I was the first journalist to interview James Snyder when he arrived in 1997 from a sinecure at New York's Museum of Modern Art to head the Israel Museum, the country's premier cultural institution.

Snyder had neat white hair, a trim build encased in a seersucker suit, and a black tie. This, in a land where dressing up means putting on a T-shirt that has sleeves. As I listened to his East Coast drawl, I took one look at him and figured he wouldn’t last.

Devotees of the Israel Museum can be thankful I was wrong. Snyder just completed a $100-million renovation of the museum, transforming a much-loved but confusing jumble into a sleek, user-friendly building.

After three years in which visitors could, more or less, only see the Dead Sea Scrolls and a large model of Jerusalem in the time of Herod’s Temple (still at the full entrance price), the museum reopened its full collection last week. The flashy redesign has attracted masses of Israelis and foreign tourists without making the place seem overcrowded.

The new museum sticks with the general features of the older building, which was designed in the late 1950s and inaugurated in 1965. A series of modernist cubes, the old building was arranged along the ridge above the 11th-century Monastery of the Cross, and beside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The original designer, Alfred Mansfeld, intended the museum to blend with its landscape, like an Arab village.

Unfortunately, Russian-born Mansfeld also had the idea of making visitors walk the entire length of the museum — uphill, a distance equal to four stories, and outside in a city that sits in a desert and is quite hot nine months of the year — before they could enter. The walk was, to say the least, unpopular. Particularly because when you got to the top, you had to go down some stairs to enter the galleries.

Read the rest of this post on my blog The Man of Twists and Turns.

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