Building on the dynamic interaction between the Museum’s location on Independence Mall, the history and traditions of the Jewish people, and the broader national experience, the core exhibition highlights the diverse backgrounds, expectations, and experiences of Jews who came to and made their homes in the United States. Explore how and when Jews immigrated to America, the choices they faced, the challenges they confronted, and the ways in which they shaped, and were shaped by, their American home.
On each of the core exhibition’s three and a half floors you will encounter people, episodes, ideas, and experiences that highlight the religious, social, political, and economic lives of American Jews. You will see historical objects, enter period environments, and experience cutting-edge interactive technology. Learn about aspects of Jewish religious life, including major holidays, rituals, and lifecycle events.
4th floor — Foundations of Freedom: 1654 – 1880
Beginning with the first Jews to permanently settle in America, Foundations of Freedom depicts how a tiny minority sought, defended, and tested freedom—in political affairs, in relations with Christian neighbors, and in their own understanding of what it meant to be Jewish. It explores issues that are at once historical and familiar: creating new communities, intermarriage, integration, preserving faith, and maintaining rituals in the absence of Jewish institutions and services. This floor introduces the lively tug-of-war between religious innovation and continuity, and raises questions about what it meant to be a small minority in a young and still-evolving nation. The floor ends on the eve of the great migration from Eastern Europe that began in the late 1800s, a point at which the Jewish community had gained a measure of security and acceptance, but was about to undergo a tremendous transformation.
3rd floor — Dreams of Freedom: 1880 – 1945
Dreams of Freedom: 1880-1945 chronicles the migration of millions of immigrants who came to the United States beginning in the late 19th century and profoundly reshaped the American Jewish community and the nation as a whole. The first section of this floor considers immigration and integration: getting to America, making a home, the reception immigrant Jews received, and learning to negotiate American society. The second section takes up life after Congress legislated the end of free and open immigration in 1924. Through the lenses of the fine and performing arts, political activism, and religious expression, it explores how Jews defined what it meant to be an American Jew during an insecure period of American, and world, history. The final section of Dreams of Freedom delves into how American Jews experienced World War II.
2nd floor — Choices and Challenges of Freedom: 1945 – Today
The museum’s second floor begins in the immediate postwar period with stories of migration, from war torn Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the Soviet Union. Likewise, between 1945 and 1965, about a third of all American Jews left large urban centers and established themselves in new suburban communities. For Jews and non-Jews alike, a suburban home became a sign of success, prestige, and security-a "Shangri-La" for the middle class. Artifacts and films illustrate what the creation of the State of Israel meant to American Jews, their role in the fight for civil rights, and the moved to suburbs and new urban frontiers. Choices and Challenges alsohighlights leisure activities like vacationing and summer camping. The floor ends in the present day, offering you a chance to share your personal views in two high-tech, interactive experiences: Contemporary Issues Forum and It’s Your Story
1st floor — Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame
The Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame illustrates the choices, challenges and opportunities eighteen Jewish Americans encountered on their path to remarkable achievement. Through the lives of real people—some well known, others less so—the Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame weaves compelling stories from the past and present with the larger themes of the Museum's core exhibition. The extraordinary individuals featured in the Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame illustrate that a hallmark of the American Jewish experience has been an unparalleled opportunity to aspire, achieve and possibly change the world. The Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame is an innovative combination of multimedia, original artifacts and interactive experiences.
The first eighteen individuals featured in the Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame are:
Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Isaac Mayer Wise