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Museum Musings

3.1.18 Recipe for Success: A book cart, tap dancing, hundreds of students, and the Lundy Law Foundation

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Thanks to the Lundy Law Foundation, we are able to bring the 2018 year of Courageous Choices: Finding Your Creative Voice at NMAJH to hundreds of students, right in line with the Foundations’ mission of your education.

Courageous Choices is a signature Museum initiative that brings history to life for students (ages 10 and up). The students analyze and interpret documents, events, and participate in an interactive Museum Tour that helps give them an understanding of historical figures who exemplify American values and freedom.

The cornerstone of the program is a theatrical performance of 1 Pound, 4 Ounces, created and performed by Khalil Munir. The one-man show tells a story – his story -- of overcoming adversities and hurdles in life.  Plus, he tap dances.  It’s amazing.  The students are captivated every time.

Thanks the Lundy Law Foundation, at the end of their school visit, students are now able to take home books donated by the Foundation to continue their educational journey.  And we have a cool new book cart – see the photo above!


There are more chances to participate this school year --

Friday, April 6, 2018
Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Additional dates will be added for the fall and winter in advance of the next school year.

To learn more about our educational offerings or to take part in Courageous Choices, click here.

Photo: Judy Lundy with Khalil Munir giving out copies of Jacqueline Woodson’s miracle’s boys to 5th grade participants in the January 2018 presentation of Courageous Choices. As a part of their sponsorship The Lundy Law Foundation will give books to all 5th through 8th graders who experience Courageous Choices in 2018.


12.6.17: Museum Staff Holiday Gift Guide

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Are you still looking for the perfect gifts to give this holiday season? NMAJH staff members are here to help! Below we’ve shared eight of our favorite items from the NMAJH Museum Store. Whether you’re lighting the candles for Hanukkah or celebrating another holiday, the Museum Store offers a variety of unique and thoughtful items.

Gift guide 3

Jennifer Isakowitz, Public Relations & Digital Marketing Manager

“I love this bright, handcrafted menorah created by Israel-based studio Tzuki Art. Its design is meant to celebrate family joy and togetherness, and my favorite Hanukkah memories all involve my family, from lighting the candles to competitive dreidel contests to being gifted a new book every night (something my siblings and I eventually grew to appreciate…).”
 Gift guide 4

Charlie Hersh, Education Coordinator

“Everyone has that one friend (or several) who always makes amazing food, no matter what it is. This server is a great way to deliver your praise – every time they serve food, they will hear you telling them, ‘mazel tov!’”
Gift guide 1

Emily August, Director of Communications and Public Engagement

“One of my favorite gifts to give from the NMAJH Museum Store is this Mini Apple Honey Pot and Israel Honey Gift Set. I love that they feature local as well as Israeli honey. I know these are traditionally Rosh Hashanah gifts, but I think it’s never out of season to wish someone a sweet year!”
Gift guide 2

Tessa Kennamer, Communications Intern

“The Zahav Cookbook is an incredibly beautiful, exciting, and accessible journey through Israeli cuisine. I gifted it to my father last year and he now makes chef Michael Solomonov’s hummus weekly!”
Gift guide 5Cobi Weissbach, Director of Development

“Hanukkah has always been one of my favorite holidays; as a child it was the thrill of new presents that had me looking forward to Hanukkah throughout the year.

During Hanukkah in 2003, my wife and I had the great pleasure of lighting Hanukkah candles with our closest friends and family, as we were married on the third night of Hanukkah. Since then, the holiday has taken on a new meaning, and we still use the same menorah with our family that we used that wedding night.

But once we had children of our own, we wanted to be sure that they also loved the holiday, and not just for the presents. So, it was important that we let each of our kids pick out their own menorah, so they could also feel some ownership and connection to the mitzvah of lighting the Hanukkah candles. With so many great menorah options, this “menorasaur” is a wonderful piece to engage our adolescent son, combining his love of dinosaurs, and Jewish tradition.”
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Shira Goldstein, Exhibitions Manager
“Nothing says Hanukkah quite like fried dough and Federal Donuts makes the best in Philly, maybe even the country! The NMAJH Museum Store has signed copies of the Federal Donuts Cookbook for sale, which will make your recipient feel like they’ve experienced a Hanukkah miracle.”
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Megan Helzner, Associate Director of Development, Annual & Corporate Giving
“The Cawfee mug and Shugah bowl are just so much fun. I love having fun with accents, so this “Brooklynese” set (as the Store affectionately calls it) always makes me smile. I also love cawfee, so how could I resist?”
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Lauren Gross, Education and Admissions Assistant

“I think the Instant Ugly Hanukkah Sweater Kit would be an incredible gift because it includes a bunch of patches that you can put not just on a sweater for a party (which is so funny and such a good idea), but also can be worn on bags or jackets all year-round to add some extra flare to the everyday outfit! It’s a gift that keeps on giving!”


11.21.17: Giving Thanks - A Beloved American & American Jewish Tradition

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By NMAJH Chief Registrar and Associate Curator Claire Pingel and Curatorial Intern Jackie Bein


George Washington

We all learn in school that the “first thanksgiving” feast in the New World was celebrated by Puritan pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621 New England, but Thanksgiving was not officially proclaimed a national “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” until 1789 by new President George Washington. In NMAJH’s gallery about the Revolutionary War period, you can see President Washington’s handwritten proclamation! And now through Thanksgiving weekend, you can see the original Richmond Prayerversion on view.

For this first “official Thanksgiving,” Jacob I. Cohen – a distinguished Jewish citizen of Richmond – transcribed a Hebrew prayer of gratitude for the new nation that was read aloud in Congregation Beth Shalom in Richmond, VA, the first Jewish congregation established after the nation’s founding. At a time when the United States was so very young, the “Richmond prayer," also on view in this gallery, offered “heartfelt praise for the new nation and its leaders.”

Visitors are rewarded for a careful look at the “Richmond Prayer”: the first letters in the middle lines of the poem spell out “Washington.” This is called an “acrostic” and the Richmond prayer is not the only presidential acrostic in our galleries. A few hundred feet away, we display another – Isaac Goldstein’s 1865 memorial to President Abraham Lincoln. Curiously, this has its own connection to Thanksgiving – in 1863, Lincoln established that the fourth Thursday in November would thenceforth be observed as the federal holiday of Thanksgiving. *

This year, when you gather with loved ones for the holiday, try writing your own acrostic poem! Choose a person or place that has had significance in your family’s history, and write a meaningful tribute to them. And while you’re waiting for that all-important feast to be ready, ensure that you make the most of your time with loved ones by uploading those too-easily-forgotten family memories into Re:collection, NMAJH’s new online tool for organizing and sharing your family’s story.

NMAJH wishes you a great holiday!

* This changed only for a few years during the Great Depression, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved the observance of Thanksgiving up a week in an attempt to encourage more retail and boost the economy.

11.16.17: Researching Your Roots

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Family history blog photo

Discovering your family’s history can be a complicated process, but even if you think you already know a great deal about where you came from, delving into your family’s stories can be incredibly rewarding. NMAJH’s new digital story-collecting platform, Re:collection, provides an immersive (and fun!) way to organize your research and share it with family, friends, and the future.

In all the time I’ve spent searching for records online, putting obscure names and phrases into Google search bars, and visiting libraries and archives, the most worthwhile part of my research has been interviewing my relatives. After interviewing my relatives, I learned a lot about my great-great-grandparents, Aaron David and Rebecca Simonoff (pictured above!), who immigrated to New York from Russia.

While archival research can tell you the facts like the address where your family members lived or when they were born, interviewing helps you get to that elusive next step of finding out what life was like for these people—what they ate, what they did for fun, what they remember about their childhood. Taking the time to sit down with relatives or friends and ask them to share their memories is incredibly worthwhile, both for the experience itself and for the homemade archive you and future generations will long cherish.

As an intern here at NMAJH, I love listening to the stories that visitors record in the “It’s Your Story” booths on the second floor. The video recording booths provide an opportunity to pass along a family tradition, share a funny story, memorialize a name.

So you want to find out more about your family history. Where to begin? Here are some tips I have picked up from my experience digging in to genealogy research over the last few years.

→ Determine what you know. A good place to start is to sketch out what you know of your family tree and list the critical facts (birth/death years, places lived, immediate family members) for each person. This will help you determine what exactly you want to find out and provide a framework for your research.

→ Know when to be specific.
When you’re conducting an interview, it’s a good idea to be prepared with specific questions to prompt discussion, avoiding yes or no questions. Try not to interrupt if the interviewee is in the middle of a good story, even if he/she is not really answering your question.

→ Record the interview.
Recording (with the interviewee’s permission) allows you to focus on the conversation without frantically taking notes. You’re also able to go back and check on the exact spelling or names of places or things referenced by the interviewee without having to interrupt them to clarify during the interview.

→ Know how to deal with inconsistencies in your research.
Your grandfather may insist in an interview that his father was born in a certain year, but you go to the city archives and find out that his birth certificate says otherwise. These kinds of conundrums are part of what makes family history research interesting and exciting. Don’t assume that any one source is always correct—just as a relative may not remember something correctly, the census taker may just as easily have skipped a line or have illegible handwriting.

Share your research. Your family members will be interested in what you’ve found. Make your discoveries accessible and concise. That’s where Re:collection comes in! Share your stories by logging in at and exploring the many offerings of the digital platform.

-Contributed by Jackie Bein, NMAJH Curatorial Intern

10.31.17: Celebrating Interfaith Family Month

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By Rabbi Robyn Frisch, Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia


 Bridget loves bernie 2
Bridget loves bernie caption

In 1973 CBS executives cancelled the TV show Bridget Loves Bernie in response to hate mail from viewers who opposed the show’s portrayal of the couple’s interfaith marriage. To this day, Bridget Loves Bernie is the highest rated TV show to be cancelled after only one season.

A lot has changed in the nearly 45 years since Bridget Loves Bernie’s interfaith marriage was too controversial for primetime television. The number of Jews in interfaith marriages has greatly increased (according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Portrait of Jewish Americans, 71 percent of liberal Jews who are getting married are marrying someone who isn’t Jewish). As I wrote in a blog a few years ago, it’s no longer “a shock when Bridget loves Bernie (or, for that matter, when Bridget loves Bernice).”

At InterfaithFamily, we welcome and celebrate all of the “Bridgets” and “Bernies” out there – and we empower them to engage in Jewish life and make Jewish choices. We have a free clergy referral service for interfaith couples and families looking for Jewish clergy to officiate life cycle events, and our website provides resources and personal stories of people in interfaith relationships. Additionally, as part of our Your Community Initiative, we have offices in several cities, including Philadelphia, where we offer workshops and programs for couples in interfaith relationships as well as individual consultations. InterfaithFamily also works with synagogues and Jewish institutions to help them welcome and embrace people in interfaith relationships, so that they can contribute to Judaism’s enduring strength and continuity. Here in Philadelphia, InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia provides Professional Development for local Jewish organizations, as do our local offices in other communities.


And in Philadelphia, each November we celebrate Interfaith Family Month. In the month of Thanksgiving, we show our thanks to all of the interfaith couples and families in our area. This November, 77 Philadelphia area synagogues and Jewish organizations, including the National Museum of American Jewish History, are participating in Interfaith Family Month. The participating organizations join us in making a bold statement that we will continue to build an inclusive Jewish community.

As I have written: “Bridget and Bernie are ready for primetime. And for [InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia] ‘primetime’ is the month of November, when we celebrate Interfaith Family Month. [During this month we join together with other organizations to let people in interfaith relationships] know that we don’t just tolerate them, but we are grateful to them for their commitment to Judaism and Jewish continuity. [We] let those Jews who have partners who aren’t Jewish know that …we hope that they will fully engage in the Jewish community, and that we don’t see their choice of a life-partner as a reflection on their Jewish commitment. [We] declare that rather than fighting against intermarriage, we are working for a vibrant Jewish community—and we welcome anyone who wants to join us. [During] Interfaith Family Month [we] let all of the ‘Bernies’ out there know that we don’t love them any less because they love ‘Bridget. And [we let] all of the ‘Bridgets’ out there [know that] we hope that just as you love ‘Bernie,’ you will come to love his Jewish community too, because we are committed to building a Jewish community where the two of you can truly feel at home.”

I hope that you’ll join InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia and all of the organizations participating in Interfaith Family Month 2017 in showing your gratitude to the interfaith couples and families you know that are engaging with the Jewish community. And if you yourself are in an interfaith relationship, we would love to connect with you. Visit to learn more.

NMAJH is proud to participate in Interfaith Family Month. Throughout the month, a special visitor guide geared toward Interfaith Family experiences will be available at the front desk.


9.28.17: Rapping through Jewish history

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How can you condense 360+ years of American Jewish history in a fun, memorable way? NMAJH Board Member Alec Ellison took on the challenge with this Hamilton-style rap. Watch the below video, then try to rap it yourself! Let us know if you're able to master the lyrics in a comment. Now we just need someone to beatbox...


American Jewish History Rap
By Alec Ellison

An ancient people from the land of the Bible;
Who knew first hand about exile and survival.
Like others, they came here to realize their dreams;
For liberty and freedom from oppressive regimes.

The #1 founding father - I'm talkin' George Washington;
Gave a big veto to persecution!
"To bigotry no sanction," he emphatically said;
Now.....Jews in America knew they could get ahead!

First came the Sephardim - Jews exiled from Spain;
Ashkenazim from Germany, Poland, Russia, Ukraine.
Most came with little 'cept ambition and their brains;
Their religious tradition they fought hard to maintain!

Across America they spread far and wide;
Though many got their start on the Lower East Side.
In fields quite diverse they made huge contributions;
In medicine and science, they found new solutions.

Levy, Lazarus, Lauder, Streisand, Szold, SoloMON;
Brandeis, Berlin, Bernstein, Gershwin, Gompers, Grove, PerlMAN,
Einstein, Dylan, Roth, Rothko, Heschel, SchneerSON;
Kissinger, Koufax, Ginsburg, Sarnoff, Spielberg, LieberMAN!

Changed film, finance, and fashion - for polio found two cures;
Strauss, Dell, Schultz, Page, Brin, Zuckerburg - and other entrepreneurs.
Three centuries and counting - it's one amazing story;
Time now to learn more 'bout their challenges and glory...

9.19.17: Remembering Football Great Sid Luckman

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This month, football fans celebrated the kickoff of the NFL’s 98th season. And 78 years ago, an up-and-coming Jewish football star was gearing up for his first season as a professional player.

It was not the path Sid Luckman thought he would take, but this Chicago Bears quarterback made history—being named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player was just one highlight of Luckman’s illustrious athletic career.

Sid Luckman FootballSid Luckman (1916-1998) was born in Brooklyn to German-Jewish immigrants. As a kid growing up in Flatbush, he always had either a baseball or football in hand, and made the junior varsity football team as a freshman at Erasmus Hall High School. Sought-after by college recruiters, Luckman had his choice of schools, and decided to enroll at Columbia University in New York City. With no athletic scholarships offered there at the time, Luckman often juggled multiple jobs to make his way through. In addition to playing football for the Columbia Lions, Luckman was a member of Zeta Beta Tau, a historically Jewish fraternity.

Columbia didn’t have the strongest collegiate team, but Luckman was a standout. He had not originally intended to pursue a career in professional football – he married shortly after graduating in 1939, and planned to join his family’s trucking business – but he was urged to go pro by Chicago Bears coach George Halas, who had seen Luckman play.

Halas must have been convincing, because Luckman went on to join the Bears for 12 seasons. He was known as the “Master of the T-Formation,” pioneering this offensive strategy. November 14, 1943 was declared “Sid Luckman Day” in New York to commemorate the Brooklyn native’s incredible performance that day, contributing to the Bears’ win over the Giants, 56-7.

I was curious about Luckman’s connection to Judaism, and in what ways his background and career might have converged. Unlike Sandy Koufax, Luckman didn’t make a name for himself after choosing to sit out a game in observance of a Jewish holiday. In an interview in 1949 for Sport magazine, Luckman commented, “I go to the temple regularly and I observe the high holidays and I never go to bed at night without saying a little prayer.” Luckman made little else public about his relationship with religion. Still, the “greatest long-range passer of his time” remains an icon of Jewish Americans in sports.

You can see Luckman’s football on view at NMAJH, or find out more about Jews in American sports on our Only in America website.

-Contributed by Jackie Bein, NMAJH Curatorial Intern

Football signed by Sid Luckman, Chicago Bears. National Museum of American Jewish History, 2008.35.1, Gift of George Blumenthal.