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Museums in Israel:
Beit Hatefusot - Diaspora Museum


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Beit Hatefusot, the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, is located on the campus of Tel Aviv University and was first opened on May 15, 1978, the 30th anniversary of the State of Israel.

The idea of a museum to depict the Jewish Diaspora throughout the ages, and in all its various phases, was first suggested by Dr. Nahum Goldmann at a meeting of the World Jewish Congress held in Stockholm in 1959.

Beth Hatefusot is unique among museums in the world in the field of the humanities. It contains no artifacts or historical relics and aims at presenting a kaleidoscope of Jewish history and life during 2,500 years of Diaspora through the use of the most varied and innovative techniques.

The permanent exhibit is not presented in chronological or geographical order but is divided into six thematic sections, the originator of which was the Israeli poet Abba Kovner, and it conveys a comprehensive picture of the spiritual and social life of Diaspora Jewry. The six sections are The Family, The Community, Faith, Culture, Among the Nations, and The Return. A seventh section, the Chronosphere, is a hall resembling a planetarium on whose dome and walls an audio-visual display of Jewish history is projected by a battery of 35 synchronized projectors, providing an overall historical and chronological frame of reference.

Four study areas are installed in various sections of the permanent exhibit. Each contains five two-seat booths in which short documentary films on topics related to the subject-matter of the museum can be selected by the visitor from a catalogue and viewed on TV-size screens. Each study area has also a booth containing a computer screen terminal. The computer's memory contains information on Jewish Diaspora communities around the world, and the visitor can "converse" with the computer and request information concerning these communities.

A central architectural feature of the four-story building is the Memorial Column, suspended from the museum's roof. At the base of the somber pillar is a specially illustrated volume, Scrolls of Fire, recounting episodes of Jewish martyrdom.

In addition to the permanent exhibit, Beth Hatefusot presents several temporary exhibitions every year, all related to Diaspora Jewish life and history. These exhibitions are displayed in the Temporary Exhibitions Gallery and in the Foyer. In 1981 the "Jewish Heritage in the Eye of the Camera" attracted entries from Jewish communities the world over.

The exhibitions at Beth Hatefusot have become the basis for a dynamic network of educational and cultural activities. Lectures, symposia, study-days and seminars take place regularly in the museum's B'nai Zion auditorium. Thousands of Israeli high school children regularly visit Beth Hatefusot for special study programs led by the museum's Youth Division. A special department is charged with organizing study days and seminars for Jewish youth from the Diaspora. This operation, involving thousands of students each year, is run jointly with the World Jewish Congress and is conducted in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. As such, the museum functions not as an Israeli museum but as a museum of the Jewish people.

Organizations of Friends of Beth Hatefusot have been established in various countries to assist the museum with special projects. The major portion of the finance for the establishment of the museum was donated by the Council of Organizations of the United Jewish Appeal in New York. The building was designed by the Israeli architects Eliahu Gwircman and Itzhak Yashar, following an international competition in which the renowned architect Mies van der Rohe headed the panel of judges. The planning of the museum's contents was entrusted to a team consisting of Karl Katz of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (chairman), Abba Kovner, Professor Bezalel Narkiss, head of the Fine Arts Institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Paul Kedar, later Israel consul-general in New York, and Jesaja Weinberg, director general of Beth Hatefusot who was in charge of the entire project from 1970. Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder and Dr. Ely Ben-Gal also participated in programmatic planning. An Academic Committee drawn from the faculty of Tel Aviv University and headed by Professor Shlomo Simonsohn, then rector of the university, guided the planning work. Advisory contacts were maintained with Professors Salo W. Baron and Meyer Schapiro of Columbia University. The exhibit was designed by two noted international experts – Charles Forberg of New York and James Gardner of London. Dozens of artists and craftsmen from Israel, England, and the United States were involved in the production of the exhibits.

In 1996 Beth Hatefusot launched its online site, aiming to serve as a link between Jews in the Diaspora and Israel. The site includes virtual exhibitions and information about the museum's activities as well as various data bases.


Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

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