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Tolerance For Tourists

Tolerance For Tourists

After providing sensitivity training to some 3,000 students, teachers and law enforcement officials over the past 18 months, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s New York Tolerance Center will open its doors to the public next week.

But don’t hop in a cab yet. Although the center (which strives to educate the public about respect, understanding and responsibility) is being promoted by the city’s tourism bureau, NYC & Company, visits are by appointment, and only on Mondays.

The center will organize groups of 30 to undergo a two and half-hour experience.

"This has to be a destination, something you take time for," says Rhonda Barad, the East Coast director of the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center.

Housed in the former Daily News building on East 42nd Street, the $12 million, high-tech center allows visitors to experience the proliferation of hate on the Internet through touch-screen computers; watch films on the Holocaust and survivors’ testimony and explore global human rights issues through the Millennium Machine, testing their knowledge through automated response technology.

At the Point of View Diner, which serves up scenarios instead of meals, visitors sit at a lunch counter to view simulated newscasts about domestic violence, drunk driving or hate speech, then take an instant opinion poll. They may also select programmed questions for the key players. The displays are modeled after the Museum of Tolerance operated by the Wiesenthal Center in L.A. After viewing the West Coast exhibits, center trustee Nelson Peltz and Peter May, his partner at the holding company Triarc, provided a lead donation of $1 million to bring the experience here. "This provides a security blanket for our children’s future, and ensures that tolerance and acceptance will always win out over hate and bigotry," said Peltz.

During a tour of the facility Monday, a group of teens participating in a city youth employment program listened to facilitator Jason Gerard as they prepared to watch a film about the Holocaust. The Nazi genocide, Gerard explained, "is the most documented event of its kind in history. The Nazis were extremely proud of what they were doing."

Outside the theater, a giant wall screen displayed images of Palestinian children promising to become martyrs. "I won’t leave a single Jew alive," vows one child. That image is followed by footage of planes crashing into the Twin Towers, with the legend "Words Have Consequences."

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