Museum tapestry

Beit Avi Chai screened a series of conflict-related films during Tisha Be’av, but this year did not attract quite as many people as in the past.

By
August 14, 2019 21:41
4 minute read.
The Israel Museum

The Israel Museum . (photo credit: TIM HURSLEY / COURTESY THE ISRAEL MUSEUM)

AS IT does every year, Beit Avi Chai screened a series of conflict-related films during Tisha Be’av, but this year did not attract quite as many people as in the past.

In previous years, the screenings began at 1 p.m. This year they began at 11 a.m. Previously, admission to screenings was free of charge. People showed up ahead of time in order to get a good seat. People allowed relatives and friends who came later to stand with them in line, while others who had been standing behind them, sometimes for more than an hour, objected. This prompted Beit Avi Chai executive director David Rozenson to decide to charge a symbolic NIS 10 per film. Altogether, there were three documentaries and one feature film – all of them of high standard.

In the past the auditorium was full to overflowing for the first film. Empty seats gradually became available later in the day. This time, the two front rows were completely empty for the first screening, with several empty seats elsewhere in the auditorium.

ADMITTEDLY, A lot of people would probably have seen Ran Tal’s documentary The Museum at the Jerusalem Film Festival or at subsequent screenings, but it remains relevant in terms of its broad and varied tapestry of information.

The film shows that conflict has different implications in different places. It can take place on the battlefield, at a negotiating table, in a marital situation – and, yes, even in a museum, where people of diverse cultural backgrounds have different opinions on what should be exhibited, and how things should be exhibited.
The Israel Museum has Muslim Arab as well as Jewish and Christian people on its staff. It also has in its storerooms an exquisitely rich collection of Palestinian embroideries that have never been put on public display, other than the brief and partial glimpse given to audiences of the documentary.

When one of the Arab curators asks why it has never been shown, the answer given by a Jewish curator is somewhat lame, that there is no wish to provoke the Palestinians into charging that the collection was looted, or that the Israelis are being patronizing in their sovereignty. From the expression on his face, it is obvious that the Arab curator doesn’t buy this, but he doesn’t take it further. He is, after all, the minority in the room, although he is not the only Arab present.

There was also conflict years ago, when the rabbi of Venice decided to sell the synagogue to a wealthy philanthropist, who had it dismantled and brought to the Israel Museum, where it was reassembled.

The camera focuses on a museum employee who came to Israel from Venice when she was 19, fell in love, got married, and stayed. Her family has lived in Venice for 400 years. She recalls the consternation that followed the rabbi’s decision to sell, but then says how grateful she is to be able to live in Jerusalem, yet sit in the synagogue attended by her father and her grandparents. For her, the conflict had a happy end.

Conflict also followed former museum director James Snyder, under whose tenure the museum was completely revamped, and reopened after a three-year hiatus in July 2010.

As fate would have it, Snyder’s mother died on the date of the gala relaunching. He was torn between mourning his mother and celebrating the launch. In discussing the matter with his sisters, they agreed that the last thing his mother would have wanted was to rain on his parade. With his sisters’ blessing, Snyder went ahead with the launch and began mourning his mother the following day.

In the film he talks about having been born and raised in the industrial town of Pittsburgh. At his school, he and his sisters were the only Jewish students, and during Passover, instead of taking regular sandwiches to school for lunch, they took tightly wrapped matza. In those days, the ambition of every boy in his class was to be big and to play football. Snyder was small and he didn’t play football. Instead he used to climb to the top of the hill and look out at the wider horizon.

“I was a nerd, and I’m still a nerd,” says the once-improbable Harvard alumnus in the film. Then, musing about the launch at which so many of Israel’s Who’s Who, including president Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were among those in attendance, along with many of the museum’s overseas friends and benefactors, he comments: “Who would have imagined that little Jimmy Snyder would be escorting the president and prime minister of Israel to their seats?” Snyder’s modest childhood lifestyle was so much in contrast, if not in conflict, with the lifestyle that he enjoyed as director of the Israel Museum.


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