National Museum of American Jewish History Opening

Long-time board members and supporters of NMAJH, Lyn and George Ross, have their names emblazoned on the new museum.

Bonnie Squires

One of the great mysteries surrounding the evolution of the new National Museum of American Jewish History site was solved at a press preview right before the official opening and dedication of NMAJH.  For months I had been wondering – how could Patrick Gallagher, the “interpretive designer” who worked so closely with Gwen Goodman, Executive Director Emerita, the board of trustees, and the new CEO Michael Rosenzweig, have translated the vision of Goodman and her board into the amazing new building on Inde
pendence Mall?

I mean – you don’t have to be Jewish to love bagels and lox.  But do you have to be Jewish to interpret the history of Jews in America into a museum which will speak to all ages, all ethnic groups, all different expressions of Judaism, all the immigrant groups in American society?

Some of the older artifacts in the new museum, like this pile of immigrant suitcases, look outstanding in their new home.

So I asked Gallagher, as he stood next to Goodman, after the press conference.  And he answered, “I’m Jewish!”  Now at first I thought he was joking – until Goodman confirmed that yes, indeed, Patrick was Jewish.    Gallagher had converted to Judaism in his twenties when he was getting married.

And like other people who have studied their way into Judaism, instead of simply having been born into the religion, Gallagher probably knows a lot more about Jewish history, traditions, customs and practices than many of those born Jewish.

Gwen Goodman, Executive Director Emerita of the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Patrick Gallagher, the interpretive designer of the new museum.

For ten years, Goodman and her board worked with Gallagher & Associates, in creating the core exhibition. The new museum has been designed by the internationally acclaimed architectural firm Polshek Partnership Architects.

The grand opening gala will feature performances by Bette Midler and Jerry Seinfeld, along with seminars by academics and a ribbon-cutting featuring Vice President Joe Biden.  Nearly one thousand patrons and sponsors will attend the gala concert and dinner, with national figures flying in from around the country.

And as Polshek explained, the beacon atop the glass and terra cotta structure will act as a reflection of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, a call to freedom; a reminder of the Eternal LIght which shines in every synagogue around the world; as well as a reflection of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, American icons of freedom, just across the street from the new National Museum of American Jewish History.

The move to Independence Mall included the 19th century statue, now situated on the Caroline and Sidney Kimmel Plaza, which was a gift from the Jewish community of Philadelphia.

Photo credits: Bonnie Squires


Explaining the mission of the NMAJH are (left to right) architect James Polshek and NMAJH CEO Michael Rosenzweig.