Focused on the formation of the Jewish-American identity, the National Museum of American Jewish History was founded back in 1976. It moved to its current, 100,000-square foot home on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall in late 2010. The museum covers the Jewish-American experience from colonial times to present day through permanent and rotating exhibitions as well as educational programs. This Smithsonian affiliated museum is open every day except Mondays and certain holidays, Jewish and national alike.
Museum of American Jewish History initially shared space with the Congregation
Mikveh Israel when it was founded back in 1976.
By 2005 discussion of creating a new home began and fund raising efforts
began in earnest as well. A site
formerly owned by a CBS news affiliate along Independence Mall was selected and
the glass and terra cotta building, designed by James Polshek, was completed in
2010. The opening ceremony was attended
by the likes of Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Michael Nutter and Rabbi Irving
is anchored by a core exhibition that spans 3.5 of the building’s five
stories. It is centered on the different
backgrounds and experiences of Jews who immigrated to America as well as the following
generations that were born and raised here.
It examines who they were, the places they came from, the challenges
they faced, the choices they made and how they were influenced by America, and
how they, in turn, influenced their adopted country. Visitors get to listen to their stories, both
joyous and sorrowful. Through historical
artifacts, period settings, media, and interactive technology, one learns about
various aspects of Jewish religious, social and economic experiences in
exhibition follows a roughly chronological order beginning on the fourth floor
with a section entitled “Foundations of Freedom, 1654-1880.” On the third floor, visitors travel through
the “Dreams of Freedom, 1880-1945” piece, while on the second floor they are
greeted by the “Choices and Challenges of Freedom, 1945-Today” section. Finally, on the first floor, the museum
features its “Only in America Gallery and Hall of Fame.” This exhibit features 18 famous (Albert
Einstein, Sandy Koufax, Golda Meir) and not-so-famous Jewish-Americans (Rose
Scheiderman, Isaac Leeser, Menachem Mendel Schneerson) who each made significant
contributions in their own manner.
also features rotating or special exhibitions and recent ones have included “Bill
Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” that focused on influential concert
promoter Bill Graham and his Fillmore Auditorium, as well as his interactions
with legends such as Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. A special 2017 exhibition will be/is/was “1917:
How One Year Changed the World” that looks at how America’s entry into World
War I, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Balfour Declaration…well, changed the
also sponsors traveling exhibitions such as “Chasing Dreams: Baseball and
Becoming American” that looks at the role the national pastime has played in,
not just the Jewish community, but all minority communities in America. Finally, the museum offers numerous educational
opportunities in the form of K-12 lessons and activities, summer camps,
professional development for educators and adult education classes.