The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

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On March 20, nine Senate and House lawmakers announced the initiation of a process to move Philadelphia’s Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History from its independent status to a museum under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institutions, the world’s largest museum and research complex. That’s a big deal. If the effort succeeds, the Weitzman would be the only Smithsonian museum focused on Jewish Americans.

Under the bill — sponsored initially by five senators and four members of the House — the first steps in the transfer effort would involve the establishment of a congressional commission to study the proposed move.

The commission would have representatives selected by the House and Senate leadership along with nonvoting members appointed by the museum’s board. After the commission process, another round of legislation would be needed to complete the transfer. However, it is anticipated that a comprehensive proposal by a bipartisan commission would receive broad support in Congress.

The time is right for the consideration of such a move, and we happily join in support of the effort. We applaud Sen. Bob Casey (D.-Pa.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) who have taken the lead on the legislation.

Both have cited the importance of paying tribute to the role that the Jewish community has played in the growth and expanded international influence of America over the past two centuries at a time of mounting concerns regarding the surge of antisemitism in our communities and beyond.

The Weitzman was established in 1976. It is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience. It is a private, nonprofit entity, that is “affiliated” with the Smithsonian, but not a part of it. The legislation proposes to make the Weitzman the 22nd museum of the Smithsonian Institutions and to add a valuable resource to the institution’s extensive reach and research capabilities.

We understand that bringing the Weitzman to the Smithsonian will not solve the problem of rising antisemitism. Nor will a broader understanding of the Jewish community’s experience and success in America ease the animosity toward our community. But increased exposure of the Jewish experience in America as told by the Weitzman through the Smithsonian along with expanded coverage of the Weitzman’s programs, exhibits and activities will unquestionably enhance the public perception of the story of America’s Jews which it tells.

The Weitzman is much more than the tens of thousands of visitors who come to visit the museum each year. It is both a symbol of Jewish American pride and a source for the sharing of historical information about the development of Jewish life in America and the growth and success of America’s vibrant and diverse Jewish community.

Jewish history in America is a developing story. We look forward to continuing to learn and experience that story through the Weitzman Museum as part of the Smithsonian Institutions for many years to come.

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