Slanted View of Jewish Jerusalem

Israel Museum’s renewed $100 million campus displays a "commonality of cultures" that dilutes the Jewish connection with Jerusalem.

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 13:38

Israel Museum display of three religions
Israel Museum display of three religions
Israel news photo: Tim Hursley for Israel Mus

The inauguration of the Israel Museum’s renewed 20-acre campus Sunday evening features a display that aims at changing the "tendency" to view Jerusalem only through a Jewish perspective.

The three-year expansion and renewal project includes the comprehensive renovation and reconfiguration of the Museum’s three collection wings – for archaeology, the fine arts, and Jewish art and life – as well as the re-installation of its encyclopedic collections. The $100-million project is also designed to enhance visitor experience of the Museum’s art, architecture, and surrounding landscape. 

Avoiding a Tendency to See the World Only Through Jewish History
As with most public events in Jerusalem, however, it does not seem to have avoided a measure of controversy. Museum Director James Snyder was reported in The New York Times last week as having “sought to avoid” the tendency in Jerusalem, the historic capital of Israel for which the Jews have prayed for 2,000 years, to “see the world purely through Jewish history and culture.” 

The paper reports that Snyder has "emphasized the commonalities of cultures and tried to place Jewish history and practices in a broader and clearer context.” As an example, the Times mentions a new display that focuses on the Byzantine era: “On one side is a restored synagogue; next to it are a church and the prayer niche of a mosque. Roughly contemporary structures, they are placed in a way that highlights both their distinctiveness and their commonality.”      

Snyder, who has been in Israel for 18 years but has not become a citizen of the country, told the Times that his contribution to Israel is to help build a world-class institution and to urge the society to look toward the universal rather than the provincial and patriotic.

No Response from Livnat
Israel National News
requested a comment from Culture Minister Limor Livnat several days ago on this way of looking at Israel's connection to Jerusalem, but has not received a response. 

Two of the most important elements of the Israel Museum are left as they were: the Shrine of the Book complex, housing the Dead Sea Scrolls and unique manuscripts of the Bible, and a 50:1 scale model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, originally situated on the grounds of what used to be the Holyland Hotel in Jerusalem.

Week-Long Series of Events
A special week-long series of public programs and events is planned for the inauguration, beginning Sunday night with the appearance of President Shimon Peres. The events will include concerts by prominent Israeli musicians, activities in the galleries for all audiences, and a late-night art and music festival, engaging artists, writers, and performers with the renewed Museum and its landscape.

The just-completed project doubles the Museum’s gallery space and increases its architectural footprint by approximately 15 percent, all within the Museum’s existing 20-acre campus. In total, it encompasses 7,800 square meters (84,000 square feet) of new construction and more than double that of renovated and expanded gallery space.

The project is supported by a $100-million capital campaign, representing the largest collective philanthropic initiative ever undertaken for a single cultural institution in the State of Israel.

All three of the Museum’s collection wings have been reconstructed, namely, the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology Wing, the Edmond and Lily Safra Fine Arts Wing, and the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life. Highlights include a chronological presentation of the Museum’s unparalleled archaeological holdings from the ancient Land of Israel, the first permanent galleries for Israeli Art and more than double the gallery space for the extensive Modern Art holdings, and a newly configured Synagogue Route.

The Israel Museum is the largest cultural institution in Israel and is ranked among the leading art and archaeology museums in the world. Founded in 1965, it houses encyclopedic collections ranging from prehistory through contemporary art, and includes the most extensive holdings of Biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world, among them the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Museum has built a far-ranging collection of nearly 500,000 objects through an unparalleled legacy of gifts and support from its circle of patrons worldwide.