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“Museum about Jews in America is really about liberty”

National Museum of American Jewish History
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Philadelphia Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour
Ranked #9 of 465 things to do in Philadelphia
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: 2-3 hours
Owner description: The Museum offers tickets for Adults (ages 22-64) $12, Youths (ages 13-21) $11, Children (12-under) free, Active Military (with ID) free, Seniors (65+) $11. This museum offers dynamic and always intriguing exhibits. The history and evolution of the American Jewish community from colonial times onward is chronicled.
Useful Information: Food available for purchase, Activities for young children, Wheelchair access, Activities for older children, Bathroom facilities, Stairs / lift
Reviewed 4 July 2011

I live in Washington, DC, where the Holocaust Museum details the systematic persecution and destruction of Europe's Jews. But an engaging and substantive museum in Philadelphia demonstrates how American freedom allowed Jews to achieve and contribute in this country, despite a good deal of anti-Semitism and misunderstanding along the way. The museum's chronicling of the Jewish experience in America, with its challenges of discrimination and assimilation, is one that visitors of many backgrounds will recognize and Jewish families will treasure.

The first wonderful thing about the museum is its location across from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. This makes a public statement about the role of American Jews in U.S. history, but also sends a message that liberty can and should provide immigrants with protection and opportunity. Also impressive is the museum's use of multimedia, which manages to be high-tech without being flashy. The technology serves the story.

The museum is structured chronologically. It's recommended that you start on the 4th floor, which is devoted to early Jewish settlers in colonial America and Jewish participation in the nation's first century. Before you enter the galleries, you are struck by the expansive views from a wall of windows facing onto Independence Hall and National Historical Park, which sets the stage to learn how the history of Jews in the United States is a very American story. Nearby, a short multimedia presentation provides a foundation for what is on that floor. Each level of the museum begins that way: with the view and the intro. The multimedia shows on the 4th and 3rd floors are especially impressive.

The 4th floor galleries themselves display an array of artifacts and documents about a period of time when Jews came to America for the same variety of reasons as other groups and made their way all over the emerging nation. We see how America and this very small minority population came to deal with each other. I found the material about Jewish participation in the Civil War particularly interesting.

The 3rd floor begins in 1880 with the mass migration to the U.S. of Jews from Eastern Europe, then relates the Jewish experience after the crackdown on immigration in the 1920s, and gives the American Jewish perspective through two world wars. Because of the sheer number of Jews who arrived during this period, this is the back story of most of the Jewish families in the United States. So, while the outlines of this experience may be familiar to many visitors, the museum adds richness and detail using evocative historical objects, period environments and cutting-edge interactive technology. Fun activity: line up at Ellis Island and see if you can win admission into the United States.

The 2nd floor, covering 1945 to the present, focuses on a period in which America's freedoms allowed Jews to integrate into national life on a level Jews have experienced very few times in their history anywhere in the world. It shows Jews following the lure of suburbia, advancing to the highest positions in many professions, and confronting questions of how to observe and preserve Judaism in modern America. It examines the creation of the state of Israel and its impact on American Jews. Most significantly to me, there are depictions of Jewish involvement in postwar culture and counterculture, especially the struggle for civil rights, worker rights and, in general, the extension of freedom not only to Jews but to all peoples. After the galleries, guests can enter booths where a clever exhibit lets them videotape for posterity their reactions to the museum and the stories of their own families.

Back down on the first floor, you can rest in front of an exhibit called Only In America. On the surface, it's a kind of Jewish Hall of Fame. But with historical objects and multimedia presentations, it explores the background of a number of famous American Jews in the context of their lives as Americans. Within a few steps of each other, you can see Steven Spielberg's first Super 8 camera, Irving Berlin's amazing transposing piano, Isaac Bashevis Singer's Yiddish typewriter, and other cool artifacts. Then have a nosh at the small cafe and browse through a nice museum store.

We probably spent five hours touring the museum, since there were thousands of artifacts on display accompanied by well-written explanations. But even if you only have an hour, you can enjoy the understated design and engaging multimedia. Children will have fun discovering the many kid-height nooks and crannies which their parents and grandparents may have walked right by.

Congratulations to Philadelphia (and the museum staff) for creating this first-class museum.

4  Thank calligcat
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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873 - 877 of 931 reviews

Reviewed 26 April 2011

We were eager to see this new museum in Philly and see what it was like. Initially it seemed very interesting however, for 4 floors most of the exhibits we read and read and read. Too much reading and not enough visual stimuli and places to sit. It was very crowded when we went it took awhile to get through all the floors. Even though it was alot walking and reading we enjoyed the information. We liked seeing the famous Jewish people over the years highlighted.

3  Thank Bestmom81
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 24 April 2011

Very upbeat and interactive. Informative without being "dry". Can't wait to return and spend more time.

1  Thank rskny1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 22 March 2011

Very interesting exhibit. Activities for children are integrated into the general exhibits, making the museum very welcoming to families.

Thank Hen-nyTN
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 17 December 2010

My wife and I thought we'd spend a couple of hours in the museum, but we were there for 5 hours and would have liked to stay for more. The entire museum is very well laid out (chronologically) and one moves seamlessly from one exhibit to another. The museum which focuses much more on the people than on the religion, chronicles the role of Jewish individuals and groups on the history of this country from pre-Revolutionary days through today.
There is a small cafe adjacent to the gift shop which is just fine for lunch.

4  Thank KeepPeddling
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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