A Place to Call Home


Last weekend's gala opening of the National Museum of American Jewish History was a class act, heralding the arrival of a new local treasure that should make all of Philadelphia Jewry proud.

Who would have thought that a state-of-the-art museum telling the story of Jewish America would find its place among the most venerated of Philadelphia's historical institutions?

In a city already rich with notable Jewish history and esteemed institutions, the museum stands out on Independence Mall as a guidepost to how far we have come and where we have yet to go.

Those responsible for transforming the museum from its cozy but limited roots adjacent to a synagogue to its new impressive home deserve a hearty yasher koach — a job well done — for their vision and determination.

The museum's opening has thrust Philadelphia into the national spotlight. But in order to survive, it will need to sustain the momentum after the initial buzz has diminished. Its biggest challenge will be to find ways to draw in non-Jews, to capitalize on the universal themes of immigration, freedom and religious liberty.

But while visitors will come and go, our community is the one that stands to gain the most. The museum has the potential to be a unifying and enlightening force, a place where we can reach across our religious and cultural divides to share a common history. It can excite the already engaged and offer a new entry point for those among us who have trouble connecting Jewishly.

It can, through its programming, provide a forum for serious discourse on critical Jewish issues in a neutral setting.

Most of all, the institution has the opportunity to educate us and our children for generations to come. It is certain to become a destination for local Hebrew-school students, but with proper vision and resources, it can extend beyond that cohort to engage everyone from college students to young professionals to seniors.

And while we're all critics, there will be plenty of time to debate and dissect what's included in the exhibits and what's not; who's in and who's out. As museum officials acknowledge, it's a work in progress. Like our Jewish lives, this institution has the ability to adapt, grow and expand its horizons. It can fill in any gaps and reflect new realities. It can become the venue where we look not only to our achievements in this country — to our financial, political and cultural assets — but also to the fabric of our Jewish lives, a place to celebrate and embrace who we are as a people and a community.

But that's all for tomorrow. For now, let's both relish in the glamour that brought Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and Jerry Seinfeld to town, and look ahead with anticipation to Nov. 26, when the museum officially opens it doors.

May this Jewish museum go from strength to strength — and let the lessons begin. 



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