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The Diaspora Museum (Beth Hatefutsoth) in Tel Aviv announced a plan at its international board of governors meeting on Thursday to renovate itself, in more ways than one.
Not only will the structure be physically rebuilt at a cost of $25 million into a modern, interactive, technological museum, but its entire approach to the history of the Jewish people will be - to use museum officials' term - modernized.
The renamed "Museum of the Jewish People," instead of telling the history of the Jewish Diaspora from the Destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the rebirth of the State of Israel, will start with Abraham and Sarah - and there won't be a final chapter.
"Thirty-one years after the museum was founded, we look at Jewish history from a more sober perspective," Diaspora Museum CEO Avinoam Armoni said. "The return to Zion wasn't the last chapter in Jewish history. Everyone who comes to the museum will add a new chapter.That's a significant change from the original approach."
The museum will also make a point of being more pluralistic and less Ashkenazi, Orthodox and male oriented, but the biggest change will be in its attitude to Diaspora Jews, who will be put on equal footing with their brothers in Israel following criticism that the museum's old approach was patronizing.
"Defining the relationship of the Diaspora and Israel did not give credit to the commonality and diversity of the relationship," Armoni said. "Jews from abroad felt they were not being treated as equal partners in the global Jewish story. There was a feeling of inferiority and delegitimacy. There is a thriving Jewish life outside Israel. Rather than deal with who is more or less important, we should move on together."
Armoni stressed that the historic centrality of Israel would not be changed in the museum and its portrayal of the suffering of Diaspora Jewry throughout history would not be sugar-coated. He said the changes had received overwhelming support from its benefactors around the world.
"It's a realization that life is complex and Jewish life abroad thriving," Armoni said. "You might call it politically correct. We call it realistic."
Knesset Education Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) said his committee would examine the changes to determine whether they crossed any red lines regarding accepted concepts of Zionism and the ingathering of the exiles.
The museum, which nearly closed down due to lack of funding two years ago, will remain open during the renovations, which are due to be completed in 2012. The 16,000 square meter museum will house a new permanent exhibition covering an area of 4,200 square meters, spread out over three floors in its Nahum Goldmann building on the Tel Aviv University campus. The project will be financed by the government, the Claims Conference, the NADAV Fund and other international donors, and is the culmination of a comprehensive renewal process undertaken in recent years with the support of the NADAV Fund established by the chairman of the museum's international board of governors, Leonid Nevzlin. Teams of architects, consultants, historians and academic advisors from Israel and abroad have already begun the planning and design of the new museum.
"This innovative museum is the first of its kind, and will be built on a scale never seen before in Israel," said Nevzlin, the leading force behind the project. "Its purpose is to convey the unique and ongoing story of the Jewish People, while giving expression to a new perception about the relationship between the Jewish People and the State of Israel - the perception of one Jewish People, incorporating Jews living in Israel or any other place in the world. That's why we decided to change the name."
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