William Davidson Permanent Exhibition Gallery rendering showing glass cases and people walking in a wide open space.
William Davidson Permanent Exhibition Gallery rendering.

New National Library of Israel will use the space to display collection treasures.

Louis Finkelman Contributing Writer

Construction has begun for a new home for the National Library of Israel, located across from the Knesset and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Scheduled for completion in 2021, the 480,000-square-foot building should become a major attraction for the Israeli public, tourists and scholars.

Architects are Herzog & de Meuron of Switzerland, with Israeli firm Mann-Shinar serving as executive architect.

The Israeli government has help in funding this project from the Rothschild family through the auspices of Yad Hanadiv, and the David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman family of New York.

The William Davidson Foundation of Michigan has made a major contribution to the new national library with the 7,500-square-foot William Davidson Permanent Exhibition Gallery to be named for the late William Davidson, the noted industrialist and philanthropist.

The private family foundation, established in 2005, honors its founder and continues his lifelong commitment to philanthropy, advancing for future generations the economic, cultural and civic vitality of Southeast Michigan and the Jewish world. ​

Library leaders envision using the Davidson Gallery to display treasures from among the library’s collections, which include rare manuscripts, books, maps, photographs, music, ephemera and more.

Rendering of the new National Library of Israel.
Rendering of the new National Library of Israel. Jackie Headapohl | Detroit Jewish News

The national library, in its current home on the campus of the Hebrew University, holds an extensive collection, including the world’s largest collection of Jewish and Israeli music, vast collections of maps, photographs, magazines and newspapers, the personal papers of Marin Buber, Gershom Scholem and Franz Kafka, and also manuscripts in the handwriting of Moses Maimonides and Isaac Newton, as well as precious pieces from the Islamic world.

In its new home, the national library intends to make that vast collection much more open to the public. Pieces that have been nearly inaccessible, including those to be displayed in the Davidson Gallery, should become open to visitors.

In a parallel effort, the library has digitized many items in its collections; the staff of the National Library of Israel has encouraged libraries around the world to digitize their own holdings, especially in Judaica. The Davidson Gallery will have equipment to enable visitors to gain access to this world of material, which, until now, only a few advanced scholars could ever hope to glimpse.

The library envisions using the Davidson Gallery to emphasize Jewish texts, especially in the context of cross-cultural encounters with Islam and Christianity. Other emphases are on the history of alphabetic script; the evolution of the book from a scroll to the printed and digital format; the Bible and its profound influence on world and Jewish culture; and the multiple sources of modern Israeli culture.

A library statement announced, “The William Davidson Permanent Exhibition Gallery will offer a creative, contemporary, educational and enjoyable visitor experience that will serve as the starting point on an illuminating journey through the National Library of Israel.”