Jewish Culture

Lawmakers seek to bring Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History under Smithsonian umbrella

The museum would be the Smithsonian’s first focused on Jewish Americans


The National Museum of American Jewish History

Nine Senate and House lawmakers announced on Wednesday that they’re taking the first steps toward potentially moving Philadelphia’s Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History under the Smithsonian umbrella.

The museum, which documents American Jewish history dating back to the arrival of Jews in North America, is currently affiliated with but not part of the Smithsonian Institution. If formally transferred to the Smithsonian, the museum would be the Smithsonian’s only museum focused on Jewish Americans.

The initiative is being supported by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Max Miller (R-OH), Brendan Boyle (D-PA) and Mike Turner (R-OH), with Sens. John Fetterman (D-PA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Susan Collins (R-ME) also serving as co-sponsors. 

Their bill, released on Wednesday, would take the first steps toward transferring the museum to the Smithsonian, including setting up a commission to study such a move. The commission would consist of members selected by House and Senate leadership, and a nonvoting member picked by the museum’s board.

“Integrating the Weitzman with the Smithsonian would pay tribute to the role that the Jewish American community has played in the progress of America,” Casey said in a statement. “With antisemitism on the rise, the Weitzman Museum stands as an opportunity to educate the next generation on the contributions Jewish Americans made to our Nation and help stem the tide of hate.”

Wasserman Schultz said that the move would help support education about Jewish Americans and fight antisemitism.

“Jewish communities have made astounding contributions to America’s noble experiment in building a more perfect union,” she said. “Educating all Americans, from all over the country, about these amazing Jewish impacts on our nation’s history, not only raises awareness but helps dispel harmful prejudices about our community.”

Turner said that transferring the museum to the Smithsonian would ensure that “the story of Jewish Americans is shared with the widest possible audience.”

Boyle added that it would provide the museum with additional access to the Smithsonian’s “artifacts and documents, [as well as] robust educational resources, expertise and staff training,” which could expand its work.

Miller said that it’s especially important “that Jewish-American Heritage be celebrated and exhibited at the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, the Smithsonian Institution,” in light of rising antisemitism around the world.

The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations are backing the initiative.

“The Weitzman’s trustees and I take seriously our responsibility to educate a broad American public about the contributions of American Jews to our nation, the gratitude American Jews have for what America has made possible, and the inextricable links between American history, culture, and society and its Jewish communities,” Misha Galperin, president and CEO of the museum said in a statement. “It would be our honor to integrate the Museum into the Smithsonian Institution for the American People.”

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