"Between Tolerance and Bigotry"

by Gad Nahshon

On a rainy day I decided to visit one of the most unique American institutions. It is located at 9786 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles (310-553-8403). This is a huge building which looks like a castle of human pessimism. It's color is brown. It was established in 1977 as the Simon Wiesenthal Center. And its soul is the Museum of Tolerance, a cry out against our world of hate, prejudice, and bigotry. It is also a Jewish cry out for combating for the victory of brotherhood in our time. Its motto should be "Since I am a human being anything which is human should not be alien to me."

Inside the museum, it is dark. There are essentially two parts to this museum: tolerance, a call against any kind of hate in America. The museum does integrate the dynamic of hate. There is a show of the rise of global terrorism. It relates to Bin Laden's Muslim terrorism. The Museum, which was basically films, footages and narrations always gives the visitor a chance to express their feelings by all kinds of games.

I visited with many high school students. They were not Jewish. I felt I should ask them how the visit changed or did not change their per-ception and I urged the museum to ask these visitors to express it. Can we find the production, the assets of education, can it be measured? The second part of this museum is the Holocaust, the evolvement of the "final solution." The museum does not have original material like Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The section has many short films, many documentaries. There is a segment of "resistance" (the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, April 16, 1943). But there is not enough reference to those nations or countries like Latvia or France which helped the Nazis to carry on the Holocaust. The stress is on Nazi Germany and Hitler. The museum does stress the fact that the German (or the Austrian) ordinary people did participate in the Holocaust like the Waffan S.S., for example. Also we should stress the fate of the survivors (post 1945 era) and we should never forget the cruelty of Great Britain which since May 1939 closed the gates of Palestine to the refugees.

Also the Museum does not relate to the idea of Israel, the state of the majority of the Holocaust survivors. As to tolerance, there is a lot of reference to the suffering of the African-Americans, of course, from slavery and the post 1861 era, the rise of the human rights movement, to fight against the K.K.K., but there is no reference to the sufferings of the Latino-Spanish minorities in America and L.A., also a Spanish speaking city.

The Wiesenthal Center is a very important institution in America and the brainchild of two rabbis and spiritual leaders as well, Rabbi Marvin Heir and Rabbi Abraham Cooper. This center is an international center with branches in many countries including Israel. They are also winners of Oscar (after all Hollywood casts a shadow on L.A.) It is a city with glamour and a nonstop march of celebrities and movie stars. Also the two rabbis are perhaps the best fundraisers in America. Of course, everything for reinforcing Judaism in America.

The following is the basic information about this center, the center which challenges the bigotry, the center which believes that we, the Jews, should be the first ones to fight for tolerance.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement, educational outreach and social action. The Center confronts im-portant contemporary issues including racism, anti-Semitism, terrorism and genocide and is accredited as an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe. With a membership of over 400,000 households in the United States, the Center is headquartered in Los Angeles and maintains offices in New York, Toronto, Miami, Paris, Buenos Aires, and Jerusalem.

The Museum of Tolerance, the Center"s educational arm, is a $55 million human rights laboratory founded to challenge visitors to con-front bigotry and racism, and to understand the Holocaust in both historic and contemporary contexts and is host to almost half a million visi-tors annually including 110,000 students. Some of the programs sponsored by the Museum include:

" Tools for Tolerance " an all-day program that utilizes the Museum"s unique educational environment to explore issues of diversity and tolerance, as well as cooperation in the workplace and in the community. To date, the Museum has trained over 14,000 educators and, in partnership with the State of California, has trained over 28,000 individuals in law enforcement. Additionally, the program accommodates firefighters, social workers, health care professionals, attorneys, probation officers, and others.

" Teaching Steps to Tolerance " the Museum"s national program, is designed for 5th and ~ grade educators and library media specialists to integrate the teaching of tolerance into their school"s curriculum. " Task Force Against " confronts extremism by developing strategies to combat Holocaust denial and to educate students about anti-Semitism and bigotry through conferences and training sessions held throughout the country.

" National Institute Against Hate Crimes " The Simon Wiesenthal Center, with support from the US Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, trains criminal justice professionals.

The Center also has a multi-learning center and has launched many exhibitions such as "Faces of Sorrow" (the Civil War in Yugoslavia or Am: Israel (Micha Bar-Am). There are also the Technologically Advanced Exhibits (educational display). The center has, also, a Task Force Against Hate. The Center tries to influence in the struggle against hate, bigotry, and intolerance. It is not just a matter of history, it tries to change the present state of hate, to eliminate hate, racism, discrimination of ethnics, discrimination based on race, gender or color.

But one must keep in mind that the Center"s mission, first of all, is to educate the masses, Jews and Gentiles alike, about the Holocaust, about never again! Because the Holocaust was the unique epitome of hate, of a scientific genocide.

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