Congress Considers Adding Jewish Museum to Smithsonian

A bipartisan, bicameral coalition in the U.S. Congress is championing an effort to establish a Smithsonian museum dedicated to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience.

Introduced in the House by U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-25), and co-led by U.S. Representatives Mike Turner (OH-10), Brendan Boyle (PA-02) and Max Miller (OH-07), and led in the Senate by U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), the “Commission to Study the Potential Transfer of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History to the Smithsonian Institution Act,” will create a Commission of Inquiry led by nine individuals with relevant expertise to study the feasibility of transferring the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History (The Weitzman) in Philadelphia to the Smithsonian Institution.

Original co-sponsors in the Senate include Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Fetterman (D-PA), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

“Jewish communities have made astounding contributions to America’s noble experiment in building a more perfect union. Sharing those achievements with everyone is what the late Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter and I had in mind when we created Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) nearly two decades ago,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. “Educating all Americans, from all over the country, about these amazing Jewish impacts on our nation’s history, not only raises awareness but helps dispel harmful prejudices about our community. Taking this critical step to welcome the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History into the larger Smithsonian family would bring that vision closer to reality.”

The Weitzman was established in 1976 as the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience. It is currently a private non-profit and is maintained primarily through generous charitable support. The Weitzman has been in its current home, a 100,000-square-foot James Polshek designed building on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall since 2010.

“The Weitzman’s Trustees stand ready to transfer the institution to the American People as an official museum of the Smithsonian Institution, with minimal cost to our citizens, and standing proudly in Philadelphia, steps from where our nation was founded,” Philip M. Darivoff, the Weitzman’s Chair Emeritus, said.

The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex. Several of its 21 museums — including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Museum of the American Latino (as well as a potential National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture that is currently under study) — explore and educate about America’s minority communities. The American Jewish community merits a Smithsonian museum.

At this moment in time, the rise in antisemitism in America over recent years became so alarming that the White House issued The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism last May, urging understanding, awareness, and education about both antisemitism and Jewish American heritage in museums, libraries, and arts and cultural institutions.

“A Smithsonian museum representing the American Jewish experience would serve as a resounding public endorsement that Jews belong in and are embraced by this nation,” Misha Galperin, President and CEO of The Weitzman, said.

“The story of American Jews and today’s living Jewish culture is a story that should matter to anyone who cares about a pluralistic society, to anyone looking for models of civil discourse and bridging divides, to anyone curious about America’s past, and to all of us invested in America’s future,” Dara Horn, novelist, scholar, and Creative Advisor to The Weitzman, said. “In this moment of rising hatred and ignorance, the possibility of the Weitzman becoming a Smithsonian institution is a reason for celebration and hope.”

The country’s leading Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Anti-Defamation League, and Jewish Federations of North America, have already endorsed this legislation.

“Taking steps to further preserve Jewish American history sends an important message against the rise in antisemitism, bigotry and racism,” said Sen. Mike Crapo. Establishing a commission to study the potential transfer of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History to the Smithsonian Institution is an important first step in the process of safeguarding the art, history and culture of Jewish Americans into the future.”

ABOUT THE WEITZMAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORY

Established in 1976, and situated on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience.

The Weitzman presents educational programs and experiences that preserve, explore, and celebrate the history of Jews in America. It proudly stewards one of the largest collections of Jewish Americana in the nation. Standing as a joyful bulwark against antisemitism, bigotry, and hate, The Weitzman serves to connect Jews more closely to their heritage and to inspire in people of all backgrounds a greater appreciation for the diversity of the American Jewish experience and the freedoms to which Americans aspire. www.theweitzman.org 

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