PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – When the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) opened its new $150 million, 100,000-square-foot building in the heart of historic Philadelphia on Nov.14, it became the only museum in the nation dedicated solely to telling the story of Jews in America.
A Smithsonian affiliate, the museum moved from the 15,000-square-foot location it has occupied since opening in 1976, relocating a half-block to its new five-story building on Independence Mall. The new building is designed by renowned architect James Stewart Polshek, founder of Polshek Partnership Architects (now Ennead Architects), whose work includes the Newseum/Freedom Forum headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.
“Standing directly across from the Liberty Bell, a block south of the National Constitution Center, and one block north of the birthplace of American liberty, Independence Hall, the Museum’s inspiring new home will be a powerful testament to what all free people can accomplish, for themselves and society at large,” said Michael Rosenzweig, NMAJH president and CEO. “Since many other immigrant ethnic groups that came to this country faced similar challenges to those confronted by Jews, the Museum will be a place for all Americans to explore.”
Encompassing 25,000 square feet of gallery space on three-and-a-half floors, the core exhibition will explore the challenges faced by Jews since their arrival on this continent in 1654. It will celebrate their experiences in every facet of American life and throughout every phase of the country’s history. Featuring more than 1,000 artifacts, as well as films and state-of-the-art technology, the exhibition will showcase how an immigrant population flourished under freedom and will highlight the diverse backgrounds and experiences of Jews over a period of more than 350 years. An additional 5,000 square feet will be used for changing exhibitions.
At the base of the museum on the corner of the new public plaza is “Religious Liberty,” a 19th century classical piece by Sir Moses Jacob Ezekiel, donated by B’nai B’rith to the City of Philadelphia in 1876.
Organized chronologically into different time periods from 1654 to the present, each floor of the core exhibition uses historical artifacts and interactive technology to explore the religious, cultural, political and economic stories of American Jews. Galleries examine themes of democracy, religious innovation versus continuity, immigration and integration, as well as lifestyles and the aspirations of a community, and are designed to be educational, entertaining and thought-provoking. In addition, the exhibition is “family friendly,” with hands-on activities and lessons appropriate for all age groups. The curator of the core exhibition is Josh Perelman, Ph.D., the Museum’s deputy director for programming and historian, who worked with a team of leading historians of American Jewish history from across the country.
Complementing the exhibitions is a series of thematic short films, created by Emmy Award-winning director David Grubin, ranging from Jewish life and entertainment to history and politics, including examinations of Yiddish theater, Hollywood moguls, civil rights and the founding of the State of Israel.
Additional exploration is possible through the advanced interactive technologies used throughout the Museum, created by media design firm Local Projects. The “It’s Your Story” video recording booth invites visitors to share their family histories and personal memories, which the Museum will then archive for public viewing and sharing through online links. The unique multimedia “Contemporary Issues Forum” offers visitors the opportunity to engage in real-time discussions about important and provocative issues facing the American Jewish community and the world today.
The new building also features an Education Center, the 200-seat Dell Theater, a multipurpose event space with capacity for 600 on the fifth floor overlooking Independence Mall.
Visitors who wish to explore the National Museum of American Jewish History on Saturdays may obtain tickets in advance on the museum’s website, www.nmajh.org, or throughout the week at the museum during regular hours of operation. Tickets are also available for purchase on the specific Saturday of a visit at the Independence Visitor Center (IVC), located at Market and 6th Streets, a block away from the Museum. Tickets for a Saturday visit can be purchased from the IVC only on Saturdays. Tickets will not be sold at the Museum on Saturdays. The Saturday ticketing policy was instituted by the Museum in recognition of Shabbat.
Visiting hours at the Museum are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
For more information about the museum visit www.nmajh.org.
ONLY IN AMERICA
One of the new museum’s signature attractions is a multimedia exhibition – the Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame – showcasing the challenges and opportunities a select group of 18 extraordinary Jewish Americans encountered on the road to remarkable achievement. Providing individual filmed testimonials for these individuals are such notables themselves as director J.J. Abrams, author Michael Chabon and Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
“These remarkable individuals in the gallery exemplify a central theme of the museum: that a hallmark of the American experience has been an unparalleled opportunity to aspire, achieve and, possibly, change the world,” said the museum’s president and CEO Michael Rosenzweig.
The first eighteen individuals to be featured in the Only in America(r) Gallery/Hall of Fame are:
Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Henrietta Szold Isaac