American Jewish History Museum Opens In Philadelphia

Avedis Kevorkian, Philadelphia PA, 5 December 2010

When the National Museum of American Jewish History opened to the public, on November 26, I was there, and I am hoping that the good doctor who monitors this web-site will indulge me and allow me to recount the experience.

Avedis Kevorkian, Philadelphia PA, 5 December 2010

When the National Museum of American Jewish History opened to the public, on November 26, I was there, and I am hoping that the good doctor who monitors this web-site will indulge me and allow me to recount the experience.

The Museum is located on the southeast corner of 5th and Market Streets, in the "olde city" of Philadelphia, and it overlooks Independence Mall. I give this specific address (and the additional details which follow) for a reason that will be obvious.

On the Mall, just west of the Museum, is the Pavilion that houses the Liberty Bell, arguably America’s most cherished icon.

One block to the south, between 5th and 6th Streets on Chestnut Street, is the Independence Hall complex, which is the southern end of the Mall, in the center of which is the Hall, where the Nation was born, and where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution of the United States was drafted. To its left, on the corner of 6th and Chestnut Streets, is Congress Hall, where the first Congress met, with the House of Representatives on the ground floor, and the Senate and the two rooms that became the Library of Congress, on the second. To the right of the Independence Hall is the Court House, where the first Supreme Court sat.

One block to the west of the Museum, at the corner of 6th and Market Streets, is the Independence Visitors Center, where the visitor to America’s most historic square mile will get his free map, see a short film on the attractions of the city, get a snack, buy souvenirs and, in the summer, get his free timed ticket to see the Liberty Bell.

One block to the north, from 5th to 6th Streets on Arch Street is the Constitution Center, at the northern end of the Mall, which tells the story of the American Constitution. Along side it, on the northeast corner of 5th Street is the U. S. Mint from whose galleries the visitor can see American coinage being made. And, on the southeast corner of 5th and Arch Streets, is the grave of Benjamin Franklin, the greatest American who ever lived, on whose grave visitors drop a penny–despite Ben’s maxim: “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

And, these are just a few of the must-see historic sites in the easy-to-walk-around area.

What all of the above means is that when the millions of visitors to Philadelphia come to see where the Nation began and to walk in the footsteps of those giants who created the greatest nation in the world, they will also see this unique Museum dedicated to the history of America’s Jews.

It is easy to get to. The subway system’s 5th Street Station is under the building. A bus route stops in front of the building, seven other buses stop on the opposite corner, two bus routes end just north of Market Street, one of the tour companies starts and finishes its tour on the diagonal corner, and the other tour company starts and finishes its tour one block to the north, near the Liberty Bell Pavilion.

And, what a museum it is. Four floors that tell the history of America’s Jews from the time the first of them arrived in 1654 to the present. It tells of the contribution made by the Jews to America’s art and culture, its commerce and science, its entertainment and sports, its literature and medicine–its very life–and it tells the story with repeated thanks to a country that enabled the immigrant and native-born to utilize his natural skills and talents as he could not do in other countries.

What is remarkable about the Museum is that from the first announcement to its opening took only 43 months–that’s slightly more than three-and-a-half years! That included selecting the architect, selecting the exhibit designer, razing the building formerly on the site, clearing the ground, erecting the new building, gathering the artifacts now on display, and the myriad of other necessary steps before the doors were opened to the visitor.

Meanwhile. . .(Ah, some of you were expected a "meanwhile," weren’t you?) in Washington, the Armenians are still at the stage where there is heated debated about the color of the interior of the broom closet on the second floor of the proposed Genocide Museum.

I feel an attraction to the Jewish Museum because a high-school friend gave the first $25-million to get the project started. He did not demand, as a return for his donation, that the museum be dedicated to his pet hamster that died when he was five-years old. Knowing Sid as I do, if there was anything attached to his check, it was a note saying: "More if you need it."

The five-storey, 100,000-square-foot Museum cost $150-million, and the Fund drive was oversubscribed, with "founding member" contributions from all 50 states!

What is it about the Jewish mind that it can see a need and fill it, can sublimate any biases and opinions when the greater need presents itself? And what is it about the Armenian mind that it cannot rise above its petty ego and will let a need suffer as it strives to take credit for something that its very inaction is preventing from coming to fruition?

And, while I am on that sad subject, permit me to talk briefly about the Holocaust Museum in Taiwan–that’s right Taiwan. There are about 150 Jews among the 23-million Taiwanese, but they have decided to have a Museum dedicated to the memory of their martyred brothers and sisters.

True, it isn’t in the capital; it’s in Tainan, a city 90 minutes by train to the south. True, it is not a stand-alone museum; it is in space given to the Jews by a church. But, they decided that in their time, and before they leave this life, they would do what has to be done.

Meanwhile, in Washington. . . . Oh, I commented on that, didn’t I?

What is also interesting about the new Jewish Museum is that just about 100 yards to the north, is (or was, now) a Jewish Museum. Why another? The older one was erected in 1976. Deemed too small, for about eight years there was talk of building a larger one on the site when the new location presented itself, and the Jews acted quickly. A monumental sculpture dedicated to "Religious Liberty–which was originally displayed at the country’s Centennial in 1876–that marked the entrance of the old Museum, now stands at the front of the new Museum.

Some of the exhibits of the Museum are aimed at the children, to teach them about their past, and to enable them to experience how the early Jews lived. There is a recording booth so that the visitor will be able to tell the story of his family! There is a cafeteria and a gift shop. The history tour begins on the fourth floor, with each lower floor nearing the present.

But, enough. Suffice it to say that nothing has been omitted that will tell the Jew and the non-Jew the history of a grateful people, whose contribution to this country far exceeds their limited number.

Meanwhile, in Washington. . . . Oh, I commented on this, didn’t I?

A word to the anti-Semites out there. Don’t visit this Museum. For your own peace of mind, please do not visit this Museum. You will not like what you will see. It will reinforce your worst fears about the superiority of the Jews, and you will return home and beat the wife and children and kick the dog and cat.

As for everyone else, when you come to Philadelphia, do visit this remarkable place. You can’t miss it. It is that glass-fronted building with a LED light-sculpture called "Beacon" installed on the roof. It is visible for miles and is on 24 hours a day.

Meanwhile, in Washington. . . .

  1. Jewish History Museum

    Meanwhile, I visit Washington DC 2-3 times a year and with hesitation, but secret anticipation and hope that there is some progress that I will see at the Armenian Genocide Museum.

    Each time I visit the site, I get disappointed, feel ashamed the way the building is kept steps away from the White House, an area where you see so many tourists from all over the world walking. I think it is inexcusable after so many years, there is not even a sign or some pictures on the dirty and broken windows of what the building is for. At least it could be used as a bill board or with a little bit of creativity tell a story to passers by.

    Is it the underfunding? How many years we have to donate to see some kind of progress? Why Armenian Assembly is not focusing their efforts in this wonderful opportunity to have a museum at such an important location? At least keep the building clean….I don’t want to donate any more unless I see progress, unless there is transparency with the plans and the work.

    Armenian Assembly is asking for donations for lobbying the Genocide case; how many organizations do we donate for the same cause, how many organizations have to work on the same issue from different directions directed to the same political group and confusing them? When will our organizations learn to put aside their egos and each focus on one issue, so something will be done?

    As you know, I am not the only one feeling this way. Meanwhile, I am waiting, visiting the museum site every time I am in DC and still hoping for some progress…..

  2. Good article but
    I find that too many Armenians are obsessed with comparing us to Jews. Why? Is it because we are jealous , envious or we love self-flagellation ? I for one believe that each group of people , ethnic or otherwise, have a way of doing things their own way and that’s who they are and what they are .

    I would rather spend intellectual effort to propose things that we , as a community , can do than bemoaning the fact that we have failed to emulate others.

    I liked the article for informing me that there is a new museum in Philadelphia I can visit and further my knowledge of an ethnic group in USA. For the rest, think of, and propose something that takes us a step forward.

    1. I agree with Hamasdegh

      I agree with Hamasdegh. We waste too much time and breath chastizing ourselves for not being as successful as the Jews.

      There are dozens of reasons why they are ahead of us. And we do know the reasons. Although they are ahead of every nation in the world, you don’t hear other nations beat their chests and bawl why they are not as successful as the Jews. Is this some kind of Armenian over-the-top ambition?

      The endless comparisons some Armenians feel compelled to make with the Jews is detrimental to us. Considering our circumstances, we have done, are doing pretty well. Let’s not sink into despondency just because we are not top of the class. Please no more "why can’t we be as united as the Jews? Why can’t we donate to Armenia/to our churches/to our schools/buy Armenian books…as much as Jews support Israel, their temples , schools, authors. Let’s play with the cards we have been dealt.

  3. To Lydia, Hamasegh et al

    It is of utmost importance that  at least  our  next generation be different from this one. I think quite a few know why that building, like Lydia describes,  is left in shambles. We talk here on line or other such venues that Oligarchy is rampant in RA, sticking our heads into the sand  in Diaspora like Ostriches.   

    I like  what Hamasdegh explains.

    But then, as long as  Ara  Baliozian´s BBB´s (Bishops, Bosses and Benefactors) dominate the arena, like the Oligarchs in RA, such Armenian invested funds will  go astray or be immobilized, viz. the Bldg intended  for Armenian Museum  in D.C.

    One thing is clear  though. These old timers did not undergo, what I call ¨Formacion Social¨, Social Formation, again like the Oligarchs.

    What’s  next, oh yes: just a week ago or so  they convened a Conference in LA with so much fanfare… and ¨Sare Dznets Moug¨ (the Mountain bore a mouse…). What  they have achieved  though, is to plan again.  For what,  one may ask. I would  dare  say, another mode  of being up on the forefront, having been elected, rather to be elected  by general (paper work) votes by the thousands. Not  like those  BBB´s.

    No mention  of what they intend to do.  Just elections and being elected  to LEAD… Lead  whom? one would dare ask the local and overseas oligarchs,  the latter day Armenian  BBB´s.

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