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Museum Musings

3.24.17: That Time 12 Rappers Descended on NMAJH

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By Rebecca Bar, Director of Operations, Bible Raps

Bible raps imageThere are very few places where Jewish educators and professionals of all denominations and affiliations can mingle with new immigrants, Yiddish socialists, outspoken activists, various Rabbis, and summer campers. But during Bible Raps’ 1st Annual Hip Hop, Text, and Judaism Retreat, we did just that by touring through, and writing about, the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Designed to bring the richness of Jewish wisdom, history, and traditions to life through original albums, creation of participant-generated rap songs, and music videos, Bible Raps educates and inspires Jewish people to see Judaism as a living and breathing experience, fostering a generation that self identifies with Jewish wisdom and heritage. At our retreat, we brought together 12 participants interested in learning our methods and taking them back to their own communities and organizations.

The weekend began with a guided tour of the Museum, where participants had an opportunity to take notes on areas that interested them. We then enjoyed a spiritual Kabbalat Shabbat to end our first day, with thoughts of Leo Max Frank, JTS, and Isaac Mayer Weiss percolating. In preparation for writing our final song, what eventually became “Good Morning America,” we spent the evening practicing making raps together. Using actual text from the Museum exhibits and the skills learned over the weekend, Saturday night we created as a group, first working on the hook and chorus about the history of American Jews, and then each participant had a turn on the mic for their specific verse. The collaboration was really a highlight and that energy comes through in the song. A retreat participant noted, “The concept of the retreat was great and the end project was fun. Everyone wanted to be there, which was the most beautiful aspect of the whole weekend.” It was a celebration!

The last day of our retreat, we went back to the Museum for shooting and the participants rapped in front of the exhibits -- the ultimate video shoot location! We’re so thankful for the opportunity to work with the National Museum of American Jewish History and invite you to enjoy the music video about the history of Jewish life in America, entitled “Good Morning America.”



We are excited for our 2nd Annual Hip Hop, Text, and Judaism retreat later this year. If you’d like to be a part of it, please be in touch with us at

2.18.17: Accessibility, Inclusion and NMAJH

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By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to lead a training with my colleague Dr. Beth Rosenwasser of JCHAI (a non-profit organization that offers a variety of support services for people with developmental disabilities) for docents at NMAJH. We discussed how to welcome and provide support for peopleJDAIM logo with disabilities who come to the Museum. We began our training by asking participants to think about someone they know personally who has a disability—and to share what they have learned from this person.

I use this activity in many of the trainings that I lead as Director of Jewish Learning Venture’s “Whole Community Inclusion” and have found that this question invites thoughtful conversation. Participants share stories about people they have known in their schools and synagogues or in their own families, and sometimes identify their own disabilities, which may not necessarily be visible. At least 1 in 5 people in our country have a physical, cognitive, emotional, or learning disability or some combination of disabilities—and yet, many of us have not had opportunities to consider what valuable life lessons we can take away from people in our community who live with disability.

In part, I believe this to be the case because too often, especially in the case of people with intellectual disabilities, there still exists so much separation and segregation. Children and teens in schools don’t often get to interact with their peers who spend the day in self-contained autism support or life skills classrooms; when those individuals graduate from school and enter the work force, it may be in a sheltered workshop rather than in a community setting. While many of our synagogues and Jewish organizations are working hard to better welcome and support students with learning differences, our community has all too often forgotten adults with disabilities who live in group homes or institutional settings.

I am delighted that NMAJH is making a commitment to accessibility and inclusion. In addition to the docent training, we are holding a Sensory-Friendly Access Event on February 20, Presidents’ Day, that will invite families whose children need quiet, calm settings to experience an art activity, story, and short tour of the Museum. Everyone is welcome!

And, the public is invited to a community panel and book discussion about Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the 2017 selection for One Book, One Philadelphia, on February 28 in partnership with the Museum, Jewish Learning Venture, and JCHAI. The event coincides with

Book jdaim

 opening night of the Tony-award winning musical at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. In this popular novel, a young teenager with autism sets out to learn who murdered his neighbor’s dog, but ends up learning more about himself and his community. 

The panel discussion will focus on how we can all be more welcoming and accessible to people with autism. It will feature autism self-advocates, including Lauren Gross, Museum Educator and Admissions Associate from NMAJH.

I am always happy to talk with families or organizations; please contact me!

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall.

12.23.16: Making New Christmas Memories

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Usually, I spend Christmas Day sitting on the sofa in my pajamas, eating a once a year feast for one, and binge-watching Christmas themed movies. Last year, I didn’t. I searched the internet for an event that would force me to leave my apartment, and meet people, or, at least, learn something new. And I found

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The week before Christmas, I bought a ticket to Being ___ at Christmas, and spent Christmas Eve prepping my clothes and choosing which bus routes would get me downtown and back on the holiday schedule. When Christmas Day finally arrived, I got to the National Museum of American Jewish History an hour after it opened, and spent four hours touring every floor of the building, from the top down.

Beyond the abundance of history, I found that Being ___ at Christmas was about family, and humanity. I noticed both, everywhere: from a father holding the hand of his toddler as they slowly walked up the stairs, to eyes scanning the faces and bodies of those who were obviously different but moved on without attempting to engage, and for those who did. I witnessed it on every floor.

On the floor where the story of American Jews began, a teen-aged boy stood with an older woman discussing a display before he leaned into her side. Automatically, the woman wrapped her arms around his back, lovingly. A grandmother excitedly told her grandson, who was more interested in handling everything, that she attended one of the summer camps named along one of the walls of the Dreams of Freedom exhibit. In front of the Palmer Raids display in the Choices and Challenges exhibit, a man and his wife mused over the similarities between justifications for mass deportations then, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric of today. And, at the video exhibit on the death of a Jewish man falsely accused of murdering a teen-aged girl, a volunteer and I spoke of the South, and its history of mob lynching under the guise of justice. Seemingly much had changed, but the struggle to treat each other as equals worthy of respect was never ending.

CJTerry 2Those moments remain with me because they reminded me that the struggle to sustain a distinct cultural identity without abandoning my humanity or negating my Americanness was a universal story. It was my story.

—Written by CJTerry

12.16.16: Museum Staff Holiday Gift Guide

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Still looking for the perfect gifts to give this holiday season? Below, NMAJH staff members share their favorite items from the Museum Store. (Spoiler: It’s not all menorahs and dreidels!)

Alisa gift 2Alisa Kraut, Assistant Curator:
“I have been a big fan of Lemony Snicket's work with A Series of Unfortunate Events, his very delightfully dark children's series. I bought The Latke That Wouldn't Stop Screaming two years ago and have made it a holiday tradition in my home. With non-Jewish family members and a school-aged daughter in a secular public school, I am always looking for ways to affirm the traditions of Hanukkah without feeling the need to compare it to the ever-present elements of the Christmas season. To quote the book: 'I am something completely different!' This book is slightly irreverent and very quirky, with plenty of humorous moments to please adults and children."
Ryan gift

Ryan Bott, On-Site Technician:

“My pick is a combo package: Golden Girls zippered pouch with accompanying table coasters. It's a great gift because…it's Golden Girls. Stay Golden.”
Kate gift

Kate Beach, Gifts Processor: 

“I picked the Mistaken Lyrics Coasters. I love this gift because we’ve all mistaken or misheard even the most ubiquitous lyrics. These coasters will always get a laugh, and it’s one of so many fun tie-ins to our Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution exhibit.”
Arielle gift
Arielle Amiri, Group Services Associate:

“One of my favorite items in our Museum store has to be our Rock & Roll hotel keychain series. The series features room keys for hotels like the Hotel California and Grossinger’s Resort but my personal favorite is unquestionably the Chelsea Hotel “Room 204” key, a.k.a the room infamously occupied by Patti Smith. This gift works for fans of Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, and so many other iconic rock and roll artists too!”

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Jennifer Isakowitz, Public Relations & Digital Marketing Manager

“I loved artist Deborah Kass’s giant OY/YO sculpture in Brooklyn Bridge Park this past year. While the sculpture is no longer there, the OY/YO collection items in the Museum Store give the artwork a second life.”

Emma gift

Emma Calvitto, Senior Manager of Institutional Giving: 

“My parents gave me the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook one year for Hanukkah, and it has been a gift that keeps on giving. The Artichoke Heart-Stuffed Shells and Raspberry-Ricotta Scones have become go-to recipes that I would recommend to any cooking enthusiast on your gift list!” [Buy Smitten Kitchen Cookbook at the Museum Store or shop other cookbooks online here.]
Charlie gift

Charlie Hersh, Education Assistant:

“My pick is any of the Beautiful Yetta books by Daniel Pinkwater. Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken is a great book for early readers about a beautiful chicken living in multicultural NYC, who just needs help getting home. I love it for the trilingual text – Yetta, who speaks Yiddish, interacts with other animals speaking English and Spanish, but no one lets language barriers get in the way of making new friends. Translations and pronunciation guides help families practice words in all three languages!”


11.30.16: Steely Van, An Abridged Autobiographical Tale

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Dear Reader,

Why, you might ask, is a 1979 Volkswagen Microbus writing a blog post? It is quite a curious question. After all, when I was born, there was no such thing as a blog, let alone the internet, and the average computer was much larger than my sleek and colorful frame. But despite my advanced age, I’ve managed to keep up with the times, and therefore when asked by my compatriots at the National Museum of American Jewish History to write this post, I was happy to oblige.

Driving Steely

The second question you might ask is what does a VW Microbus have to do with the National Museum of American Jewish History on historic Independence Mall in Philadelphia? Well, as some of you know, the Museum is hosting the special exhibition Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, which tells the story of a very special man and the major ’60s and ’70s acts he helped make famous, including the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana, and so many more! Buses like me were popular modes of transportation in the ’60s and ’70s, and would take people like you to concerts all over the country!

Much like my passengers over the years, I’ve led a somewhat itinerant life. I was born in California, then made my way to Louisiana and Boston before finding my current home in Philadelphia. And I’ve got to tell you, life has been pretty good to me. I’ve had so many interesting owners and passengers over the years. Though I’ve been sworn to secrecy by previous owners and passengers, the folks at NMAJH said they would love for me to tell the story of my time here, so that’s exactly what I’m doing, and man, it feels good!!!

The first thing that happened when I arrived to NMAJH is they saw that I was a bit worn down and they understood that I REALLY wanted a makeover. So Yael from the Museum asked the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program if they would help. Mural Arts said “groovy, man!” and hired artist Charles Barbin to create a way cool psychedelic design that he drew all over me. Then, members of the public were invited to come paint in the Painting Steelydesign (it was a “paint by numbers” type thing… that was really popular when I was a kid, so it made me feel super nostalgic). It was July 17—one of the hottest days of the summer—and the artist and NMAJH staffers and members of the public stuck it out until I was painted all over. I definitely felt LOOOVED! 


When they saw that my wheels had gotten a bit rusty, Jack from the Museum found a few different mechanics (yes, we did have to try a few, but we never gave up!), Alyssa and Ilana from the Museum made sure I got to every one of them to get the TLC I needed, and Don made sure I was properly insured for my next adventure, which was a “trip” to WXPN’s XPonential Festival… It was a blast!! After that I unfortunately broke down again, but since it was my lifelong dream to visit the Folk Festival, my friends Julie, Liz, Ryan, and Anne made a video for Kickstarter and raised $10,000 to help fix my tired bones in time for me to realize my dream. I could not be more grateful!

Since the exhibition about my man Bill and all the bands I love so much opened on September 16, I’ve been enjoying meeting a ton of people. I’ve been resting my newly rejuvenated wheels on the Museum’s Plaza. There is this new thing called Instagram, and I’ve been getting so much attention from people from all over the world who pose with me and then “post” on this Instagram “app” with the hashtag #GrahamRocks. Jenny from the Museum will occasionally “regram” some of the posts. You should come out and try it yourself; you might become Insta-famous!! I’ll be here until January 16... I hope to meet you in person before then!

Steely Van



Steely exponential 2


9.2.16: Reflecting on the Café Conversation: “America’s Newest Jews”

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On July 13, the National Museum of American Jewish History hosted Drs. Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Samuel Leavitt of Whitman College, who held a conversation on their new book, JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews. Inspired by their own family, Kim and Leavitt researched and wrote JewAsian as a qualitative examination of the intersection of race, religion, and ethnicity in the increasing number of households that are Jewish American and Asian American. Jeremy Wolin, who interned this summer in the Marketing and Communications department of the Museum – and who identifies as “JewAsian” himself – attended the talk and reflected on the experience:

When asked about how Jewish-Asian couples choose synagogue affiliation, Helen Kim responded that of the couples she and Noah Leavitt interviewed, choices ranged from calculated searches for the most inclusive synagogue in the region to which would require the shortest drive. However, she claimed, many of their respondents spoke of a consistent theme – that where each couple found a source of community was often not where they first expected.

This discovery held true for me at last month’s Café Conversation, “America’s Newest Jews,” where I listened to Kim and Leavitt essentially describe my childhood in their findings. Kim and Leavitt, partly in response to their own family’s background, have researched the emergence of “JewAsian” families, those in which one parent is Jewish-American and one is Asian-American. I identify as part of this new demographic: my father is Korean-American; my mother is of Ashkenazic Jewish heritage.

The similarities between Kim and Leavitt and my own family were at times uncanny – the academic parents who met in graduate school, one Korean American from the Bay Area, one Jewish American from the Northeast; the effort to learn Korean; and the mixed (and at times contradictory) cultural and religious practices.

My childhood also echoed Kim and Leavitt’s finding that both parents often adopt the other’s cultural and religious practices. My father does the majority of the cooking in our household, so of course he cooks our Passover Seder. My mother’s chopstick technique is more correct than my father’s, and my dad’s more flexible schedule meant that he always drove me to Hebrew school despite my constant protests.

Growing up in an inclusive Reform synagogue in Connecticut, I was immune to many of the issues that could have arisen as a Jew of mixed identity. At one extreme of inclusion, my Bar Mitzvah service included a speech by my uncle, a minister in the Konko sect of the Shinto religion, and one of my non-Jewish Asian-American cousins recited a poem he had written. Yet, when more conservative synagogue leadership later kept my father from certain modes of participation, or bungled his foreign-sounding name for comedic effect, I found it hard not to wonder if his and my Asian-American identity was a factor in our otherness – an identifier that visually labeled my dad and my family as different.

Kim and Leavitt noted this same reaction in what perhaps has been the highest profile Jewish-Asian union: the marriage of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan. The little pushback that the couple did receive came from American Jews who warned of “losing” a Jewish man and his children to intermarriage, often without knowledge of Chan’s religion nor any knowledge of the family’s intentions.

Yet, with a 2010 Pew Research Center survey demonstrating that nearly nine out of ten millennials accept interracial marriage and a 2012 survey showing that Jewish intermarriage has steadily risen since the data was first tracked in 1970, the Zuckerberg-Chans are emblematic of tomorrow’s American Jews. How these families and their children are received by the Jewish community will truly determine whether “America’s newest Jews” are “lost.”

At last month’s Café Conversation, I found the National Museum of American Jewish History committed not only to preserving, but to celebrating these diverse narratives of American Jews, and I, too, found an unexpected sense of community.

– Jeremy Wolin, NMAJH Intern, Brown | RISD ‘19

8.16.16: Assorted Invitations...

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