Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Building a Real Monument to Jewish History

The history of the Jews is an amplified representation of the history of other minorities. Other minorities have had a history of persecution and discrimination, but none for as long a time as the Jews. Other minorities have had success in the arts, business, science, and politics, but none as proportionally as the Jews. Other minorities have been targets of genocide, but none as systematically and with such magnitude as the Jews.

So in the history of the world, it is important to document, preserve, and tell the history of the Jews.

A group of prominent Jewish personalities and some successful businessmen are proposing to tell this history with a National Museum of the Jewish People to be built in Washington, DC, between the White House and the Capitol. While this is a noble goal, it is also a bad idea, at least for now.

According to an article in the Washington Jewish Week, the museum, proposed for a site that is for sale by the General Services Administration, would require over $100 million for the building and an endowment to allow for free admission to the high-tech attraction.

I was recently at an event where an African-American activist from Camden, NJ, used the word “genocide” to describe the plight of the people in that poverty-ridden city. While much of the audience sympathized with his pleas, many felt the term “genocide” was over the top, even acknowledging the high number of murders and society’s neglect of its most downtrodden citizens. Nevertheless, the feeling of despair when politicians cut essential services is real and heart wrenching.

Wouldn’t it be better if the celebrities and businesspeople who have the wherewithal to raise $100 million target that money to improve the urban centers across America? Wouldn’t it be better if some of that money could go to tikun olam instead of another glass-faced edifice in Washington? How about a $100 million endowment to help end hunger in America?

It’s important to tell the story of the Jews, and we do so very well. In Washington, the Holocaust Memorial Museum is a sobering reminder about the scourge of Anti-Semitism. In Philadelphia, the National Museum of American Jewish History occupies a prominent position at the birthplace of our nation in a spectacular building showing a comprehensive history of our people’s contribution to our nation.

Let’s not use our limited resources to build yet another museum. The facilities that we have are excellent and convey a compelling story to Jew and non-Jew alike. Instead, let’s build a real monument to Judaism by turning these fundraising efforts to an effort to repair the world as our revered ancestors implored us to do. That’s the real history of the Jewish people.

Whether you’re Jewish or not, a small amount of help from a large number of people can make a difference. In a few days, Jews around the world will be fasting for one day in observance of Yom Kippur. Take the money you spend on food and drink in one day and donate it to the hungry. There are many ways to do this – one such charity is Mazon. You’re on line now – go to their site and make a donation before you forget.

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