In 1998, a new venture was undertaken in the academic milieu of Tel Aviv University, the Cymbalista Jewish Heritage Center. Its purpose is to contribute to the understanding and meeting of minds and hearts among the different sectors of the Jewish people: between the religious and the secular, and between the different streams of Judaism - Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.
The idea behind the establishment of the Center was to initiate productive meetings with the different groups of the divided Jewish society in the spirit of respect for Israel's traditional and democratic values. By means of various cultural activities, the Center clarifies and elucidates issues in Jewish thought, literature and history throughout the generations.
As face-to-face meetings can intensify mutual responsiveness and understanding, the Center accommodates different approaches to encourage dialogue aimed at improving tolerance and understanding in Israeli society. Although such an activity should be in the utmost interest of the educational system and should start at the school level, our purpose as academicians is to concretize it in our own home, in the university, among ourselves and between us and our students. The Center's activities are aimed, first and foremost, at the student community, but also at the faculty and employees of the university, and as much as possible at the public at large.
As cultural schisms are often caused by ignorance, knowledge is a first condition to create understanding and dialogue. Hence our intention is to enable the study of issues in Jewish and Israeli culture through a pluralistic and tolerant approach, in order to present the nation's treasures to the public, to reopen the entire library of traditional Judaism and thus to narrow the gaps between the different groups and build bridges of understanding and dialogue. The spiritual heritage of the Jewish people is not the property of one single group. It belongs to the public, and we all have the obligation to interpret it and cultivate it.
Through series of lessons, lectures, dialogues, symposiums and discussion groups, we address various problems related to the Jewish way of life and tradition. We examine their relation to the realities of a democratic state, and their relevance to contemporary life. We face theoretical and practical issues that preoccupy Israeli society. The discussions are conducted from diverse professional vantage points, involving a wide range of approaches to Jewish and Israeli society.
The Center was initiated by Norbert and Paulette Cymbalista of Geneva, members of the Tel Aviv University Board of Governors. They envisioned the idea of building a synagogue for the use of the University community. They donated the building and were actually involved in its construction. They dedicated it as a Jewish Heritage Center which aims to attain more openness and understanding. This project was adopted by the University Administration and the Senate.
The building is an architectural gem, a masterpiece designed by the internationally-renowned Swiss architect, Mario Botta. The area of the building is about 760 square meters and comprises two towers identical in height (13.5 meters) and shape - a square gradually turning into a circle. The exterior is made of reddish stone from the Dolomite Mountains of Italy and the interior walls of a golden-hued stone resembling wood, from Tuscany. All the materials used in the structure as well as the style of the building and the furniture are of superior quality, in all one of the most striking edifices in Israel.
In 2022 the building was designated as a protected heritage site by the Council for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel, becoming the most recently constructed building with this status in Israel.