Philosophy of the Skirball
A Reflection on the Philosophy of the Skirball Cultural Center
The Skirball Cultural Center defines itself as a Jewish institution in an American context. Our focus is on Judaism as a historical and cultural phenomenon, singular in ancestry but plural in expression. We are inspired by the parallels between Jewish values and American democratic principles. The Skirball's programs, exhibitions, curricula, and communal initiatives seek to convey these ideals to a wide public.
In their long history, Jews have never existed in a vacuum but in symbiosis with other cultures. A link between civilizations enriches both. In the uniquely hospitable climate of the United States, Jewish life has flourished. The Skirball stands at the intersection of Jewish and American history. It is where the encounter between the two is appreciated, cultivated, and celebrated.
In this place of meeting, the Skirball seeks to build a community including every ethnic and cultural identity, where public discourse is civil and the dignity of each person is respected. In this place of meeting, the Skirball community seeks to affirm that each life has meaning when it ennobles other lives. In this place of meeting, the Skirball community seeks to express the sanctity of life. We see these aspirations as fundamental Jewish values.
While the Skirball respects the role of religion in society, our approach resists theological or "vertical" formulations of human experience, where meaning is conferred from a divine source. Our orientation is "horizontal," referring to the human encounter, to life with others, to the task of building a society in which all of us can feel at home. This aspiration, too, we see as an expression of Jewish conviction: emphasizing the life of this world, and striving to make it more just and more compassionate.
Since its establishment in 1996, the Skirball has welcomed more than five million visitors. They have included people as various in their ancestry and heritage as the population of California and indeed, the entire globe. In this new millennium, here on the Pacific Rim, a new American community is emerging, as old ethnic and cultural boundaries are rapidly transformed. The Skirball views this social dynamic as a compelling challenge: to preserve a distinctive Jewish heritage, while embracing the American promise of democracy.
At the Skirball, we perceive no conflict between the particular and the universal. While retaining historic memories, traditions, and beliefs, the Jewish people has journeyed across continents and centuries, encountering multiple civilizations and learning from all of them. We have thrived as a distinctive thread in the multicolored fabric of the human family. The Jewish thread is no more precious—and no less—than any other.