Wiesenthal Center Pursues Plans for Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is fully committed to building a $50 million museum in Jerusalem, despite skepticism expressed by some Holocaust scholars.

“We are close to acquiring a property and are putting together an advisory board in Israel, whose members will range from the far left to fervently Orthodox haredim,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean.

He said the new project will draw on the practical experience derived from running the center’s popular Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which deals with the Holocaust and other outgrowths of racism and ethnic hatred.

However, the Jerusalem museum will not duplicate these themes, Cooper said.

“It would be ludicrous to try and build a second Yad Vashem in Jerusalem,” said Cooper, referring to the famed Holocaust memorial in Israel’s capital.

No permanent name has been selected for the museum, but Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Wiesenthal Center, used the Talmudic phrase Kavod HaBriot, or Respect for Mankind, to indicate the thrust of its mission.

The museum will address two main themes.

One will deal with the last 100 years of Jewish history in Israel and the Diaspora, expressed mainly through the encapsulated experiences of Jews in different times and places.

The second, and more controversial, part of the project will focus on contemporary issues that represent “flash points” of tension and strife among different segments of the Jewish world.

Likely examples are confrontations between Orthodox and secular Israelis, or between American Jewry and Israeli lawmakers on the legitimacy of non-Orthodox conversions.

The museum project has been met with skepticism, and even derision, by some Holocaust experts.

Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg has suggested that the new museum might copy the interactive, high-tech atmosphere of the Museum of Tolerance.

“It will probably be a little bit of Disneyland with voices and disappearing bodies,” Hilberg said. “This is not my cup of tea.”

Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate, also had reservations. “I knew they had some kinds of confused ideas in the past, but we have the feeling that we don’t need [the proposed museum]” he said.

Qualified support came from Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti- Defamation League. “I think it’s important to help Israel deal with its intolerance problem. I’m not sure a museum is a way to do it,” Foxman told the Forward.

Cooper declined to respond to Hilberg, but he expressed surprise at Shalev’s comments.

“We have had two long meetings with Mr. Shalev, at which we explained our plans in detail,” said Cooper.

After the site for the Jerusalem museum is purchased, it will take about five years until the opening day, Cooper estimated.

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