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St. Louis Holocaust Museum gets $1 million to teach people to speak out against bigotry

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St. Louis Feldman Kaplan Holocaust Museum
St. Louis Feldman Kaplan Holocaust Museum's new facility is under construction in Creve Coeur. A $1 million donation from the Tilles Foundation will fund an impact lab.

The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum received a $1 million pledge this week from the Tilles Foundation.

The donation from the foundation, which funds education efforts by St. Louis nonprofits, will support the new museum’s impact lab — a hands-on space where visitors will grapple with contemporary manifestations of hate and bigotry.

“It’s not a classroom. It really is a lab — a lab of self,” said Director of Education Helen Turner. “It’s a place for self-exploration and to challenge, to maybe change one’s thinking. And to practice what we do when we confront hate or bigotry or bias.”

The impact lab will be part of a new facility due to open in Creve Coeur this fall. The lab will build on ideas promoting tolerance that are included in the museum’s permanent collection, with an eye toward applying them practically.

“A lot of times Holocaust museums, or museums in general, leave visitors with the feeling that you’ve learned about this difficult history, and now can go forward and change the world,” Turner said. “But that's a heavy weight to put on a student or an adult. And so the lab is really designed to practice what it means to stand up in the face of hate or bias or stereotyping.”

The museum has now raised $24 million in its capital campaign for the new facility.

The new, 35,000-square-foot museum will triple the organization’s space for permanent and changing exhibitions, and education programs. Before temporarily closing its doors at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, the museum served about 30,000 visitors annually, two-thirds of whom were high school students.

“This expansion will give us the opportunity to engage tens of thousands more,” said Michael Litwack, a former board chair of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis who is assisting with the capital campaign.

The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum quickly reached the initial campaign goal of $18 million it announced in 2020. Leaders are discussing how much of the surplus funds to devote to the organization’s endowment.

Even with that recent record of fundraising success, the gift from the Tilles Foundation stands out.

“There’s not that many million-dollar opportunities,” Litwack said. “It’s not something that happens that often.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

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