Come along with me to the historic gala opening of the National Museum of American Jewish History!
Silence fell over the crowd Sunday, November 14th as the Presidential Seal was affixed to the podium in preparation of Vice President Biden’s arrival to dedicate the newest piece of history on a historical piece of land, Independence Mall in Philadelphia. The honor guard, dressed in 17th Century uniforms, entered to the ringing of the bell of freedom, and the sounding of 50 schofars, which commenced the opening of the newest piece of American History, the .
The opening of the National Museum of Jewish American History adds one more piece of American history in the cradle of Freedom, where millions of visitors come to see and hear the history of America. Philadelphia’s Mayor, Michael Nutter, captured the essence, “This is a Destination for all Americans and it tells a story of Freedom.”
Families have been sharing history together for centuries, The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, stories of how their parents and grandparents came to America for a better life. Today another opportunity opens to bring families together and to share the history of American Jews. Vice President Biden said it best, “This is not a Jewish Story, this is an American Story.” The museum was designed with staircases and bridges, taking the visitor on a journey.
Beginning at the top floor, Foundations of Freedom, 1654-1880, you journey through arrivals of the first Jews to American, and their participation in the Civil War. There is a room for children to experience what it was like to live in 1823 in the west.
Descending to the Dreams of Freedom 1888-1945, you find video clips of WWII veterans telling their stories, ‘of the people by the people’, of survival. A small theater shows footage of Jewish actors and comedians, as well as movies influenced by Jewish writers and songwriters. Jewish lyricist, Irving Berlin, wrote the most popular American Christian holiday songs, White Christmas and the Easter Parade as well as our most famous American song, God Bless America.
Moving along to Choices and Challenges of Freedom (1945-today) exhibits focus on Jewish Suburbia, Israel as a Nation, Your Story, and a Contemporary Issues Forum which allows the visitor to scan their comments to be viewed as part of the exhibit. Enter the model of Jewish home in the 50’s complete with one of the first Televisions, showing an episode from Gertrude Berg, The Goldberg’s, which was viewed by millions weekly.
The Main floor, Only in America, hosts a large expansive screen sharing the stories of over 18 famous Jewish Hall of Famers’ suchas Sandy Koufax, Jonas Salk, Este Lauder, Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, Golda Meir, Barbara Streisand, Steve Spielberg, and Leonard Bernstein. There are artifacts on loan such as Stephen Spielberg’s first 8 mm camera, the story boards from Barbara Streisand’ movie Yentle , Irving Berlin’s piano, Isaac Singer’s first Underwood typewriter and much more. It depicts how intertwined American Jews are as a part of American History, and celebrates their contributions as part of the fiber of America. The Museum store displays beautiful pottery, ceramics, and art design by Jewish Artisans.
There is no better place to understand America than in Independence Mall in Philadelphia. This is a place to bring your extended family and tell your story as you share this historical experience. Whether you are of Jewish Heritage or not, this newest piece of history should not be missed. If you’ve enjoyed listening to the Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas” and felt that swelling of pride while singing God Bless America, or watched the movies directed by Stephen Spielberg, or been entertained by Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, or Barbara Streisand, you have been a part of the Jewish Experience. Whether it is a weekend getaway, or a summer vacation, a visit to these historical sites will remind all of us, how proud we are to live in America.
Here are some wicked good tips to remember before your visit:
- If you plan to visit the museum on a Saturday, purchase your tickets in advance, as in observance of Shabbat, no money transactions will take place on Saturdays.
- Check the website, prior to your visit for schedules or hours of operation – currently the museum is open 6 days a week (closed on Mondays).
- Don’t forget your camera, you will want to remember your visit for many years to come!
(Image of Typewriter courtesy of NMAJH.org)