Trump brings spotlight to Israel Museum mired in hunt for leader
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Trump brings spotlight to Israel Museum mired in hunt for leader

For more than a year, institution unable to fill shoes of longtime director James Snyder, who oversaw 'a huge revolution'

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Then-US president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu examine the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum, during Obama's visit to Israel in March 2013. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Then-US president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu examine the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum, during Obama's visit to Israel in March 2013. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

When President Trump visits the Israel Museum Tuesday afternoon to deliver the keynote address of his historic visit, it may well be director emeritus and international president James Snyder who will greet the US leader.

It’s been more than a year since Snyder stepped down as director, after 20 years in the position, but he still fills a large role at the institution, and the museum is still looking for someone to fill his shoes.

Snyder’s appointed successor, Eran Neumann, the head of the David Azrieli School of Architecture at Tel Aviv University, backed out in April, just three months after taking the job.

The decision followed “different perceptions regarding his role and terms of employment,” the museum said at the time.

Museum staff commented that Neumann didn’t have much museum experience, given the immense scope of the position.

“It’s a huge job, because James made a huge revolution,” said one longtime employee. “He made it one of the 10 best museums in the world.”

Visitors looking at photographs displayed at the Israel Museum exhibition "A World Apart Next Door: Glimpses into the life of Hasidic Jews" in Jerusalem on June 20, 2012. The ethnographic exhibition highlights facets of the culture of the Hasidic Jews. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Visitors looking at photographs displayed at the Israel Museum exhibition “A World Apart Next Door: Glimpses into the life of Hasidic Jews” in Jerusalem on June 20, 2012. The ethnographic exhibition highlights facets of the culture of the Hasidic Jews. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The museum is one of Israel’s largest cultural institutions, with almost 400 staff members, more than 300 volunteers in full- and part-time service, and an annual operating budget of about $30 million.

While the museum was not Trump’s first choice of venues for his speech — that was Masada, which was reportedly nixed because it could not accommodate his helicopter — it will provide a striking backdrop for a president who has repeatedly highlighted Israel’s rich history and culture during his short time in the country.

For now, Yigal Zalmona, the museum’s former chief interdisciplinary curator — who spent 40 years at the museum, and worked closely with Snyder before retiring — has returned to that position temporarily while the museum continues its search for a permanent director.

Snyder, as international president, is still in charge of the museum’s philanthropic activities, working closely with the American Friends of the Israel Museum, as donations from the US make up a large portion of the museum’s annual budget.

In honor of Trump’s visit, the museum staff curated a one-time exhibit of Israeli art in the gallery where the speech will be given, including works from the 1950s to 1980s by well-known Israeli artists, as well as a large-scale wallpaper installation inspired by mosaics from the Second Temple period, making the connections between the museum’s extensive holdings in contemporary art and archaeology.

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