Screening the films

The house that Teddy built

A touching documentary immortalizes the people who helped establish the Israel Museum

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

The 1965 opening of the Israel Museum, Teddy Kollek seated fifth from right (Courtesy Israel Museum)
The 1965 opening of the Israel Museum, Teddy Kollek seated fifth from right (Courtesy Israel Museum)

Day Five of the Jerusalem Film Festival offered a constant circuit of activity at the Cinematheque plaza. Moviegoers trotted up and down the stone stairs leading up to the street from the theater, usually carrying the requisite bottle of water and well-thumbed copy of their festival guide.

Down on the plaza, people milled around the Steimatzky book stall and Haaretz newspaper vendor selling weekend subscriptions, often stopping to listen to the various musical quartets that have been playing outside throughout the festival. Inside, there were flocks of people gathering outside theaters 1, 2 and 3, leaving or waiting to enter for the next movie.

The crowd outside Cinematheque 1 on Tuesday at 6:00 pm was a sort-of who’s who of the Jerusalem art scene. Or at least one particular scene. We were all waiting for the start of “Teddy’s Museum,” a 50-minute film about renowned Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek’s establishment of Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. There was James Snyder, the dapper current director of the institution; Martin Weil, the former director of the museum; Lia Van Leer, the 88-year-old founder of the Cinematheque; various local artists, members of Teddy Kollek’s family, as well as 98-year-old Ralph Goldman, a pivotal leader in the Joint Distribution Committee and in the founding of the museum.

Some of them were featured in the film, which featured dozens of interviews with those who guided the creation of the museum, as well as archival footage of the institution. There was a definite sense of the past in the film, as the interviewees were talking about events that took place nearly 50 years earlier, and some of those interviewed have since died. That look at the past almost seemed curious, as the Israel Museum, particularly in its recently renovated incarnation, is such a symbol of present Israel, from the new acquisitions to the revamped gallery spaces.

But there were also those tidbits of information that could be gleaned from the film’s conversations, such as the arguments over the design of the sculpture garden, which had to receive rabbinic approval, or the creation of the Israel Museum logo, by former director and typographer Willem Sandberg, who based the four-part logo on the different areas of interest in the museum. I hadn’t known that the Shrine of the Book, which houses the rare Dead Sea Scrolls, was designed to look like a jar lid by architect Frederik Kiesler, or that there were so many American Jews involved in the museum’s establishment.

A worthwhile 50 minutes, because, as interviewee Arne Glimcher, founder of New York’s Pace Gallery, put it, the museum is a “sanctuary in the middle of chaos.”


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