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Museum Musings

Aha Moments

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One of the most gratifying things about interacting with visitors of the Museum is – to borrow a phrase from Oprah Winfrey – to see their “Aha” moments.   


For those closer tAha Momentso the American Jewish experience perhaps an “aha” of recognition comes after seeing a pair of Shabbat candles, a brief experience that transports them to the familiar sights, sounds and smells of their grandmother’s Friday night table.  And for those farther from the American Jewish experience the “aha” moment often comes in different and more surprising, but no less amazing, forms.    


Last week a small group of men from the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission visited.  The Mission is a 100+ year old Christian organization that shelters and serves hundreds of homeless and otherwise disadvantaged Philadelphian men, women, and children each day.  The group, led by Mission Education Chaplain Jeffrey Harley, came here for a guided tour in hopes of “[seeing] that there’s a close connection between the African-American community and the Jewish community.”   


I sat down with the group after their guided tour led by docents Steve Capin and Gloria Wuhl.  I was curious to learn what piqued the group’s interest and what their “aha” moments were.  Guest Patrick Johnson volunteered that he “never knew that…[there were] Jewish brothers who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during our time of persecution,” while Dale Simmons reflected that seeing the exhibition was both “exciting” and a reminder that the United States has had and does have its “ugly” sides.   


Bernard Sallins was “surprised” to find out that the famous Groucho Marx and the Three Stooges were Jewish. Aha!  And Larry LaValley – in the fashion of the great film critics, Siskel and Ebert – called his time at NMAJH, “extremely informative and instructive.  I could go on for hours!”   


The Museum’s rich exhibition paints a complex picture of what it is to become and to be an American, and with it, the hopes, disappointments, challenges, successes, and pushes and pulls inherent.  For some of us the “aha” happens when laughing at a Gilda Radner clip on our second floor and recalling how her laugh reminds us of our camp bunkmate’s. For others like Patrick it comes at a pensive moment when considering how two groups came together to fight a battle that had to be fought.   


Whenever you find your “aha” moment at NMAJH, won’t you please let us know?  I thank the gentlemen who visited with the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, and all those who have shared their “aha” moments with us. 


-Contributed by Megan Helzner

Group Experiences and Sales Manager