That's because the 27 ancient scrolls, 10 of which have never before been exhibited, are presented in a much larger context that offers viewers an overwhelmingly positive, even moving, depiction of ancient and modern Israel and the gift of the Israelites to world civilization. The underlying theme of the exhibit, which closes Jan. 6, is that the scrolls, and the culture that spawned them, are the world's treasures.
The other huge upside in a visit to the scrolls is that it involves a trip to San Diego and La Jolla.
We left Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon, and within three hours we were happily standing on the balcony of our room at the La Jolla Shores Hotel, facing a crashing surf and sandy beach.
The Spanish-style hotel sits directly on a stretch of beach popular with sunbathers, kayakers -- you can arrange guided visits to many local sea caves -- and surfers. Close to Los Angeles, it still feels worlds away, even more laid-back and resort-like. The hotel features two tennis courts, a heated swimming pool, Jacuzzi, fitness center and children's wading pool.
The grand mission-style dining room, whose arched windows look directly at the surf, serves high-end California cuisine with a substantial California wine list.
But the hotel's biggest draw is its unbeatable location. You can spend the day strolling the long beachfront boardwalk, visiting the campus of nearby UC San Diego, strolling the restaurant- and boutique-laden village of La Jolla and catching one spectacular view after another.
Shabbat here is a pleasure, because some of the greatest pleasures cost nothing. One highlight was a walk to see the sea lions, dozens of whom congregate naturally on a local beach to loll in the warm shallow surf or sunbathe. Don't get too close because: a) it's illegal and b) they stink.
Sunday, of course, belonged to the scrolls.
The San Diego Natural History Museum sits among the Moorish-style masterpieces of Balboa Park, San Diego's leisure and cultural heart.
The exhibit begins with stunning photographs of Israel and proceeds through a cultural and political history of the Jewish presence there. One interactive map shows Israel among all the countries in the Middle East.
"Man, it's tiny," said one man standing nearby.
The scrolls themselves occupy a large, darkened exhibit space. You'll need to shoulder through some bodies to get close, but the documents and their translations are deeply moving. They are presented in context with the relics and recreations of the lives of the Jews who, between 250 B.C.E. and 68 C.E., wrote and kept them.
Finally, the exhibit leads to modern Torahs, the scriptural descendants of those scrolls. Visitors are asked to reflect on the lasting resonance of their ideas and their diffusion into other religions. The effect is to be informed and uplifted, and if the comments in the visitor book are any indication, one can't help but be moved by the Jewish story.
"It made me really, really want to go to Israel," wrote one visitor.
Not bad for a weekend in La Jolla.
San Diego Resources
For information visit the museum Web site at www.sdnhm.org, or call (619) 232-3821.
Most of San Diego's kosher restaurants are around 60th Street and El Cajon Boulevard, a neighborhood with several Orthodox synagogues. Link to acomplete list of kosher groceries, bakeries and restaurants at www.jewishjournal.com/local/KosherEats.php.
La Jolla Shores Hotel
8110 Camino del Oro
La Jolla, CA 92037
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