New Jewish museum breaks with tradition to look at the future

San Francisco - Given the colourful, multicultural and often tragic history of the Jewish people, it's only natural to expect a Jewish museum to offer a rich look into the Jewish past. But that's not what visitors to the new San Francisco Jewish museum experienced when the establishment opened its doors this week.

The strikingly modern structure designed by star-architect Daniel Libeskind encapsulates a tribute to the survival of Jewish people from biblical to modern times - not by cataloguing the many attempts to wipe them out, but by celebrating the culture's vibrancy, life and embrace of the future.

The building itself, says as much, with a shape that resembles the Hebrew word l'chaim, to life.

The museum is composed of a longer main building designed to resemble the Hebrew letter, chet, and an adjacent structure representing the letter yud, consists of a glimmering 65-foot-high blue steel box, balancing on one corner.

"This is a museum of life," explains museum director Connie Wolf. "It's not that we aren't embracing the Holocaust, that incredibly important and pivotal moment in world history. We just always want to be thinking about other issues as well."

Libeskind's design for the Jewish museum in Berlin completed in 1999 is in the shape of the Star of David and immediately reminds visitors of the Holocaust.

"Europe, unfortunately, has had that shadow hanging over it that irreversible shadow of the destruction of the Jewish people and others," Mr. Libeskind said. "This is a place that celebrates Jewish life. This is about America ... It's a fundamentally very, very different building in its spirit, in its response."

Thus, unlike other Jewish museums around the world, the San Francisco museum holds no permanent collection of Judaica, or a formal record of the region's Jews. Instead, the museum presents an array of continuously changing exhibitions that use music, art, dance and other mediums to give evolving expression to Jewish identity.

That's not to say that Jews haven't been important to the San Francisco bay region. From Levi Strauss to current California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Jews have played a huge role in the region.

"Tradition and history in isolation does not connect to our daily lives," says Wolf, the museum director. "What you want is to not be thinking about history and tradition as something over there, but you want to be engaged with how does it impact us. How can we strive to make the world a better place?" (dpa)