May 15, 2008
Tolerance Museum director doesn’t tolerate status quo
(Page 2 - Previous Page)According to Geft, the city is an ideal locale for the Museum of Tolerance since it represents a "veritable microcosm of a macrocosmic global world," where residents trace their roots to 140 different nationalities and the city is home to the largest Armenian, Korean, Filipino, Salvadoran and Guatemalan populations outside their respective capital cities.
"This city is a true social laboratory, and it's a perfect fit for an institution designed to be on the cutting edge of social change," she said. "I recall when there was a scare of poisonous strawberries in the Los Angeles Unified School District, letters were sent home to parents in more than 100 different languages. There is no better place to be when you're looking to build bridges of mutual understanding and cooperation between different groups."
Los Angeles is also a great home for the museum, not surprisingly, because of its proximity to major players in the entertainment industry at both the celebrity and corporate levels. Although Geft is adamant in pointing out that every visitor to the museum and participant in its social programs are VIPs, she observes her institution gets a major boost through the support of public figures.
"There are many important [Hollywood] players closely associated with Simon Wiesenthal Center, especially because our work is congruent with their causes and the charities that they embrace," she said. "They have the power to influence, and we are fortunate to have many of them coming to the museum."
Prior to a Museum of Tolerance preview of the 2007 film, "A Mighty Heart," an adaptation of Mariane Pearl's memoir on the search for her husband, kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, star Angelina Jolie toured the museum and watched a short documentary titled, "In Our Time," which covered terrorism and Pearl's death.
"After that, she recalled that her first visit to the museum in middle school made a profound impression on her," Geft said of Jolie.
In the Hilary Swank film, "Freedom Writers," teacher Erin Gruwell takes her students to the museum to get them thinking about tolerance.
"When celebrities make these kinds of statements, direct or otherwise, it really piques the interest of people," she said.
According to Geft, the principles the museum was built on will continue to be reflected in upcoming visiting exhibitions, which will cover such diverse topics as the Jews of modern China, Mexican diplomat Gilberto Bosques' efforts to rescue Jews from Vichy France during World War II and the struggle toward desegregation and equity in schools -- from Brown v. The Board of Education to the present.
Not surprisingly, bringing these exhibits to light will involve many hours and a lot of patience. Thankfully, Geft notes the support of her family enables her to do good and do well. And she says her patience and support pays off with every person impacted by the thought put into the permanent and temporary exhibits and the messages they convey.
"My professional life is not, 'I used to do this, but now I do that,'" she said. "It is a continuation of everything I have done my whole life, exploring new frontiers and finding new challenges to take on."
For more information on upcoming exhibitions and the museum, visit www.museumoftolerance.com.
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