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Museum Musings

3.14.19 'Sara Berman's Closet' opens next month.

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A temporary outdoor monument to freedom and independence

How fashion, feminism, art, immigration, and history come together in a burst of joy

SBC Mmuseumm
We can't wait to open our newest special exhibition Sara Berman’s Closet next month. An installation of one immigrant woman’s belongings as re-created by Sara’s daughter and grandson – the acclaimed artist and writer Maira Kalman and designer and curator Alex Kalman – the project will feature the Museum’s first-ever public art installation on its Kimmel Plaza, on the corner of 5th and Market Streets. An accompanying art exhibition will continue in the Museum’s special exhibition gallery, featuring new paintings by Maira Kalman and new sculptures by Alex Kalman and will include interventions throughout the core exhibition, as well as in-person appearances by the Kalmans throughout the run.

Sara Berman’s Closet will be on view April 5 through September 2, 2019. Learn more about the exhibition and special programs at

Image couresy Mmuseumm. 

1.29.19 Jewish American Heritage Month theme announced!

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Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), a national commemoration of the contributions that Americans Jews have made to the fabric of our nation’s history, culture, and society, is pleased to announce the theme for the May 2019 celebration: American Jewish Illustrators. First established by presidential proclamation in 2006 and renewed every year since, JAHM encourages people of all backgrounds to learn about and draw inspiration from the more than 360-year history of Jewish life in this country.

JAHM’s 2019 theme provides an opportunity to recognize the many American Jews who have helped create the nation’s beloved children’s books, iconic graphic novels and their superheroes, and syndicated comics and illustrations. These Jewish artists, illustrators, and writers have been shaped by American life, society, and culture, and in turn enriched America’s imaginative landscape. Through the prism of their Jewish identity, and often by approaching their work through the lens of social justice, they have been able to make poignant observations about the world around them, offering powerful commentary on issues of the day through their unique and universal medium.

From Ezra Jack Keats who grew up as the child of Jewish immigrants in Depression-era Brooklyn, to contemporary writer/illustrator Maira Kalman who examined (and illustrated) the American democracy she saw around the country, these keen and witty social observers reflect us and our world in lasting ways.


Click here to follow JAHM on Facebook.


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12.24.18 Award-Winning Essay by 8th grade student Anna Wessel

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Thank you, Anna, for sharing your wonderful essay with us.


"World War I began after South Slav nationalist, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. The countries who were involved in the war were, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey, also known as the Central Powers. They were against mainly, France, Great Britain, Russia, Japan, and America, who were allies. The war was deadly because some of the countries didn't realize how bad the 20th-century technology was when used against 19th-century tactics.

Sergeant, William Shemin, of Jewish decent, was one of the local men who fought in this conflict. Shemin was enlisted in the Army, October 2, 1917. When he was only 19, he participated in the Aisne-Marne Offensive, and when he tried to pull comrades to safety he took a machine gun bullet to his head. After his injury, he received the Purple Heart and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which was the second highest honor. Although, he could've gotten the highest honor but he didn't because of the way he was viewed at the time. His daughter, Shemin-Roth thought that he didn't get it because of anti-Semitism since he was Jewish. So she fought for her father to be recognized with this award. In 2015, she won the fight and Obama awarded Shemin the Medal of Honor during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. This is one example on how we improved in our views.

Another Sergeant, Henry Johnson, of African descent, was also one of the local men who fought in World War I. Johnson was enlisted in the Army, June 5, 1917. When he was guarding the front-line with a fellow soldier, Needham Roberts, they were attacked by a German raiding party with at least 12 soldiers. When he was being shot by them he defended himself, and resulted in several enemy casualties. He even prevented his fellow soldier who was severely injured, from being taken by the German forces. And with himself being also wounded badly, he still continued fighting. After his 21 combat injuries, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme, Frances highest award. When he was alive he was viewed so lowly that he wasn't even awarded any American medals. But he was finally awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 after his death and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. Except, he still didn't get the highest honor, the Medal of Honor, until 2015 on the same day that William Shemin got his award. He was also the second African American to receive the Medal of Honor for World War I service. This also shows an example on how we improved in our views.
America has changed so much over the years and we now accept all people no matter what skin color or religion. This shows the comparison between how America viewed different races before and how we improved our views on them now."


To learn more about Sergeant William Shemin and WWI, visit 1917: How One Year Changed the World

12.11.18 Antisemitism in America: Is Hate Speech Free Speech?

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How do we fight antisemitism while protecting the Constitutional rights of all Americans?

Last night's forum offered expert and sometimes opposing viewpoints in response to this challenging question as it pertains to the Jewish community. From historical context to contemporary issues around campus life, Israel, current events, and policies, our notable speakers discussed and debated these timely topics during their hour-long conversation on December 10, 2018.

Featuring Brooke Goldstein, Executive Director, The Lawfare Project and Greg Lukianoff, President & CEO, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The forum was moderated by Jeff Rosen, President & CEO, National Constitution Center/

This program was made possible thanks to support from The Snider Foundation.


You can watch the debate here, which was presented live on Facebook.


 Left to Right: Jeff Rosen, Brooke Goldstein, and Greg Lukianoff

11.28.18 'The Art of Rube Goldberg'

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The Museum's current special exhibition, The Art of Rube Goldberg, has received some wonderful press coverage! The Washington Post calls it "entrancing." To read more of the exhibitions recent press coverage, visit our Press Room.


The first comprehensive retrospective exhibition of Rube Goldberg's work since the Smithsonian's 1970 celebration of the artist, The Art of Rube Goldberg explores his varied career from his earliest published works and iconic Rube Goldberg machine invention drawings, to his Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoons, and more. Throughout his long career, Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) chronicled almost every salient aspect of modern American life. His work touched on everything from fashion and sports to gender, politics, and international affairs. This exhibition explores the artistry and wit that made Rube Goldberg one of the twentieth century's most celebrated and enduring cartoonists - and a household name.

We hope to see you at the Museum before the exhibition closes on January 21, 2019. To learn more about the exhibition, click here.

Rube Goldberg1  Rube Goldberg 2
Photos by Matthew Christopher Photography. 

11.1.18 #ToBigotryNoSanction

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Dear Museum Friends,

We at the National Museum of American Jewish History, like you, are deeply saddened and angered by the act of hatred and violence perpetrated on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 27. We mourn the tragic loss of eleven people while they were engaged in one of the most basic freedoms that America has made possible for the Jewish community: observing their own religion. We must stand in solidarity with them as we condemn this horrific act.

At the Museum, we know that education is the strongest response to hate. Although our hearts are broken – and perhaps because they are broken – we respond by rededicating ourselves to our educational mission, working to inspire people of all backgrounds to understand and appreciate the values of heritage and identity through active engagement with stories of American Jewish life that we tell in our Museum every day.

I would like to evoke George Washington’s beautiful letter about religious freedom to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, RI in 1790, on view at the Museum, in which he vows that “our Government gives to bigotry no sanction to persecution, no assistance.” And, quoting the Hebrew Bible, also writes, “everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

These promises, made to the Jewish community more than 200 years ago, underscore the ideals of pluralism on which this nation was founded and are part of the fabric of our Museum. They have become a mantra for us over the past few days. Washington’s words remind us that we must be vigilant: the freedoms to which all Americans aspire must not be taken for granted and we must constantly work to attain and sustain the freedoms defined in these founding principles.

May we strive to make Washington’s vow a reality in our own time. We invite you to show your support on social media with #ToBigotryNoSanction.

In true Jewish fashion, we will rejoice through our tears, and celebrate together with extra vigor the accomplishments and contributions of the American Jewish community.

Wishing you strength and comfort,

Ivy L. Barsky
CEO and Gwen Goodman Director

9.13.2018 'Bernstein' on the Move!

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It was a bittersweet goodbye as we closed Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music earlier this month. But we’re thrilled to see it begin its national tour! The first large-scale exhibition to document Bernstein’s life, work, Jewish identity, and social activism, containing approximately 100 historic artifacts, will open October 4 at Brandeis University. It will be free and open to the public through November 18, 2018. Next year, the exhibition will be on view at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, OH, beginning September 22, 2019 through February 22, 2020. Bernstein logo


The arrival of this exhibition will symbolize Bernstein’s return to Brandeis University, where Bernstein was an influential member of the music faculty and the founder of the university’s Festival of the Creative Arts, which today honors his legacy as an artist, an educator, an activist and a humanitarian. The exhibition will be free and open to the public.


The Maltz Museum uses a Jewish lens to explore diversity and tolerance in Ohio and throughout America. Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music will complement the Maltz Museum’s core exhibition, which explores the uncertainty and hope many American Jews experienced in the twentieth century.

The exhibition has garnered significant media attention, including coverage by The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, CBS, and TIME. The New York Times identified Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music as“among the most notable homages to Mr. Bernstein.”



Photo by Jessi Melcer
 Installation view of Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music at NMAJH. Photo by Jessi Melcer.