Festive reopening of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem
Festive reopening of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on July 25, 2006 Photo by Daniel Bar-On
Text size

The reopening of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, after three years of renovations, reflects an enormous cultural investment. The museum was refurbished at a cost of $100 million (with most of the money coming from individual donors and foundations ), and the exhibit space was expanded to 58,000 square meters, which will allow archaeological findings and artworks from every period of history to be exhibited simultaneously. This will further solidify the museum's international reputation and its status as Israel's foremost cultural center.

This event is a reminder that Israel is capable of attaining global renown because of its rich spiritual heritage and cultural and artistic excellence, and not only because of its wars. Moreover, it makes clear that "the rocks of our existence" and our "heritage sites" do not necessarily have to be controversial, wrapped in a religious cloak or found in parts of the country whose future is debatable.

At a time when we have been exposed to architectural megalomania and corrupt planning (the new Habimah Theater and the Holyland project are only two examples ), we should applaud the sense of proportion and good taste of those who planned the renovation of the Israel Museum. They added new lobbies and hallways and easy access to the exhibition rooms without damaging the original, low-profile, rustic plan that spreads unpretentiously over the Givat Ram ridge and fits into its surroundings.

The museum's festive reopening, including the international coverage of the event, is reminiscent of the feelings that accompanied the museum's original opening in 1965. A Haaretz editorial at that time expressed the hope that "because of this effort, Israel's place on the international museum map will be assured - modest in some respects, but significant and even noteworthy in others."

The editorial modestly noted that "we will not be able to compete with the major museums of Europe and America, which developed over hundreds of years," but it nevertheless expressed pride and a vision of the future, along with the hope that in addition to illuminating the culture of ancient Israel and Jewish art and "nurturing Israelis' aesthetic sense," the museum would reflect cosmopolitan openness and integrate Israel into the international cultural and artistic scene. That hope was realized through the museum's development of Israeli and international art collections and the important exhibitions it hosted.

The museum opened two years before the Six-Day War - the one that switched the emphasis from the humility, sense of proportion and focus on culture and spiritual life that Jerusalem's Givat Ram symbolized to physical expansion, force and superficial religiosity. The effort to digest, in one fell swoop, all that was symbolized by Ammunition Hill, the Western Wall, Gilo, Jebel Mukaber and Abu Dis caused the spiritual power of the Israel Museum, Hebrew University, the Sculpture Garden and the Shrine of the Book to be almost forgotten.

Let us hope that this symbolic Givat Ram does not become a museum piece, and that the Israel Museum's renovation will revive the spirit that accompanied its establishment.