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Jewish Journal

A New Museum

By Tom Tugend


by Tom Tugend

May 4, 2000 | 8:00 pm

Plans for the creation of the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance, a $120 million project, were unveiled at a Tuesday evening dinner by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Famed architect Frank Gehry will design the museum and conference center, which will rise on a 12-dunam site (3 acres or 12,000 square meters) in the French Hill section at the foot of Mount Scopus, home of the Hebrew University.

It will take about two years to complete the designs, to be approved by the Jerusalem municipality, and another two to three years to finish construction and install the exhibits.

In contrast to the original Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Jerusalem museum will not deal with the Holocaust, and will in no way compete with Yad Vashem, the official Israeli memorial authority, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said in a pre-dinner interview.

Rather, the museum's focus will be on promoting civility and tolerance among Jews, and between Jews and non-Jews, including Arabs, said Hier.

In the words of its mission statement, the museum will be a "world center to heighten consciousness and a catalyst to enhance sensitivity on issues of human dignity and responsibility. It will seek to promote civility and respect among Jews, and between people of all faiths and creeds."

As in the Los Angeles prototype, exhibits in the Jerusalem museum will be high-tech, interactive and experiential, and geared to the Internet generation.

"We are not interested in the state-of-the-art now, but what will be available on the market four years from now," said Hier.

However, the contents and messages of the exhibits will be determined by an advisory board of distinguished educators and thinkers in Israel, Hier added. The exhibits will be multi-lingual, including Hebrew, English and Arabic.

The official agenda of the Tuesday night dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel was to confer the Wiesenthal Center's Humanitarian Award on Gary Winnick, who announced that he and his wife Karen were donating $40 million toward the building of the Jerusalem museum.

The Wiesenthal Center and Winnick showed their clout by the guest list, which included the present Democratic and past Republican governors of California, the mayors of Jerusalem and Los Angeles, and the L.A. chief of police.

Via video, President Clinton and former President George Bush separately praised Winnick's character and generosity and pledged their support for the Jerusalem project.

Winnick is a 51-year-old business executive and multi-billionaire, who, by creating a fiber-optic cable network spanning five continents, has in a remarkably short time earned the title of wealthiest man in Los Angeles.

He described the new museum as "the first global institution of the new millennium."

As the last item of the evening, Hier announced that the Jerusalem center will bear the name "Winnick Institute" and then passed out baseball caps imprinted with the new name.

Gehry, most recently praised for his design of the Bilboa Museum in Spain, showed a slide of what he promised was only the first of numerous designs for the Jerusalem museum.

It showed seven modules, roughly arranged in a semicircle, which will house a great hall (with an intimate touch), conference center, library, restaurant, classrooms, and the tolerance museum as the centerpiece. Total usable space will come to about 130,000 square feet.

Gehry, 71, described his first Israeli assignment as "a very moving and tough project," that had already reconnected him with the Jewish world of his childhood.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said that his vision for the eternal city was a mosaic or symphony of diverse parts and voices, but co-existing in harmony.

"I'm certain that the museum will be an important ingredient in laying the foundation for that kind of tolerance in the capital of Israel," Olmert said.

Hier recalled during the private interview that the idea for the Jerusalem museum was first proposed by former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek in 1993, after touring the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance.

"Kollek opened every door for me," Hier said. There was a hiatus in the planning after Kollek lost his last mayoral bid, but Olmert soon took up the slack and the project went ahead.

Gehry's chief Israeli partners will be construction manager Eliezer Rahat, who supervised construction of the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem, and the architectural firm of Kolker, Kolker and Epstein.

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