West Coast Paradise? Review of Contemporary Jewish Museum

Paul Harvey

Edward Rothstein provides a searching review of the new Contemporary Jewish Museum, located in downtown San Francisco (736 Mission Street), the latest Daniel Libeskind angular and geometrically challenging architectural production. It's on my visit list for the next trip to San Francisco. Rothstein writes:

Like so many other new museums, the Contemporary Jewish Museum is dedicated to a hyphenated American identity, in this case one that has flourished in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a Jewish population of 200,000 that ranks third among United States metropolitan regions. Jews lived in San Francisco from at least its early boom days, when they streamed in with other settlers during the Gold Rush. . . . .

In this atmosphere a particular style of American Judaism developed. It is highly assimilated, with many interfaith families; Judaism is treated more as a culture than a religion. History becomes less important than the issues of the present; and Jewish culture is closely associated with leftish political leanings.

He concludes with some fundamental questions that religious historians face all the time, as should contemporary celebrants of pluralism:

How can multiple perspectives and open-mindedness and diverse backgrounds be celebrated without a grounding in knowledge, without history, detail, object and belief? Can a museum serve its community without leading it into the unknown past as well as into speculative realms? Can the Jewish thrive without Judaism? . . . . for all the institution’s considerable appeal, Judaism’s fundamental, literal meanings — texts and laws and beliefs and history — are left outside the gates of paradise.