“They came from every corner of the globe and from every station in life. Tailors and peddlers. Scholars and dreamers. They came to fulfill America’s promise, investing in her their hopes and dreams, their energy and ingenuity. This is the story of Jews in America.”
Those words come from the website of the new National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH), the nation’s only museum dedicated solely to telling the story of Jews in America. Located in Independence Mall, in the heart of historic Philadelphia, the National Museum of American Jewish History joins Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell, and other landmarks at the site of America’s birth. The mission of the museum, which opened in November, is to “explore the promise and challenges of liberty through the lens of the American Jewish experience.”
Featuring an enclosed eternal flame, the museum has a glass façade that looks out across the mall. The 100,000-square-foot museum has three floors of exhibition space with an internal atrium. Using evocative objects, telling moments, and state-of-the-art interactive technologies, the 24,000-square-foot core exhibition explores more than 350 years of American Jewish history. A separate floor is dedicated to changing exhibits.
A highlight is the Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame that illustrates the extraordinary accomplishments of American Jews. During the summer of 2009, the public voted on the eighteen to be included in the gallery from a list of 218 possible candidates. More than 209,000 votes from 56 countries were cast, and the person who received the most votes in each category was selected. The museum’s historians and curators worked to ensure that the group reflected Jews’ 350 years of history in the United States, the important achievements of American Jewish women and men, and the diverse fields in which Jews have been involved. The Gallery includes Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Louis Brandeis, Albert Einstein, Mordecai Kaplan, Sandy Koufax, Estee Lauder, Emma Lazarus, Isaac Leeser, Golda Meir, Jonas Salk, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Rose Schneiderman, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Steven Spileberg, Barbra Streisand, Henrietta Szold, and Isaac Mayer Wise, whose accomplishments “illustrate that a hallmark of the American experience has been an unparalleled opportunity to aspire, achieve, and possibly change the world,” according to the website.” All 218 people nominated for the public vote have been included in an interactive database that will be available to all museum visitors, as well as on the website.
The concourse of the museum is devoted entirely to education, with classrooms, a theater, and a resource center. In addition, there is a café and a gift shop.
Polshek Partnership Architects designed the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Gallagher & Associates created the core exhibition. Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, is the leader of the museum’s team of historians, which includes Professors Michael Berenbaum of the American Jewish University, Pamela Nadell of American University, and Beth Wenger of the University of Pennsylvania.
Visit the National Museum of American Jewish History at 101 South Independence Mall East, Philadelphia, PA 19106-2517. For more information, call (215) 923-3811 or visit www.nmajh.org/buildourfuture.aspx.