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May marks Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), so there’s probably no better place to celebrate US Jewish history and contributions than at the newly reopened Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History. Filled with artifacts and exhibits following Jewish people’s arrival on the mainland to the present day, the museum presents several compelling new additions.
Building for the future
Deborah Kass’s bright yellow outdoor “OY/YO” sculpture gets most people’s attention, but scattered inside the museum are sculptures and paintings by Jonathan Horowitz and several others in the exhibition The Future Will Follow the Past. Examining the social justice and political battles of our post-2020 nation, works include Horowitz’s imposing Charlottesville, Virginia, statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, but as it appeared covered by a black tarp—almost a facsimile of a death shroud—after that city’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally.
One breathtaking series of drawings, Aya Brown’s bus shelter portraits of Black female essential workers in New York City during its Covid-19 shutdown, reminds us just how much history we’ve survived in such a short time. Brown’s posters flank another new exhibition featuring Jewish military nurses during WWII. The display introduces visitors to a few of these heroic women and the tools of their trade, including a prayer book designed for Jews in the armed forces.
The theme of this year’s JAHM, “Can we talk about antisemitism?” might work any year, but seems especially important right now. While antisemitic incidents reached a new high in 2021 (according to an Anti-Defamation League audit), one event, the January hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, gets a highlight here. Artifacts from that fateful Shabbat service, such as a teacup the synagogue’s rabbi offered to the attacker before he revealed his purpose, are on display. These are accompanied by video interviews with three of the hostages, and Rabbi Cytron-Walker, whose quick thinking saved the lives of his captured congregants.
The Weitzman name is also a new addition and belongs to Stuart Weitzman of that strappy shoe empire. Thanks to his donation, the museum will offer free admission for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, items in the museum’s excellent gift shop (a “Light My Fire” menorah featuring Jim Morrison, anyone?) will still cost you.
What, When, Where
Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History. 101 South Independence Mall E, Philadelphia. Free of charge; a form of ID is required. (215) 923-3811 or theweitzman.org.
The museum entrance is wheelchair accessible. All floors, including gallery, dining, and store levels are accessible and can be reached by elevator. Standard wheelchairs are available on a limited basis at the admissions desk.
Reservations cannot be reserved in advance. Assistive listening devices are available for special programs in the Dell Theater. Way-finding signage includes Braille. Service animals are welcome in the museum. Many gallery spaces contain narrated exhibit components, triggered by proximity or touch. See more online.
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