’s director, were not returned.

But the office of Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo, who co-chairs the museum’s board of directors, released a statement about the museum.

“Beth Hatefutsoth has been closed down temporarily for reorganization,” the statement read. “It will be reopened to the public once the structural and organizational changes that will enable this important institution to function best are made.”

The museum’s workers, whose strike gained media attention only after they were fired, have thrown up picket lines around the closed building, which is located on the campus of Tel Aviv University.

“Close Down Beth Hatefutsoth — And You Have Closed Down the Heart of the Jewish People,” reads one of the posters held by the protesters outside the museum.

Tourists from abroad and local youngsters eager to tour the museum instead find a handwritten notice taped to the front door: “Sorry. We Are on Strike.”

According to Assia Reuben, who worked in the museum’s public relations department before being fired, more than 250,000 people visit the museum annually: 60 percent from abroad, 40 percent from Israel.

The museum’s annual budget stands at about $5 million, half of which comes from a governmental grant. The rest comes from the Jewish Agency for Israel, Tel Aviv University, the Tel Aviv municipality, private donors and income from visitors, merchandise and seminars, according to museum officials.

“This is the natural history museum of the Jewish people,” Reuben said. “While many museums dealing with the Jewish past commemorate the Holocaust, we commemorate our heritage of creativity. We are the embodiment of Jewish continuity.”

Many of the striking employees fear that once the strike is over, not everyone will be re-employed.

Many of the employees believe that Milo is seizing the opportunity of the strike to do a thorough overhaul of museum staff, which may include replacing some members of management.

Beth Hatefutsoth was first opened to the public in 1978. The museum’s permanent exhibition is spread throughout its three stories and depicts various aspects of Jewish life in the Diaspora throughout history.

In addition to its exhibits, the museum provides an extensive photo and film archive. It also houses a genealogy center that allows visitors to trace the roots of their family names — etymologically and geographically — on the museum’s computers.

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