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N.Y. Jewish museum shows life amid the ruins


NEW YORK, Oct. 7 (JTA) — The future of much of the area near the former World Trade Center is still uncertain, but a Jewish museum just blocks from Ground Zero is forging ahead with plans to build a new wing.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A living Memorial to The Holocaust, located in Battery Park on Manhattan’s southern tip, has been closed since the terrorist attacks on September 11th.

At its reopening ceremony last Friday, nearly 100 guests and speakers — including New York Governor George E. Pataki, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and several New York City officials — walked past National Guard checkpoints, nonfunctional phone booths, and evacuated apartment buildings to enter a museum that was built to symbolize renewal and rebirth.

Manhattan District Attorney and museum chairman Robert M. Morgenthau said the reopening of the museum is symbolic.

“The Museum represents the ability of human beings to rebuild after catastrophe and is a symbol of remembrance and renewal,” Morgenthau said. “This is why it is so important that we reopen now.”

The core exhibition of the museum, which opened in 1997, focuses on three themes: Jewish Life a Century Ago, The War Against the Jews, and Jewish Renewal.

“I cannot imagine a better symbol for the rebirth of our city than the reopening of this museum,” Sen. Clinton said. The museum “helps us experience the incomprehensible and unimaginable. It takes us to a place that we wish we could consign to the past but unfortunately still lives in the human spirit.”

By reopening the museum, Clinton added, Americans are demonstrating that “we choose life” even in the face of evil.

Clinton said it is more important than ever that teachers take their students to see the museum because it will help them understand “what we face today.”

Gov. Pataki agreed.

“The entire third floor of this museum talks about the renewal of the Jewish life and experience out of the horror of the Holocaust,” he said. “On Sept. 11th we faced unspeakable evil but our renewal is coming. This museum and its reopening is a tribute to that.”

In response to the terror attacks, museum workers will bring the museum’s student workbook, “Meeting Hate With Humanity,” to public and parochial schools throughout New York City as part of its ongoing educational outreach programs.

Visitors who arrived after the reopening ceremony felt that going to the museum allowed them to honor not only Holocaust victims but also the victims of the September 11th attack.

Clara and Tom Welbourne of Louisiana said their visit would allow them to “pay homage to all people who had gone through hardship due to fanaticism and bigotry.”

The couple said they see many similarities between the Nazi ideology behind the Holocaust and the motivations of the terror attacks.

The museum also is forging ahead with plans to build an east wing, the first new construction in lower Manhattan since the World Trade Center attack.

Museum officials are “pleased to be part of the revitalization of the downtown area, and are confident that together we all can rebuild this great city,” museum director David Marwell said.

The $60 million addition, which will more than triple the size of the museum, is projected to open in November 2003. It will house a theater, classrooms, expanded gallery space, a living history center, a library and resource center, cafe and catering hall, offices and a memorial garden.

The wing will be financed by a number of sources, including $1 million from the State of New York, $22 million from the City of New York, $8 million from the City Council, $6 million from the Edmond J. Safra Foundation and a $500,000 grant arranged by the New York State Assembly.

Museum Trustees Bernard Spitzer, Peter Kalikow and others also have made significant contributions.

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