On Friday June 17th, a group of 15 Wurzweiler students had the privilege of visiting the new Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. The trip was offered to all students in the Block Program, and specifically encouraged for students in the Jewish Communal Certificate program, who would have the opportunity to connect the dots between the concepts they have been learning in classes about the Jewish immigrant experience and ways Jews have engaged in Jewish life and contributed to American society as a whole.

The stunning museum covering three floors explores over 350 years of Jewish history in America. Beginning with its Foundations of Freedom exhibition space, the collection discusses the first immigration of Jews to America and emerging communities and spans the colonial era to the late 1800’s. This section of the museum ends on the eve of the great immigration starting in 1880. The next floor, Dreams of Freedom, discusses the millions of Jewish immigrants who arrived in the late 19th century from Eastern Europe and Russia, and spans this time of history from 1880-1945, shaping some of the major American Jewish communities and communal institutions. It explores the ways in which Jews defined themselves and associated with their neighbors, and dissects what was going on for the American Jewish community during WWII, one of the most difficult times for Jews and the world. The Choices and Challenges of Freedom floor, which spans from 1945 to day, looks at the creation of the Jewish state, the meaning of this historic event for American Jews and their role in building the new state, postwar suburbanization of American Jewish communities and the impact of contemporary culture on Jewish identity and engagement patterns. One of the most interactive areas of the exhibit was the Contemporary Issues Forum, welcoming museum visitors to comment on contemporary questions of importance to American Jews.

The museum is filled with interactive activities, multimedia in the form of videos and recordings, and original artifacts. As students moved through the extensive exhibition halls, they encountered and engaged other people exploring the space, experiencing and connecting to the museum in their own personal way.

It’s Your Story allowed visitors to share their own experiences of being a Jew in contemporary America. Some of our group took the opportunity to record their narrative and share it with the museum, in order to add to the rich fabric of interwoven stories of American Jewry. The student group appreciated the unique opportunity to visit this museum together and to explore their own Jewish identities through the lens of the American Jewish story.

Submitted by Adina Burden and Sarah Libman

 

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