Slated to open in the fall of 2010, the National Museum of Jewish American History, for the first time since groundbreaking nearly two years ago, has finally reached five stories above Independence Mall, in the heart of historic Philadelphia. The Museum will join Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell and other landmarks at the hallowed site of America’s birth. There could not be a more fitting place for a museum that will explore the promise and challenges of liberty through the lens of the Jewish American experience.
With a striking glass façade that looks out across the Mall, the 100,000-square-foot Museum sits like a jewel box under construction. With its structural bones intact, its walls are rising and the envelope of the building is taking shape. The interior is also taking shape. Steel beams where floating staircases will eventually carry visitors to each floor are in place and ready for frosted-glass risers and treads. A square is marked off on the ceiling where a skylight will funnel sunlight down onto each floor and through the glass on the staircases. Locations where the exhibits will be on display have been defined.
The building will offer three floors of core exhibition space exploring more than 350 years of Jewish American history through the use of evocative objects, telling moments and state-of-the-art interactive technologies. Another floor will be dedicated to changing exhibits.
In addition, the unique Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame will illustrate the extraordinary accomplishments of American Jews. The concourse will be entirely devoted to education, with classrooms, a theater and a resource center. The Museum will also house a café and gift shop.
The new Museum has been designed by the internationally acclaimed architectural firm Polshek Partnership Architects, which completed the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“The museum is being built to tell my story, and Will’s,” said Bill Becker, principal of Becker and Frondorf and project manager, whose parents immigrated at different times to the United States from Europe. Will Schwartz, co-owner of Intech Construction Co. who is building the project moved as a child to the United States from Peru, and the museums President and CEO Michael Rosenzweig’s father was a Holocaust survivor who arrived in America in 1948. For Becker, Schwartz and Rosenzweig — all of whom are Jewish — the museum is also a very personal project and that has inspired an even more acute level of care and attention.
Situated between Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was created, and the Constitution Center, Gwen Goodman, who has sat on the museum’s board since 1977 and served as its executive director beginning in 2000, said, “We tell the story of what happens when an ethnic group lives in freedom under those two documents.”
This story is still as relevant today as it was 50 and 100 years ago as the immigrant community in the US continues to grow with people continuing to seek the truths held by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Beyond the Jewish American experience, fun exhibits and a good time for the family, this museum holds a place in all the hearts of all Americans.