With more than $10 million already raised toward a futuristic "Museum of Tolerance" on Pico Boulevard, the Simon Wiesenthal Center hopes to obtain another $5 million from the state of California to help fund the $35-million project.
A bill to that effect has gained more than 50 co-signers in the state Legislature, according to a statement by Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who wrote the measure.
"It would, I think, go a long ways toward creating awareness among people in the community of all religions about the nature of hatred and what we can and should do about it, and the enormous tragedies that it can create," Roberti said.
Although it is affiliated with Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, an Orthodox Jewish institution, the Wiesenthal Center is separately funded and the state money would not be used for religious purposes, Roberti said.
He said that the federal government and the city and state of New York had contributed land and money for Holocaust memorials in Washington, D.C., and in New York.
Goal Is Education
"The purpose is not to propagate any specific religion, and it's not to put money into the coffers of any religious group. It is to educate people on the nature of hatred and the Holocaust specifically," Roberti said.
Although he has yet to discuss the measure with Gov. George Deukmejian, Roberti said, the bill's chance of passage looks "very good and very hopeful. I hope we can get it done this year."
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the center, which is named after the Vienna-based Nazi hunter, said, "This will be the first museum in the world to try to explore what causes hatred, bigotry and intolerance.
"Its purpose is to delineate that, yes, there are prejudices within human beings that are acceptable; for example, some of us are Dodger fans. What we want to analyze is where we go beyond the line of no return, after which we leave legitimate prejudice and go into the no man's land of outright bigotry and hatred."
The center's 7-year-old museum has outgrown its 3,100 square feet, Hier said. Plans call for a new building with 30,000 square feet of space, including an auditorium, seminar rooms and theaters to screen the center's film archives.
The major emphasis will be on exhibits that involve the viewer in the history of man's inhumanity to man, with emphasis on the killing of about 6 million Jews by Nazi forces during World War II, Hier said.
"But it will also deal with the history of anti-Semitism, the experiences of other ethnic groups in terms of hatred . . . obviously it should not focus just on the Jewish experience."
Will Involve Viewers
Relying on a team of designers who put together a Jewish history museum in Tel Aviv that uses computers, dioramas and other techniques, the Wiesenthal Center will try to involve the viewer in more than a standard exhibition of photographs and artifacts, Hier said.
The center's fund drive comes at the same time as the chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, visited the United States to help raise $10 million for projects including expansion of its memorial in Jerusalem.
But Belzberg said there should be no conflict in the fund-raising efforts.
"Yad Vashem doesn't reach the same people we do to the same degree," she said. "They have their constituency they've been in touch with over the years. The people involved can make their choice. I don't think so far we've caused people to divide their funds."