The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History Could Become the 22nd Smithsonian Museum; Major Jewish Organizations Have Already Expressed Support

PHILADELPHIA, March 21, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — A bipartisan, bicameral coalition in the U.S. Congress is championing an effort to establish a Smithsonian museum dedicated to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience.

Introduced in the House by U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-25), and co-led by U.S. Representatives Mike Turner (OH-10), Brendan Boyle (PA-02) and Max Miller (OH-07), and led in the Senate by U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), H.R.7764 / S.4001 “To establish a commission to study the potential transfer of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History to the Smithsonian Institution, and for other purposes” will create a Commission of Inquiry led by nine individuals with relevant expertise to study the feasibility of transferring the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History (The Weitzman) in Philadelphia to the Smithsonian Institution.

Original co-sponsors in the Senate include Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Fetterman (D-PA), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

The country’s leading Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Anti-Defamation League, and Jewish Federations of North America, have already endorsed this legislation.

The Weitzman was established in 1976 as the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience. It is currently a private non-profit and is maintained primarily through generous charitable support. The Weitzman has been in its current home, a 100,000-square-foot James Polshek designed building on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall since 2010.

“The Weitzman’s Trustees stand ready to transfer the institution to the American People as an official museum of the Smithsonian Institution, with minimal cost to our citizens, and standing proudly in Philadelphia, steps from where our nation was founded,” says Philip M. Darivoff, the Weitzman’s Chair Emeritus.

The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex. Several of its 21 museums — including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Museum of the American Latino (as well as a potential National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture that is currently under study) — explore and educate about America’s minority communities. The American Jewish community merits a Smithsonian museum.

At this moment in time, the rise in antisemitism in America over recent years became so alarming that the White House issued The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism last May, urging understanding, awareness, and education about both antisemitism and Jewish American heritage in museums, libraries, and arts and cultural institutions.

“A Smithsonian museum representing the American Jewish experience would serve as a resounding public endorsement that Jews belong in and are embraced by this nation,” said Dr. Misha Galperin, President and CEO of The Weitzman.

“The story of American Jews and today’s living Jewish culture is a story that should matter to anyone who cares about a pluralistic society, to anyone looking for models of civil discourse and bridging divides, to anyone curious about America’s past, and to all of us invested in America’s future,” said Dara Horn, novelist, scholar, and Creative Advisor to The Weitzman. “In this moment of rising hatred and ignorance, the possibility of the Weitzman becoming a Smithsonian institution is a reason for celebration and hope.”

“Jewish communities have made astounding contributions to America’s noble experiment in building a more perfect union. Sharing those achievements with everyone is what the late Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and I had in mind when we created Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) nearly two decades ago. Educating all Americans, from all over the country, about these amazing Jewish impacts on our nation’s history, not only raises awareness but helps dispel harmful prejudices about our community,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “Taking this critical step to welcome the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History into the larger Smithsonian family would bring that vision closer to reality. This powerful institutional integration signals a strong commitment to address the dramatic rise in antisemitism by helping amplify the myriad ways Jewish Americans enriched a nation who’s very founding, fittingly, traces back to Philadelphia, the Weitzman Museum’s home city.”

“Integrating the Weitzman with the Smithsonian would pay tribute to the role that the Jewish American community has played in the progress of America,” said Senator Bob Casey. “With antisemitism on the rise, the Weitzman Museum stands as an opportunity to educate the next generation on the contributions Jewish Americans made to our Nation and help stem the tide of hate.”

“The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia serves as a powerful reminder of the contributions that Jewish Americans have made to the fabric of the United States,” said Congressman Mike Turner. “By bringing this museum and its collections into the Smithsonian Institution, Congress will ensure that the story of Jewish Americans is shared with the widest possible audience. I am proud to join my colleagues in supporting this effort to preserve and tell the story of such an important community in America.”

“The Weitzman Museum is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience,” said Congressman Brendan Boyle. “The Weitzman’s role in telling the tale of our nation’s history is significant. Bringing the Weitzman Museum fully into the Smithsonian family would give it expanded access to not only artifacts and documents, but robust educational resources, expertise and staff training to aid in the ongoing mission to preserve and promote the culture of American Jews.”

“With the recent rise in antisemitism, now more than ever it is imperative that Jewish-American Heritage be celebrated and exhibited at the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, the Smithsonian Institution,” said Congressman Max Miller.

 “Taking steps to further preserve Jewish American history sends an important message against the rise in antisemitism, bigotry and racism,” said Sen. Mike Crapo. Establishing a commission to study the potential transfer of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History to the Smithsonian Institution is an important first step in the process of safeguarding the art, history and culture of Jewish Americans into the future.”

“The Weitzman is a critical institution in Philadelphia and for our country — not just for Jewish Philadelphians but for residents and visitors of all backgrounds,” said John Senator Fetterman. “It is crucial that we continue to lift up Jewish history and culture. As the only museum in the country dedicated exclusively to the Jewish American experience, the Weitzman does just that. I’m so proud to lead this legislation that will help strengthen the Weitzman and continue its incredible work as part of the Smithsonian Institution.”

“Throughout our nation’s history, countless Jewish Americans have overcome challenges and adversity to make a home here in the United States, making major contributions to our culture, succeeding in a wide range of industries and arenas, and helping to build up our country in the process. These are stories that need to be told,” said Senator Jacky Rosen. “At a time of surging antisemitism, establishing a Jewish American History Museum as part of the Smithsonian will help shed a much-needed and long-missing light on what it means to be Jewish in America, and I am proud to support this effort.”

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Established in 1976, and situated on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience. The Weitzman presents educational programs and experiences that preserve, explore, and celebrate the history of Jews in America. It proudly stewards one of the largest collections of Jewish Americana in the nation. Standing as a joyful bulwark against antisemitism, bigotry, and hate, The Weitzman serves to connect Jews more closely to their heritage and to inspire in people of all backgrounds a greater appreciation for the diversity of the American Jewish experience and the freedoms to which Americans aspire.

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SOURCE National Museum of American Jewish History

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