Coordinates: 39°57′01″N 75°08′55″W / 39.950288°N 75.148593°W / 39.950288; -75.148593

National Museum of American Jewish History
National Museum of American Jewish History
Location within Philadelphia
Established1976 (1976)
LocationPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates39°57′01″N 75°08′55″W / 39.950288°N 75.148593°W / 39.950288; -75.148593
TypeJewish Museum
Collection size30,000 objects
Visitors82,950 (2019)[1]
DirectorDr. Misha Galperin (Interim CEO)
CuratorJosh Perelman
Public transit accessSEPTA.svg 5th Street: Bus transport SEPTA.svg SEPTA bus: 17, 33, 38, 44, 48
Bus transport Philly PHLASH

The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) is a Smithsonian-affiliated museum at 101 South Independence Mall East (S. 5th Street) at Market Street in Center City Philadelphia. It was founded in 1976.[2]

In March 2020, The National Museum of American Jewish History filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, seeking relief from debt incurred by the construction of its Independence Mall home. The museum's debts included over $30 million to bondholders, and an additional $500,000 to unsecured creditors; at the time of the bankruptcy filing, the museum was paying 20% of its annual budget in interest payments. The filing followed several years of decreasing attendance, revenue, and fundraising. The museum's operations were not affected by the bankruptcy.[1] The museum exited bankruptcy in September 2021.[3]


The new building in 2013
The new building in 2013

With its founding in 1976, the then–15,000-square-foot (1,400 m2) museum shared a building with the Congregation Mikveh Israel.[4]

In 2005, it was announced that the museum would be moved to a new building to be built at Fifth Street and Market Street on the Independence Mall. The site was originally owned by CBS' KYW radio and KYW-TV. The project broke ground on September 30, 2007.[5] The 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) glass and terra-cotta building was designed by James Polshek and includes an atrium, a 25,000-square-foot (2,300 m2) area for exhibits, a Center for Jewish Education, and a theater.[6] The structural engineer was Leslie E. Robertson Associates.

The project, including endowment, cost $150 million.[7] The opening ceremony was held November 14, 2010 and was attended by over 1,000 people, including Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Michael Nutter, Governor Ed Rendell, and Rabbi Irving Greenberg.[8] The building opened to the public November 26, 2010.[8]

In 2012 Ivy Barsky was appointed as the CEO of the museum and she served until 2019.[9] During her tenure the George Washington 1790 letter was given on permanent loan.[10]

In March 2020 the museum closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and staff wages were reduced. In May the museum furloughed two thirds of its staff without pay. The acting CEO was Misha Galperin who had taken over when Barsby resigned the year before. The staff were not entitled to some benefits because of the museum being in chapter 19 protection.[11]

In August 2020, following the signing ceremony for the Great American Outdoors Act in which President Donald Trump mispronounced the name of Yosemite National Park as "yo-semites",[12] the museum's online gift shop experienced a surge in sales for a pre-existing, similarly phrased "Yo Semite" T-shirt. Sales of the shirt, which brought in $30,000 in the three days following Trump's statement and led to continued sales thereafter, provided unexpected international publicity and required financial assistance to the museum.[13][14][15]


Exhibits use pieces from the museum's collection which includes over 30,000 objects and ranges from the Colonial period to the present day.[16] Exhibits have focused on the lives and experiences of Jews in America, with past exhibitions centering on Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Leonard Bernstein.[17][1] Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University led the development of the core exhibit for the museum.

To Bigotry No Sanction: George Washington and Religious Freedom

In 2012, the NMAJH held a special exhibition that featured one of the most important documents pertaining to religious freedom in the United States. The letter was written in 1790 to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, addressing the new country's religious freedom.[18] George Washington's letter expressed the new government's commitment for religious freedom and equality for all faiths. The exhibition included numerous artifacts as well as early printings of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.[19]

Hall of Fame and Gallery

Established in 2010, the National Museum of American Jewish History Hall of Fame and a related permanent exhibition gallery honors the lives of prominent Jewish Americans.[20][21] The initial class of eighteen inductees was chosen both by a public vote and a panel of historians and experts. Inductees were elected in one of eight categories.[22] In its opening year, the exhibit contained a film about the inductees’ lives[23] and artifacts, including Sandy Koufax’s baseball mitt and sheet music from Irving Berlin.[21] The exhibition was renamed the Ed Snider 'Only in America' Gallery and Hall of Fame in honor of the former chairman of Comcast Spectacor.[24][25]

Honorees of the Hall of Fame
Honoree Category Year Inducted Notes
Irving Berlin Arts & Entertainment 2010 [26][22]
Leonard Bernstein Arts & Entertainment 2010 [26][22]
Louis Brandeis Politics, Law, & Activism 2010 [26][22]
Albert Einstein Science & Medicine 2010 [26][22]
Mordecai Kaplan Religion & Thought 2010 [26][22]
Sandy Koufax Sports 2010 [26][22]
Estée Lauder Business & Philanthropy 2010 [26][22]
Emma Lazarus Literature 2010 [26][22]
Isaac Leeser Religion & Thought 2010 [26][22]
Golda Meir Politics, Law, & Activism 2010 [26][22]
Jonas Salk Science & Medicine 2010 [26][22]
Menachem Mendel Schneerson Religion & Thought 2010 [26][22]
Rose Schneiderman Politics, Law, & Activism 2010 [26][22]
Isaac Bashevis Singer Literature 2010 [26][22]
Steven Spielberg Arts & Entertainment 2010 [26][22]
Barbra Streisand Performance 2010 [26][22]
Henrietta Szold Politics, Law, & Activism 2010 [26][22]
Isaac Mayer Wise Religion & Thought 2010 [26][22]
Julius Rosenwald Business & Philanthropy 2016 [26][27]
Gertrude Elion Science & Medicine 2017 [26][28]
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Politics, Law, & Activism 2019 [29][26]
Harry Houdini Performance 2020 [26][30]
David Copperfield Performance 2020 [26][30]

From the Core Exhibition in 2010

See also


  1. ^ a b c Salisbury, Stephan (March 2, 2020). "National Museum of American Jewish History files for bankruptcy protection". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
  2. ^ Farber, D. (2011-06-01). "National Museum of American Jewish History". Journal of American History. 98 (1): 146–150. doi:10.1093/jahist/jar107. ISSN 0021-8723.
  3. ^ Crimmins, Peter (2021-09-05). "National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia to emerge from bankruptcy". Philadelphia Business Journal. Retrieved 2021-09-07.
  4. ^ Rothstein, Edward (2010-11-11). "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Identity". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
  5. ^ "The Time has Come for a Groundbreaking Event". National Museum of American Jewish History. 2007-08-01. Archived from the original on 2010-11-19. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
  6. ^ Saffron, Inga (2010-11-14). "Building and message at odds". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
  7. ^ "Spielberg group gives $1M to Jewish history museum". Philadelphia Business Journal. 2008-07-02. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
  8. ^ a b Shapiro, Howard (2010-11-15). "Biden among notables attending opening ceremony of National Museum of American Jewish History". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
  9. ^ Bernstein, Jesse (2019-06-02). "Ivy Barsky Resigns From Position as CEO of NMAJH". Jewish Exponent. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  10. ^ Retrieved 2021-11-04. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Bernstein, Jesse (2020-05-06). "NMAJH furloughs about 2/3 of staff due to shortfall from coronavirus". Jewish Exponent. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  12. ^ Ellefson, Lindsey (August 4, 2020). "Watch Trump Pronounce 'Yosemite' as 'Yo-Semites' (Video)". TheWrap. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  13. ^ Rose, Kennedy (August 7, 2020). "Trump's Yosemite gaffe brings towering sales to National Museum of American Jewish History". Philadelphia Business Journal. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  14. ^ Child, David (August 11, 2020). "Donald Trump's mispronunciation blunder prompts surge in 'Yo Semite' t-shirt sales". Evening Standard. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  15. ^ Vermes, Jason (August 14, 2020). "How Trump's Yosemite slipup turned a Jewish history museum's T-shirt into an 'astronomical' best seller". CBC Radio. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  16. ^ Hurdle, Jon (2008-01-12). "Alongside the History of the Nation, the Story of Jewish Immigrants". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
  17. ^ National Museum of American Jewish History (Philadelphia, Pa.) (1987). A People in print : Jewish Journalism in America. National Museum of American Jewish History. OCLC 191123440.
  18. ^ "Bigotry" on the Jewish Virtual Library website
  19. ^ "To Bigotry No Sanction" on the Museum website
  20. ^ Rothstein, Edward (12 Nov 2010). "Life, Liberty And the Pursuit Of Identity: [Review]". New York Times. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  21. ^ a b Klein, Julia M. (26 January 2011). "American Jews' Story Told in a New Home". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s O'Reilly, David (19 September 2009). "In Jewish hall of fame: Streisand, no Stooges". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  23. ^ Haynes, Monica (December 19, 2010). "The National Museum of American Jewish History opens in Philadelphia". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on 2011-01-04. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  24. ^ Marks, Jon (11 April 2016). "Ed Snider Passes Away". Jewish Exponent. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  25. ^ Shapiro, Howard (14 November 2010). "A Star-Studded Gala Launches New American Jewish Museum in Philadelphia". Forward. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Bernstein, Jesse (10 December 2020). "NMAJH to Induct Copperfield, Houdini into Hall of Fame". Jewish Exponent. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  27. ^ Marks, Jon (2 June 2016). "Julius Rosenwald Hall of Fame Induction Highlights NMAJH New York Gala". Jewish Exponent. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  28. ^ "Jewish American Heritage Month at NMAJH, Spring 2017". Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  29. ^ McDaniel, Justine (20 December 2019). "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says her Philadelphia honor is 'pure joy'". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  30. ^ a b Greenwood, Marcia (December 10, 2020). "Greece man descended from Harry Houdini to accept honor on magician's behalf". Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Retrieved 23 June 2021.