It is perhaps the only time that an organ led to the building of an auditorium. Last November, the University dedicated a new wing, including a 400-seat auditorium, to the Hecht Museum. The expansion was enabled by the generosity of the late Dr. Reuben Hecht and, following his death, the Hecht Foundation. Hecht had wanted to donate a 150-year-old organ to the University, but there had been no appropriate location. University President Yehuda Hayuth suggested building an auditorium, which would also house the unusual instrument, as part of the Museum’s physical expansion. Hecht accepted the proposal, but unfortunately died before the completion of this construction.
The new wing added some 1,600 square meters to the Museum, allowing it to offer a new venue for the Oscar Ghez Collection of artists who perished in the Holocaust and to mount two new permanent exhibitions. One of these is “Ancient Industries and Crafts,” featuring wood, metal, glass, stone, mosaic, writing, and the physician’s craft. The centerpiece is a Byzantine-era mosaic floor from Leontis House, uncovered in Beit Shean. The second permanent exhibit is devoted to “Phoenicians on the Northern Coast of Eretz Israel.” This had been a temporary exhibit, whose mounting represented a breakthrough in the design of archeological exhibitions.
The first temporary exhibition to grace the new floor space was given over to “The Cult of Dionysos.” Striking are the examples of this cult’s manifestation in Jewish art.
The Museum’s architecturally tasteful expansion and new exhibitions captured the attention of museum critics in the Israeli press, one of whom wrote: “After a massive expansion, the Hecht Museum, which was almost a hidden secret, has become one of the most beautiful museums in the country.”
The 6-ton organ in the new auditorium was actually reconstructed by Gidon Shamir, perhaps the only organ builder in the country, from two major components, one from Venice dating to the 1860s and the other from England and dated 1904. They had been intended for use in the Holy Land. Shamir had found the components in Jerusalem and salvaged them. Their combination and reconstruction, which he said took six years to complete, although with interruptions, produces a sound that is unique. Measuring 5 meters high by 7½ meters wide, the organ surpasses the dimensions of comparable instruments in Jerusalem.
The state-of-the-art hall is now the scene of various University-wide cultural and ceremonial events.