National Museum of American Jewish History

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NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORY

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORY . The National Museum of American Jewish History opened its doors on July 4, 1976 on Independence Mall in Philadelphia.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the National Museum of American Jewish History announced plans for a new museum in Philadelphia's historic district, at the corner of 5th and Market streets, adjacent to the Liberty Bell, one of the most heavily traversed intersections in the city.

The nmajh plans to build a landmark museum on Independence Mall dedicated to the history and contributions of Jews in America with dramatic interactive galleries and exhibition halls, a state-of-the-art resource center and a theater for films, lectures and performances. The lead architect is James Polshek, design principal of the Polshek Partnership in New York. The award-winning firm has designed many top museums, including the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, and the Clinton Presidential Center.

The new location is a half block from the museum's current site, but the new location will put it across the street from the Liberty Bell and a block away from Independence Hall. As Museum board member George Ross said, "Right now we are on the fifty yard line on Independence Mall. With our new location, we will be in the owner's box."

The new location has many advantages over the current one, such as the site's larger footprint offers a more effective layout of exhibition space and the opportunity to build and operate a more efficient museum; visitation will be enhanced by being across the street from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center: the latter attracts more than 2 million tourists annually; the new site's corner is also the location of a subway station, making it easily accessible for public transit riders.

In recent years, both the Liberty Bell Center and the National Constitution Center opened in Independence National Historical Park on Independence Mall as part of the largest urban revitalization project in the nation. Spurred by the new construction, park visitation surged by 35 percent and now has four million visitors annually.

Mary A. Bomar, director of the Northeast Region for the National Park Service, noted that

The Museum's presence on the mall is fitting because the story of the Jewish community in America is a story of freedom and what can be achieved when a group finds freedom. Visitors from around the world will now have another way to experience this vital American value during visits to Independence National Historical Park.

The museum will connect Jews more closely to their heritage and will inspire in people of all backgrounds a greater appreciation for the diversity of the American experience and the freedoms to which Americans aspire. The museum will collect historical materials and present experiences and educational programs that preserve, explore and celebrate the history of Jews in America. Situated next to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the new museum will cooperate with all parts of the American Jewish community and will provide a symbolic location in the United States that is representative of all American Jews.

Congregation Mikveh Israel, which shares its location with the museum, will remain at the current site.

Among the significant exhibitions the Museum has presented since its opening are "A Worthy Use of Summer: Jewish Summer Camping in America" and "Bridges and Boundaries: Two Peoples Face to Face," a collaborative exhibitions project with the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum (now the African American Museum in Philadelphia.) Both museums were awarded the Ione Dugger Multicultural Award from Temple University and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations' Human Rights Award in recognition of the project.

The museum's most recent core exhibition (as of 2005), "Creating American Jews," won an Award of Merit for Institutional Achievement from the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations.

The museum has also been in the forefront of the Jewish crafts movement. Its first "Contemporary Artifacts" exhibition, in 1981, provided a showcase for Jewish ritual art and help spur the expression of traditional Jewish heritage in an American context.

The museum also innovated an annual family program held each December 25, "Being Jewish at Christmas." The program attracts approximately 1,000 people and provides an opportunity for families to explore their Jewish heritage through performances and other entertainment, crafts projects, and special children's activities.

[Josh Perelman (2nd ed.)]