Saturday, June 27, 2009

Israel: Ambitious New Plan To Reinvent & Rename Beth Hatefusoth

Israel: Ambitious New Plan To Reinvent & Rename Beth Hatefusoth

by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) As work on the new Israel Museum facility in Jerusalem moves into its final phases, an ambitious new plan to reinvent and rename Tel Aviv's Beth Hatefusoth (Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora) has been announced. The preliminary concept for the museum - developed by curator Dr. Orit Shaham-Gover - was presented to the Board of Governors of Beth Hatefutsoth on June 26th. The $25 million project envisions an entire rebuilding and redesign of the existing museum structure.

The museum, which in recent years has been beleaguered by organizational, financial and identity problems - will also change its name from the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora to the Museum of the Jewish People. For the first time in its history the museum appears to have rallied Israeli government support and international organizations and donors to sustain and expand its mission. When the museum opend in 1978 it was hailed as one of the most innovative history museums in the world, and was one of the first museums that was fully designed around a didactic mission, rather than a collecting one. Beth Hathfusoth pioneered many methods of using photo and later digital documentation to tell historical and ethnographic narratives, but beginning in the 1990s when a new wave of high-tech Jewish museums opened in America and Europe, many questioned Beth Hatefusoth’s ability to compete and to sustain relevancy.

Throughout its history the museum has also struggled with its very identity. As a museum devoted to maintaining the history of Jews in the Diaspora its mission was at odds with the mainstream Israeli social, political and cultural agenda. The new plan and the new name are apparently designed to address and rectify these old problems.

For more on the story see Schelly Talalay Dardashti's report on Tracing the Tribe.

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