– Translation –
When I stand here in Beit Hatfusot-The Museum of the Jewish People, I find it very hard to believe that it has been 40 years since this institution was established. I remember the day it opened, and the museum continues to grow. It was formed with great vision and fertile imagination, and a great deal of creativity went into then and is still part of it today. The museum’s mission is a challenging one: to present the story of our people, a people that was scattered across the world for many long generations and that gathered together back in its land. We survived against all the odds, managed to preserve our heritage, our values and especially our brave connection with the Land of Israel, with Zion. We realized the call, "Next year in Jerusalem".
It is the right time to introduce new momentum in the activities of Beit Hatfusot. It is growing and expanding in accordance with the needs of the times. I must say that it is also introducing new methods. I visited many history museums in Israel and abroad, and almost all of them focus solely on exhibiting remnants of the past, of ancient cultures that no longer exist. This is the innovation of the Museum of the Jewish People. It undoubtedly takes inspiration from the past, but it also reflects the present and looks to the future.
I regrettably still haven’t had the opportunity to see the new wing, but, as I remember it, when I used to visit the museum, my eyes were always drawn to the reconstruction of the Arch of Titus, which is located at the entrance to the permanent exhibition. Thirty years ago, I visited the original Arch of Titus. It was a rainy morning, and some tourists from Scandinavia were crowded near it. They had a guide and he pointed to the menorah being carried by the procession of slaves, the Jews. I do not understand Swedish, but the word Israel I understood. The group mentioned Israel several times. The relief portrays the second worst national disaster in our history – the destruction of the Second Temple. Standing there, I thought less about what had happened in the past, but rather about the faces of those Scandinavian tourists, what stood out to them. They may have been devout Christians, I do not know, but they spoke with great emotion about the Arch, looked at the menorah and repeatedly said the word Israel.
I think, like me, they were amazed at the ability of our people to overcome the laws of history and restore in our homeland the independence that had been lost. Greater people than ours have disappeared and no longer exist, massive empires have collapsed. Sometimes inessential remnants of them remained. MK Herzog certainly remembers the famous debate between Mr. Yaakov Herzog with the historian Arnold Toynbee, who called these people fossils. He called us fossils. We too were supposed to be one of those fossilized peoples, an obsolete remnant, despite the fact that our national revival and the establishment of the State of Israel poked huge holes in his theory. Looking back today it is already clear.
In any event, Toynbee was not alone. Many scholars looking at the history of peoples, from the Middle Ages to the modern era, saw peoples bowing to the iron laws of history. Peoples are born, they have adolescences; they grow to adulthood; and finally they wither and die. It was said that there were no exceptions to this rule. One person deviated from this belief, a famous Jew from the 19th century, Rabbi Nachman Krochmal. He said that the Jews had succeeded in evading this rule, this inevitable process of deterioration. He said we could do so because of our ability to be reborn time and again, while mobilizing great strengths. I think he was right. It always seemed as if the Jews would fade away and die – and each time we were reborn with new strength. It certainly wasn’t easy, to say the least. Tolstoy wrote that "the Jew is the emblem of eternity. He whom neither slaughter nor torture of thousands of years could destroy, he whom neither fire nor sword nor inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth." But they did manage to wipe out a great many of us.
Every generation expected us to disappear. In every generation we were forced to face fierce attacks, bitter tests, the pinnacle of which, of course, was the Holocaust. But in every generation we knew how to instill new life, new spirit into the whispering embers. I would very much like to see the synagogue exhibition. I heard it is spectacular. Synagogues were the main center of communal life – in the shtetls in Poland, in the Moroccan mellahs, in Prague or in Toledo, in America, even in China. But in every place, Jews looked towards Jerusalem and prayed to return to Zion – and this hope never faded for even one second. Of course, it was joined with the tremendous spirit of the Bible and of generation after generation of national creation. This also contributed to our survival. It is the basis of our survival and it also influenced great portions of humanity.
It is exactly this combination of the strength of life with desire that allowed us to build the State of Israel over the past 68 years, together with the wealth of the remarkable talents to be found here, the inexhaustible supply of innovation and creativity and the internal knowledge that we are all, at all times, in good times and in bad, one family.
Every Jew should visit Beit Hatfusot. Every Jew should come here. Anyone who visits Israel should visit Beit Hatfusot, Jews and non-Jews, as well as the children of Israel.
I think Israel is the beating heart of the Jewish people, not only fundamentally but also quantitatively. Soon half of our people will live here in Israel. Of course we are deepening our ties with the Jews of the Diaspora. We are working with them to strengthen the Zionist identity of the younger generations. Natan Sharansky can testify to this, thanks to our joint work. We cannot let the branches disconnect from the trunk. I am certain that the new museum, which has a supremely important educational mission, as well, I believe, as a great spiritual and moral one, will be a cornerstone of cultural life in the State of Israel, and it will be a dynamic and vibrant place with new momentum, with new life.
First and foremost, I would like to thank the Nevzlin family for their generous contribution, which, together with the Government of Israel, places the Museum of the Jewish People in strong standing. This museum was and will be a source of profound pride for us all. I thank you for the family tree of the Jewish people, of us all.