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Jewish museum opens new facility

By Jeff Goldberg, courtesy National Museum of American Jewish History

PHILADELPHIA — The National Museum of American Jewish History opened its sparkling new, $150 million state-of-the-art building on Independence Mall Nov. 26 following star-studded grand opening ceremonies two weeks before that included Vice President Joe Biden, Jerry Seinfeld, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler.

The 100,000-square-foot, five-story building, more than six times larger than the 34-year-old museum’s previous facility, is located a block south of the National Constitution Center and directly across the street from the Liberty Bell.

The museum’s core exhibit explores the religious, cultural, political and economic stories of Jews over their 350-year history in America with artifacts, immersive environments, films and interactive technology.

The more than 1,000 artifacts range from the piano on which Irving Berlin wrote “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” to a bat used by Hall of Fame baseball star Hank Greenberg.

There are three floors of exhibits and a ground floor hall of fame, whose initial honorees include Louis Brandeis, Albert Einstein, Estée Lauder, Jonas Salk, Steven Spielberg and Streisand.

An 85-foot-high, light-filled atrium connects the entry level to the exhibition floors and an education center and a 200-seat theater below. The building also has a cafe and museum store.

The new museum is made up of two separate sections, one translucent, the other opaque, connected by a network of staircases. The west facade facing Independence Mall is a glass prism expressing the openness of America and the perennial fragility of democracy. The north wall of terracotta symbolizes the strength of Jewish survival and the protective shelter of American freedom.