National Museum of American Jewish History

Randall Stephens

David O'Reilly has an interesting piece on the opening exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History: "Chronicling Lives More than Religion," Philadelphia Inquirer, November 14, 2010. (The new museum is open to the public on Nov 28.) O'Reilly interviews deputy curator Josh Perelman and describes some of the highlights ranging from the 17th to the 20th century.

. . . After entering on Market Street, visitors are invited to start their tour on the fourth floor, in the year 1654, and descend through time, floor by floor, to the present, inspecting more than a thousand artifacts along the way.

A great majority of the items are secular - immigration documents from Ellis Island, a sewing machine, the upright piano at which the Russian-born, agnostic, but ethnically Jewish Berlin penned such tunes as "White Christmas," "Easter Parade," and "God Bless America."

But here, too, are examples of the Torah scrolls, bibles, prayer books, menus, candlesticks, kiddush cups, bat mitzvah dresses, and yarmulkes that have helped sustain Judaism in America for three and a half centuries.

"I think we did a pretty good job," said Perelman.

The tour begins with artifacts of Jewish life in the colonies. Here, behind glass, is a 1737 Torah from Savannah, Georgia; a plain, bronze menorah, or liturgical candelabrum; a circumcision kit; the wooden top of a Torah ark from Lancaster County; the bible of the Gomez family - New York mill owners who had fled the Spanish Inquisition; and the handwritten "subscription list" of donors who, in 1728, created America's first synagogue, Shearith Israel, in New York City.>>>


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