Sacred Spaces: The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH)

The NMAJH is a place that represents the freedom and equality that America has to offer not only to the Jewish Nation, but to all peoples. It is however the only museum in the nation strictly dedicated to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish Experience. The museum has been in existence for over three decades now, but has been newly erected in 2010. With 5 different levels the building spans over 100,000 square feet between 5th and 6th street on Independence Mall East in the heart of Philadelphia’s Historic District. The museum carries more than 25,000 objects that preserve and represent the material culture of the American Jews.

When you first enter the structure there is a sense of the vast unknown. An emotional feeling one who first immigrated to this country was probably consumed with. Walking through the museum starting at the bottom is like a time machine. The tour begins in 1654 the year of the first permanent settlement of the Jews, and ends in present day America. Each floor has relics and remnants of the American Jewish Culture. As you walk through the decades, it is made clear by their everyday lifestyles and possessions how they slowly let go of the old world and embraced their new home. This includes everything from their clothing, appliances, furniture, and means of entertainment and leisure activities. Their world becomes more about modernism, and less about clinging to tradition, all the while never forgetting their heritage.        

Along the walls of the museum hang a multitude of different influential Jewish American historical figures. These include people such as Donna Karen, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Bella Abzug, Steven Spielberg, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, some of the most prolific contributing members of their individual fields. Another really interesting aspect of the museum is the story booth. Here you are encouraged to describe the historical background of you ancestry. I was unable to record my Jewish Identity and story, but I was however, able to view those stories of those who were taped before me. People spoke about how they relate to Jewish tradition today, how their ancestors immigrated here, and even favorite recipes or traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. It was a very heartfelt and personal encounter with complete strangers who were delightfully refreshing to learn about.          

The building architecture as a whole is very modern as it was designed and erected by the Ennead Architects of Pennsylvania. This team of world class industrial designers is specifically known for their conceptual execution. The building has received 4 awards, and has been recognized in 19 publications for its design excellency and historical contribution. The structure is made of translucent qualities, wide open spaces and a wraparound glass facade, representing the fragility of democracy that guarantees the freedom in this country, and also the open door that greeted those finding refuge in America. Finally the funders and architects wanted to portray a space that was open and ambiguous to encourage people to understand that they have the freedom to cross boundaries.

When visiting this museum, not only did I come away with a better understanding of the history of Jewish living, but I was also forced to think about where I stood as an American Jewish citizen. I felt a personal connection to this place and a greater appreciation for the people who paved the way and fought for equality and justice. I was given all the opportunities they never had, and thus a better chance at succeeding in whatever my endeavors may be, so in my estimation this edifice is definitely well serving its intent!



~ by Bombita Designs on November 13, 2012.

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