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Jewish Federation of St. Louis to make Holocaust museum an independent entity

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St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum
The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum's renovated and much-expanded facility will open Nov. 2. An upcoming break from its parent organization, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, accompanies the museum's expansion of its mission.

The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum will break from its parent organization, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and become an independent entity.

The Jewish Federation founded the museum in 1995 as an in-house department. Its 7,000-square-foot facility has remained under the Jewish Federation’s wing, operating with help from some shared staff.

With a 35,000-square-foot facility set to open on Nov. 2 after a capital campaign raised more than $24 million, Jewish Federation leaders say the museum can best move forward as its own, separate organization.

“By opening the museum up as an independent entity, the museum has a better place in the overall St. Louis community, not just the St. Louis Jewish community,” said Greg Yawitz, who chairs the Jewish Federation’s board of directors.

The new building will include a space for training sessions with museum visitors on ways to intervene when they see instances of hate and bigotry. The new programing is designed to go beyond the history of the Holocaust to address different forms of hate seen in today’s world.

As an independent institution, the museum will be better positioned to recruit board members and program partners who are not part of the Jewish community, Yawitz said.

“We are able to bring in people from the general community, not just as museum visitors but as part of the team,” he said. “The museum will not be simply about the story of the Holocaust. It's about bias and bigotry and hate, and undoing all of those things through the lessons of the Holocaust. In a way, that's different from what we were able to do before.”

In coming months, Jewish Federation board members will draw up bylaws, select an inaugural board of directors and apply for nonprofit tax status for the independent museum.

“It just made sense that we would become two organizations. We both serve similar, but sometimes different, groups of people,” said Helen Turner, the museum’s director of education. “It also means that we can really do different things. We can expand and launch new programming. We can really focus on our tours, on the educational programs we offer and the different groups that we welcome in.”

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. The Jewish Federation of St. Louis will continue to be a major funder of the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, and the museum will also raise money independently.

Jewish Federation and museum leaders had considered this change for some time, Turner said, but the museum’s reopening provided the right time to move forward with the plan.

“If we were going to become independent, now would be the time as we prepare to open our doors,” she said. “I think it helps clarify who we are as an institution, clarify who we are as a museum and what our vision and mission is.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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