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Museum Musings

5.12.17: Four Books to Read for Jewish American Heritage Month

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By Marisa Rafsky

My personal connection with the National Museum of American Jewish History began in 2011, long before I became a part-time employee. I was involved in a Jewish teen leadership program, which included a visit to the Museum.

During my first visit, I stepped foot in the Museum Store. As a book aficionado, I was blown away by their extensive collection of literature, which often draws attention to themes in the Museum’s exhibitions. NMAJH’s Museum Store has become my go-to place whenever I want to purchase a book with Jewish themes. In my opinion, the Museum Store is one of the best places in Philadelphia to look for books dedicated to Judaism, Jewish history, and Jewish culture.

I’ve compiled a list of four book recommendations for my fellow book lovers:

Books blog

1) Golda by Elinor Burkett: If you’ve ever been curious to learn more about Israel’s first female Prime Minister, this book will give you a deep insight into her private and public life.

2) Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American edited by Josh Perelman: If you are a Jewish sports fan, this book is for you! This book is a complement to the Museum’s past exhibition of the same title. It contains vintage illustrations, personal letters, and an exploration of what it means to be Jewish in America.

3) Denial: Holocaust History on Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt: If you have an interest in the law and Holocaust-era crimes, this book is a timely read. This book chronicles Lipstadt’s legal battle with a British Holocaust denier, which culminated in a historic victory for Lipstadt and preservers of Holocaust memory.

4) How to Raise a Jewish Dog by the Rabbis of Boca Raton Theological Seminary: This book is perfect for dog owners determined to turn their pet into a model Jewish kelev (dog). This humorous read will unlock the secrets to understanding your canine pal in a Jewish context.

Since May is Jewish American Heritage Month, consider celebrating by stopping by the Museum or browsing to check out the Museum Store’s literary collection!

Contributed by Marisa Rafsky, Former Marketing and Communications Intern at NMAJH

4.25.17: Discovering the Reinsteins

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Curatorial Assistant Lauren Cooper shares a story she discovered while working on the special exhibition, 1917: How One Year Changed the World, on view March 17 – July 16, 2017 at NMAJH.

Boris Reinstein
By the time he was thirty, Boris Reinstein had become involved in a plot to assassinate Czar Alexander III of Russia, served two years in a French prison for making explosives, and fled several European countries for his Socialist activities.

In 1892, Boris followed his wife Anna to Buffalo, NY, where she had moved two years earlier to become the first female gynecologist in western New York. Boris and Anna became US citizens, raised two children, and took active roles in local commerce and politics. But Boris never forgot his homeland or his ideals, and when revolution broke out in 1917, he left his family in New York and returned to Russia, where he quickly rose to prominence in the new Bolshevik government.

I came across the first reference to Boris Reinstein, by chance, while conducting artifact research for our new special exhibition 1917: How One Year Changed the World. The reference appeared in notes from a meeting of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets in Moscow, and identified him only as “Comrade Reinstein,” a representative of the workmen societies of America. The mention of an unfamiliar American with a Jewish name caught my attention in a document filled with speeches by the well-known Russian leaders Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin.

Another mention of Comrade Reinstein, in a publication of the Socialist Labor Party of America, led me to Boris and Anna. With some online digging I came across a small library outside of Buffalo that houses the Reinstein family’s documents and artifacts—some of which are included in 1917 and are being exhibited to the public for the first time. From there I sifted through official documents from the Reinstein Family Archive and the National Archives, digitized newspaper clippings, and recorded oral histories to piece together as much of their story as possible.

Sources about Boris’ career in Russia are especially difficult to find, but with each new discovery the Reinsteins’ story becomes more and more exciting. I was surprised to learn about the different, sometimes contradictory, paths taken by each family member. For example, after Boris returned to Russia to build a Communist society, his American-born son Victor, a veteran of World War I, invested in real estate, accumulated a fair amount of wealth, and became involved in philanthropy in upstate New York.
1917 install

This is my favorite thing about NMAJH’s exhibition, 1917; it features stories of individuals, like the Reinsteins, who appear in few history books. Many were ordinary Americans, yet all responded to world events—the Bolshevik Revolution, World War I, and the signing of the Balfour Declaration—in extraordinary ways, leaving lasting impressions on their communities and, sometimes, the world.

I hope that as you explore this exhibition—which demonstrates how the events of 100 years ago impacted Americans then and continue to impact us today—you are inspired by these amazing stories of people just like you and me.

Lauren Cooper
Curatorial Assistant
National Museum of American Jewish History

4.6.17: How about a new Haggadah?

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By Kristen Kreider and Karen Coleman

Did you know the National Museum of American Jewish History has 179 Haggadot in its artifact collection? The Haggadah (or Haggadot in plural form) is the book read on the first two nights of Passover at the Seder, or the ceremonial Passover meal. It tells the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, when the Jews fled slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh. Reading the Haggadah fulfills the commandment to “tell your son” the story of how G-d saved the Jews from slavery.

Every Haggadah tells the order of the Seder, but the interpretation of each part of the Seder can vary from Haggadah to Haggadah, with unique interpretations and explanations that make the Passover story relevant to the Jewish experience today. With the holiday just a few days away, here are some unique, funny, and meaningful haggadot that we love for this year’s Passover Seder.


For This We Left Egypt? A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them contains all the necessary elements of a Haggadah with some good ol’ Jewish humor sprinkled throughout to keep the Seder lively and enjoyable.


The Baseball Haggadah: A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings tells the story of the Israelites’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt using baseball images and language, while staying faithful to the elements of a traditional Seder.


Our Passover Haggadah is a beautifully illustrated Haggadah produced exclusively for the National Museum of American Jewish History. While maintaining the traditional elements of a Haggadah, it focuses on pursuing freedom on every level—physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—to make it a relevant text for contemporary Seders.

Kristen Kreider is Director of Retail Operations for the NMAJH Museum Store. Karen Coleman is E-Commerce Manager and Graphic Designer.

3.24.17: That Time 12 Rappers Descended on NMAJH

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By Rebecca Bar, Director of Operations, Bible Raps

Bible raps imageThere are very few places where Jewish educators and professionals of all denominations and affiliations can mingle with new immigrants, Yiddish socialists, outspoken activists, various Rabbis, and summer campers. But during Bible Raps’ 1st Annual Hip Hop, Text, and Judaism Retreat, we did just that by touring through, and writing about, the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Designed to bring the richness of Jewish wisdom, history, and traditions to life through original albums, creation of participant-generated rap songs, and music videos, Bible Raps educates and inspires Jewish people to see Judaism as a living and breathing experience, fostering a generation that self identifies with Jewish wisdom and heritage. At our retreat, we brought together 12 participants interested in learning our methods and taking them back to their own communities and organizations.

The weekend began with a guided tour of the Museum, where participants had an opportunity to take notes on areas that interested them. We then enjoyed a spiritual Kabbalat Shabbat to end our first day, with thoughts of Leo Max Frank, JTS, and Isaac Mayer Weiss percolating. In preparation for writing our final song, what eventually became “Good Morning America,” we spent the evening practicing making raps together. Using actual text from the Museum exhibits and the skills learned over the weekend, Saturday night we created as a group, first working on the hook and chorus about the history of American Jews, and then each participant had a turn on the mic for their specific verse. The collaboration was really a highlight and that energy comes through in the song. A retreat participant noted, “The concept of the retreat was great and the end project was fun. Everyone wanted to be there, which was the most beautiful aspect of the whole weekend.” It was a celebration!

The last day of our retreat, we went back to the Museum for shooting and the participants rapped in front of the exhibits -- the ultimate video shoot location! We’re so thankful for the opportunity to work with the National Museum of American Jewish History and invite you to enjoy the music video about the history of Jewish life in America, entitled “Good Morning America.”



We are excited for our 2nd Annual Hip Hop, Text, and Judaism retreat later this year. If you’d like to be a part of it, please be in touch with us at

2.18.17: Accessibility, Inclusion and NMAJH

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By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to lead a training with my colleague Dr. Beth Rosenwasser of JCHAI (a non-profit organization that offers a variety of support services for people with developmental disabilities) for docents at NMAJH. We discussed how to welcome and provide support for peopleJDAIM logo with disabilities who come to the Museum. We began our training by asking participants to think about someone they know personally who has a disability—and to share what they have learned from this person.

I use this activity in many of the trainings that I lead as Director of Jewish Learning Venture’s “Whole Community Inclusion” and have found that this question invites thoughtful conversation. Participants share stories about people they have known in their schools and synagogues or in their own families, and sometimes identify their own disabilities, which may not necessarily be visible. At least 1 in 5 people in our country have a physical, cognitive, emotional, or learning disability or some combination of disabilities—and yet, many of us have not had opportunities to consider what valuable life lessons we can take away from people in our community who live with disability.

In part, I believe this to be the case because too often, especially in the case of people with intellectual disabilities, there still exists so much separation and segregation. Children and teens in schools don’t often get to interact with their peers who spend the day in self-contained autism support or life skills classrooms; when those individuals graduate from school and enter the work force, it may be in a sheltered workshop rather than in a community setting. While many of our synagogues and Jewish organizations are working hard to better welcome and support students with learning differences, our community has all too often forgotten adults with disabilities who live in group homes or institutional settings.

I am delighted that NMAJH is making a commitment to accessibility and inclusion. In addition to the docent training, we are holding a Sensory-Friendly Access Event on February 20, Presidents’ Day, that will invite families whose children need quiet, calm settings to experience an art activity, story, and short tour of the Museum. Everyone is welcome!

And, the public is invited to a community panel and book discussion about Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the 2017 selection for One Book, One Philadelphia, on February 28 in partnership with the Museum, Jewish Learning Venture, and JCHAI. The event coincides with

Book jdaim

 opening night of the Tony-award winning musical at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. In this popular novel, a young teenager with autism sets out to learn who murdered his neighbor’s dog, but ends up learning more about himself and his community. 

The panel discussion will focus on how we can all be more welcoming and accessible to people with autism. It will feature autism self-advocates, including Lauren Gross, Museum Educator and Admissions Associate from NMAJH.

I am always happy to talk with families or organizations; please contact me!

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall.

12.23.16: Making New Christmas Memories

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Usually, I spend Christmas Day sitting on the sofa in my pajamas, eating a once a year feast for one, and binge-watching Christmas themed movies. Last year, I didn’t. I searched the internet for an event that would force me to leave my apartment, and meet people, or, at least, learn something new. And I found

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The week before Christmas, I bought a ticket to Being ___ at Christmas, and spent Christmas Eve prepping my clothes and choosing which bus routes would get me downtown and back on the holiday schedule. When Christmas Day finally arrived, I got to the National Museum of American Jewish History an hour after it opened, and spent four hours touring every floor of the building, from the top down.

Beyond the abundance of history, I found that Being ___ at Christmas was about family, and humanity. I noticed both, everywhere: from a father holding the hand of his toddler as they slowly walked up the stairs, to eyes scanning the faces and bodies of those who were obviously different but moved on without attempting to engage, and for those who did. I witnessed it on every floor.

On the floor where the story of American Jews began, a teen-aged boy stood with an older woman discussing a display before he leaned into her side. Automatically, the woman wrapped her arms around his back, lovingly. A grandmother excitedly told her grandson, who was more interested in handling everything, that she attended one of the summer camps named along one of the walls of the Dreams of Freedom exhibit. In front of the Palmer Raids display in the Choices and Challenges exhibit, a man and his wife mused over the similarities between justifications for mass deportations then, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric of today. And, at the video exhibit on the death of a Jewish man falsely accused of murdering a teen-aged girl, a volunteer and I spoke of the South, and its history of mob lynching under the guise of justice. Seemingly much had changed, but the struggle to treat each other as equals worthy of respect was never ending.

CJTerry 2Those moments remain with me because they reminded me that the struggle to sustain a distinct cultural identity without abandoning my humanity or negating my Americanness was a universal story. It was my story.

—Written by CJTerry

12.16.16: Museum Staff Holiday Gift Guide

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Still looking for the perfect gifts to give this holiday season? Below, NMAJH staff members share their favorite items from the Museum Store. (Spoiler: It’s not all menorahs and dreidels!)

Alisa gift 2Alisa Kraut, Assistant Curator:
“I have been a big fan of Lemony Snicket's work with A Series of Unfortunate Events, his very delightfully dark children's series. I bought The Latke That Wouldn't Stop Screaming two years ago and have made it a holiday tradition in my home. With non-Jewish family members and a school-aged daughter in a secular public school, I am always looking for ways to affirm the traditions of Hanukkah without feeling the need to compare it to the ever-present elements of the Christmas season. To quote the book: 'I am something completely different!' This book is slightly irreverent and very quirky, with plenty of humorous moments to please adults and children."
Ryan gift

Ryan Bott, On-Site Technician:

“My pick is a combo package: Golden Girls zippered pouch with accompanying table coasters. It's a great gift because…it's Golden Girls. Stay Golden.”
Kate gift

Kate Beach, Gifts Processor: 

“I picked the Mistaken Lyrics Coasters. I love this gift because we’ve all mistaken or misheard even the most ubiquitous lyrics. These coasters will always get a laugh, and it’s one of so many fun tie-ins to our Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution exhibit.”
Arielle gift
Arielle Amiri, Group Services Associate:

“One of my favorite items in our Museum store has to be our Rock & Roll hotel keychain series. The series features room keys for hotels like the Hotel California and Grossinger’s Resort but my personal favorite is unquestionably the Chelsea Hotel “Room 204” key, a.k.a the room infamously occupied by Patti Smith. This gift works for fans of Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, and so many other iconic rock and roll artists too!”

Jenny gift 2
Jennifer Isakowitz, Public Relations & Digital Marketing Manager

“I loved artist Deborah Kass’s giant OY/YO sculpture in Brooklyn Bridge Park this past year. While the sculpture is no longer there, the OY/YO collection items in the Museum Store give the artwork a second life.”

Emma gift

Emma Calvitto, Senior Manager of Institutional Giving: 

“My parents gave me the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook one year for Hanukkah, and it has been a gift that keeps on giving. The Artichoke Heart-Stuffed Shells and Raspberry-Ricotta Scones have become go-to recipes that I would recommend to any cooking enthusiast on your gift list!” [Buy Smitten Kitchen Cookbook at the Museum Store or shop other cookbooks online here.]
Charlie gift

Charlie Hersh, Education Assistant:

“My pick is any of the Beautiful Yetta books by Daniel Pinkwater. Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken is a great book for early readers about a beautiful chicken living in multicultural NYC, who just needs help getting home. I love it for the trilingual text – Yetta, who speaks Yiddish, interacts with other animals speaking English and Spanish, but no one lets language barriers get in the way of making new friends. Translations and pronunciation guides help families practice words in all three languages!”