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Exhibitions & Collections


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Special Exhibitions

’Twas the Night Before Hanukkah twas
Opening: November 4, 2014

’Twas the Night Before Hanukkah explores the history of Hanukkah and Christmas music and the musicians, artists, and songwriters who wrote and performed them. The installation combines a cozy living room setting with modern technology to deliver a compelling story about the blending of American and Jewish musical traditions. ’Twas explores how performers used popular songs to shape the sounds of the holiday season, the soundtracks of religious holidays, and the musical standards we know today through interactive song and video platforms, as well as images of holiday-related artifacts from the Museum’s collection of 30,000 objects—all delivered on curated iPads accompanied by text and graphics of holiday celebrations.

The installation features well-known artists such as Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman, Bob Dylan, the Ramones, and Lou Reed, as well as Christmas gems by the likes of Jewish salsa giant Larry Harlow, and Jewish stage and screen icons Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson.

A holiday-themed self-guided tour highlighting holiday-related objects in the permanent exhibition will also be available.

This exhibition is a collaboration between the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation.
Photo courtesy of the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation.

Liat Segal: Scattered Light  liat confession machine
Opening Event: January 28, 2015

Israeli artist Liat Segal makes her US debut at the Museum with Scattered Light, an innovative work of new media art. The piece weaves together key phrases from George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island affirming his commitment to religious liberty (on view at the Museum) with the reflections of Museum visitors collected from our It’s Your Story recording booths. Both Washington’s words and the contemporary commentary speak to the significance of religious freedom and to the continuing role we all play in its preservation.

Scattered Light pairs the old with the new through the use of a wand embedded with LED lights that move over a photosensitive surface, “printing” Washington’s words along with those of Museum visitors. The texts fade away over time, allowing new content to appear, creating an ever-evolving dialogue between history and the present.

Segal, who recently exhibited at the Venice Biennale, drew from her multidisciplinary background, including her past work as a researcher at Microsoft Innovation Labs and as a teacher at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, to create this installation.

Liat Segal and her Confession Machine, photo by Arnon Fisher.


Past Special Exhibitions


To Bigotry No Sanction: George Washington & Religious Freedom

George Washington’s historic letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island was the remarkable centerpiece of the Museum’s first special exhibition, To Bigotry No Sanction: George Washington and Religious Freedom. Written in August 1790, and exhibited for the first time in a decade, it represents a courageous and historic statement by America’s first national leader, one which underscored the new nation’s commitment to religious liberty and equality for people of all faiths. His poetic and iconic address confirmed the new President’s commitment to a government that “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Today, people of all faiths enjoy freedom of religion in the United States. But in early America, religious communities could not assume that this would be true. Between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Bill of Rights, Americans engaged in an intense debate about the nature and limits of religious liberty. People of all faiths followed these discussions intently, seeking assurance that their own rights would be protected.

The exhibition included a stunning group of artifacts, including early printings of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.