"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 that 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, dean and 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 be 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 expressed 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. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Unmarried with Movie
Two years ago, Dana Lustig was 32, single and at her wit's end.
The Israeli was working odd jobs and odd hours as a wannabe filmmaker, but her parents had other ideas. "Why can't you just find a good provider, get married, have kids and make movies as a hobby," they said to her, nagging. Being thirtysomething and single, they argued, was cause for alarm.
"I was starting to feel worthless," says Lustig, who attended AFI and co-founded her own production company here after serving two years in the Israeli army during the Lebanon War. "So I thought: 'Fine. If all they care about is my getting married, I'll find someone, anyone, go to Las Vegas and get married, just to get everyone off my back. Then I'll get divorced.'"
In the end, Lustig didn't go through with the stunt. Instead, she parlayed the idea into her directorial debut, "Wedding Bell Blues" (it opens today in Los Angeles), in which three 30-ish roommates (Illeana Douglas, Paulina Porizkova, Julie Warner) drive to Las Vegas to find throwaway husbands. They chant, with irony, "Better divorced than unmarried."
As the director told The New York Times: "Maybe the big philosophers have agreed to the [feminist] revolution, but our parents and our boyfriends and the people who we work with every day haven't gotten that message yet."
The film parodies all the societal pressures by drawing on the experiences of Lustig, screenwriter Annette Goliti Gutierrez and all their friends. One such experience comes from the director's stint in the Israeli army: "A friend and I were guarding our base, with guns -- and talking about putting Scotch tape on our foreheads to [forestall] the wrinkles," says Lustig, with a groan.
And then, behind the scenes, there was a case of life imitating art. In "Wedding Bell Blues," Douglas' character attends her younger sister's wedding; Lustig had to fly home for her younger brother's nuptials shortly after wrapping the shoot.
"I was really dreading it," says Lustig, whose company is executive-producing a film starring Joe Mantegna and Rob Lowe. "But then my movie was opening in Israel, so I had an answer for every aunt who nudged me: 'Leave me alone and go watch the film!'" -- Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer