Museum of Tolerance braces for ‘soft opening’ this month

Among the Jerusalem museum’s exhibits will be a hologram of Maimonides.

 Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem (photo credit: Shai Gil  )
Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem
(photo credit: Shai Gil )

Things are happening fast at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem (MOTJ), a multi-faceted educational institution and social laboratory in the heart of the capital that will confront today’s most pressing issues.

These include extremism, hate, human dignity, social responsibility, and promoting unity and respect among people of all ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, both in Israel and throughout the world.

The 161,400-square-foot facility, located at the intersection of Hillel and Ben Menashe Streets adjacent to Independence Park, will house two experiential museums, one for adults and one for children, equipped with cutting-edge audio-visual technology, as well as a conference center, a grand hall that can accommodate 600 people, an education center with classrooms and seminar rooms of various sizes and configurations, and both a 150-seat and a 400-seat theater for the performing arts.

The Museum building is surrounded by a 2,580-square-foot outdoor garden and plaza and a 1,000-seat amphitheater.

Near completion after years of planning

After years of planning, fundraising and construction, this ambitious project is nearing completion. The building is finished, the exhibits are under development, and the exhibition spaces will be opened to the public next fall.

 The Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) The Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

MOTJ has already commenced a variety of programs and outreach activities to support the Museum and promote the values of tolerance in Israel and worldwide through art, cultural, music, sport, and educational programs.  

Among the exhibitions being designed is a hologram of the Rambam (Maimonides), who via artificial intelligence will converse with visitors in engaging and relevant dialogue. Just as the medieval scholar revolutionized Jewish thinking, the designers intend to create an innovative new museum at MOTJ.

“It’s where the present and the past dialogue with the future,” said Mimi Lam, Associate VP at the Los Angeles-based Yazdani Studio, which is designing the ever-changing exhibition spaces.

“We want people to feel tolerance in the safe place we have built here, with interactive experiences and conversations – for example, with the Rambam. As they walk through the pavilions, they should feel that they’re part of a big story and a big journey to build the future together. It’s like no other museum in the world.”

Lam was one of a team of top designers from Los Angeles and New York who recently visited the museum to oversee the construction of the exhibition area.

An exclusive exhibition, titled “DOCUMENTING ISRAEL, 75 years of Visions,” showcasing 75 years of Israel in photography, is scheduled to open alongside The Jerusalem Post annual conference, titled “Celebrate the Faces of Israel,” at the museum on April 27, while TIME Magazine will host its annual conference there on May 22.

 Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem (credit: Shai Gil  ) Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem (credit: Shai Gil )

“We received our Certificate of Occupancy in March, and we’re ready to go,” said Jonathan (Yoni) Riss, MOTJ’s director of operations. “Although the ‘hard opening’ will be in September 2024, we’re having a ‘soft opening’ with the photo exhibition, when we’ll be opening the building to the public.”

Mehrdad Yazdani, the director of Yazdani Studio, was asked by MOTJ to design its interior exhibitions and the outside garden based on the vision of its board co-chair, Rabbi Marvin Hier.

“The pavilions act like small galleries, and each gallery focuses on key, core Jewish values that resonate across all ethnicities, all religions and all people. The idea is to use those values as a platform to create dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding.”

Mehrdad Yazdani

“What you see right now is the beginning of the installations that we call pavilions,” Yazdani says. “The pavilions act like small galleries, and each gallery focuses on key, core Jewish values that resonate across all ethnicities, all religions and all people. The idea is to use those values as a platform to create dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding.”

Marla Supnick, founder and president of the world-leading experience design firm Unified Field, came on board just before COVID-19 began. “Some of the thinking was already here, such as the concept of building from a foundation of Jewish values, that are understandable as universal values and can carry us through to the future. We had an opportunity after the pause of the pandemic to step aside and work together on the Museum of Tolerance’s social lab in Los Angeles,” Supnick said.

“We’re reinvigorating some of the past ideas, engaging with our Israeli partners, which is really essential, to be able to tell a story that speaks of the past, the creation of Israel, the people who live here now, and the future. We will include the conflicts and the issues, and societal dramas that exist locally, expanding to the region, and then out globally  to universal values for the entire world.”

Clifford Wadsworth III, from Hadley Exhibits in Buffalo, New York, and his team fabricated and helped install the exhibits at the museum. “We’re currently overseeing a company called Joya, installing and giving guidance for installations of all the walls designed by Yazdani Studio,” he said.

“We fabricated them in Buffalo, had them built to Israeli standards with fire coating and things of that nature, and shipped them all the way here.”

They arrived early last month and after taking a break for Passover, they hope to complete installation as soon as possible. “We’ve built for museums all over the world and this is a really unique space with an immersive design. After all is said and done, it’s going to be pretty remarkable.”

The ultimate goal of the exhibitions currently being designed, Riss says, is to turn the museum into a safe, interactive “People’s Parliament.”

“Visitors will be able to examine and discuss various aspects of Israeli society and the situation worldwide, so that they can understand the other, accommodate the other and create social understanding and tolerance,” he said.

“The combination of our outstanding American team led by Yazdani Studio and Unified Field and our creative Israeli team will break the glass ceiling of the traditional museum. We’re aiming to tailor the content of the museum to specific visitors, and allow interactivity with exhibits, such as the Maimonides one, around the concept of tolerance.

Our Israeli team is transforming Israeli hi-tech, which is world-renowned, into social tech, enabling people from different walks of life to communicate in a different way and stepping in the shoes of the other. This is so needed currently in Israeli society, and hopefully one day it will lead to a written constitution.”

This article was written in cooperation with The Museum of Tolerance.