Last week's $6 million gift from Russian-Israeli billionaire Leonid Nevzlin to Beit Hatefutsoth, the Tel Aviv-based Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, is the start of a major international effort to help fund a vast new Museum of the Jewish People targeted at Israelis.
The $24m. museum will encompass 16,000 square meters, with roughly a quarter of that space housing a permanent exhibition sprawling over three floors. It is expected to open in 2012.
Nevzlin, who chairs the international board of governors of Beit Hatefutsoth, is credited with rescuing the institution in 2004 after government budget cuts had put its future in doubt.
He announced the $6m. gift at an event he hosted in honor of his 50th birthday, which was held at the museum's building on the Tel Aviv University campus on September 23.
"I believe that visitors at the museum will not only be moved emotionally, but it will also teach them about their Jewish roots, and succeed in connecting them with the collective story of the Jewish people," Nevzlin said after announcing his donation.
The new museum will be "unprecedented in both its size and wealth of content," promised a statement from Nevzlin's NADAV Fund describing the gift.
The museum is meant to present to Israeli visitors, particularly youth and soldiers, the story of modern Jewish communities outside Israel.
According to experts, most Israeli youth pass through the state education system without a single lesson on the Diaspora.
More than 60 percent of 150 history and civics teachers polled said the subject of Diaspora Jewry had never entered their classrooms, according to a 2006 study by the American Jewish Committee's Israel/Middle East Office and the Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv. Another 25% said they did not know if it had been taught in their classrooms.
Only 13% said they had taught it or heard of it being taught at least once.
The AJC's Rabbi Edward Rettig, who coordinated the study, said at the time that the findings amounted to "slipping down the slope of mutual alienation" between Israel and the Diaspora.