Jewish Museum, Foster City JCC get millions from state

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Gov. Gray Davis signed a state budget last week that included $2 million for building the new Jewish Museum San Francisco and $1.25 million for construction of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City.

Ruthellen Harris, the JCC's development director, said the JCC now has $24 million raised in its quest for $28 million to construct a new campus. The facility is scheduled to open in the fall of next year.

"There's a feeling of excitement here. We're very happy. It's very nice to be planning a building when you know you have the money to build it," Harris said.

Foster City's mayor and several city council members wrote letters on behalf of the JCC to the state government. Foster City gave free lease of an undeveloped 12-acre site to the Jewish community, which will host day care and senior services for Jews and non-Jews.

"A lot of politicians understood how important it was to have this private-public partnership," Harris said. "In particular, we got a lot of support from state Sen. Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto) and Assemblyman Ted Lempert (D-San Carlos)."

Rabbi Brian Lurie, president of the Jewish Museum, said he nervously awaited news of the state budget, since Davis had the power to line-item veto anything in it.

"We are delighted. There were a lot of competing institutions," Lurie said. "We heard Gov. Davis was very enthusiastic about our project. Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-S.F.) did a wonderful job on our behalf."

Migden had submitted the request for state funding. In a press release, she said that "this money will help establish a world-class cultural center for San Francisco. As a member of the Jewish faith, I understand and welcome the need for a place where people can come to celebrate our strong tradition."

The museum now has $25 million raised in pursuit of $100 million to retrofit, construct and endow the facility, planned for a former Pacific Gas & Electric Co. substation in Yerba Buena Gardens. The building will not open until at least 2002.

Lurie said the grant opens the door for further funding from the state and other government agencies. But, most importantly, he said, the award gives the museum "a vote of confidence" with the public.

"There is growing credibility in the museum and a growing group of talented people are coming to the fore" to lead the museum, he said. "It's much more than just an idea now."

Public funding is welcome, Lurie said, because the museum will attract a wide audience, Jewish and non-Jewish. Lurie expects up to 1 million visitors a year.

"You don't go into Yerba Buena and say you are only appealing to Jews. This site is for everyone," he said. "Many things in the Western tradition come from Judaism. The interactive means of the museum is going to be exciting for everyone. I think Judaism is going to be interesting to everybody."