With its groundbreaking just about two weeks away, the National Museum of American Jewish History has reached an impressive milestone: It's raised $100 million of the $150 million needed to construct a new 100,000-square-foot home on Independence Mall.
Said George M. Ross, the museum's capital-campaign chairman: "It says a lot for this project to have raised" that much.
"I've spoken to hundreds of people about this project, and not one person I have solicited — not one! — has said that this is not a good idea," he continued. Ross is also co-chairman of the museum's board of trustees.
Fundraising for the brand-new building, which will occupy the southeast corner of Fifth and Market streets, began five years ago, in November 2002.
Ross said that the campaign has been national in scope, with events held in Long Island, Miami and New York, among other locales. He added that the board has become increasingly national in membership, and that the curatorial team — chaired by historian Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University — has also made an effort to draw academics from across the country.
"This is not a Philadelphia museum," said Ross. "It's located in Philadelphia because it's the ideal location, in the shadow of the Liberty Bell, … but it must be a national museum."
When complete, the five-story glass-and-stone building will house what's to be a comprehensive history of American Jewry.
"It will trace our history from 1654, when the first Jews landed in New Amsterdam, to the present," explained Ross. "Other museums touch on pieces of this, but there's no other museum in the U.S. devoted solely to the American Jewish experience."
Ross further noted that universal themes like freedom will be a cornerstone of the museum — a facet that will allow the institution to take advantage of its strategic location.
"The Liberty Bell gets about 2 million tourists a year," said Ross, noting that the Jewish museum would surely "draw some of these visitors," including non-Jews and schoolchildren.
Indeed, several major philanthropists interested in Jewish education, including Sidney Kimmel, have written large checks for the cause. In November 2002, Kimmel, a West Philadelphia native, made a $25 million donation.
Other significant contributions have come from Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider, and from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.
The new museum plans to offer visitors far more exhibition space than what's found in its current 15,000-square-foot building, which is shared with Congregation Mikveh Israel. The new design, created by James S. Polshek of Polshek Partnership Architects in New York, will provide room for 20,000 permanent artifacts, as well as an area for changing exhibits, an education resource center, several teaching classrooms and a 200-seat theater.
The public groundbreaking will be held at the new construction site at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30.