12 January 2008

Philadelphia: New Jewish Museum

The new National Museum of American Jewish history will open on July 4, 2010, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Designed by James S. Polshek and under construction at some $170 million, it will trace American Jewish history since the first Jews arrived from Brazil to New Amsterdam in 1654, how they influenced and how they were influenced by the experience of centuries.

The goal, said the museum’s executive director, Gwen Goodman, is to distill the experience of all ethnic groups making a new life in America by tracing the history of Jews in this country.

“Our museum tells the story of what happens when an ethnic minority arrives in America, and how they can feel welcome,” Ms. Goodman said. “This is a museum about the meaning of America itself, seen through the eyes of one community.”

Polshek said the five-story glass facade "implies that one should not take for granted the freedoms supplied by a democracy."

Three exhibition floors will overlook Independence Mall, which contains Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed; the Liberty Bell, rung on July 8, 1776, and the National Constitution Center, with a permanent Constitution exhibit.

“They will never be able to forget that they are in the birthplace of this country,” Mr. Polshek said.

At the top of the facade, a replica of a flame will represent both the torch of the Statue of Liberty and the eternal flame that traditionally burns in a synagogue.

Major donors include movie producer Sidney Kimmel and Jones Apparel Group founder; Philadelphia Flyers hockey team owner Ed Snider; and the Dell Foundation. By the end of 2007, $107 million had been raised.

A collection of some 24,000 objects, includes silver, books, drawings, prints and photographs from colonial times to the present - even a Yiddish typewriter. It includes about 10,000 objects (late-19th to mid-20th centuries) donated by Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer of New York City.

The exhibit will also examine assimilation, a result of freedom in America.

Goodman said she hoped the museum would attract both assimilated, non-affiliated Jews as well as those who lead active Jewish lives.

Museum historian Josh Perelman said exhibits would examine contemporary Jewish issues, such as intermarriage. “There were a lot of Jews in the colonies, but sometimes there were not enough young people to find your mate here,” he said.

Goodman was asked why the museum is not in New York or Washington; the story of American immigrant experience should be told, she said, in the country's birthplace, "where it all began."

Read more here.

And - mark your calendars now - the 29th IAJGS Conference on International Jewish Genealogy will be held August 2-7, 2009, in Philadelphia, co-hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia.

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