Friday, April 29, 2011

Museums are usually about things or historic eras. We have a museum about people. Jewish People in America. I’ve heard of Cultural Societies, and Religious Organizations and Foundations but not too many Museums about one type of people. There is a new Jewish Museum that deals heavily on the contribution of Jewish people to the American entertainment field. It is called the new National Museum of American Jewish History.
It is located in Philadelphia. Jerry Seinfeld hosted the opening ceremonies. He feels he is funny and successful because he is Jewish. He represents only one of the many familiar names who feel pretty much the same and they all became financially successful in this country. Steven Spielberg is represented. The Nobel Prize winning Physicist Albert Einstein’s pipe is there. A glove used by record breaking baseball Pitcher Sandy Koufax is on display. A piano played by musical composer Irving Berlin complete with his lyrics hand written to God Bless America. He came to America like so many other as a child and immigrant.
Jewish Americans recently celebrated the Passover Seder which is a ceremonial dinner that celebrates freedom from slavery, the biblical exit of Jews from Egypt. Preparing for this ceremonial dinner is a task for anyone. On display at this museum is Este Lauder’s personal planner where she has made an entry to Go home and order chicken, matzos etc. Yes, even the most successful people made time to honor the traditions of their religious celebrations. She made time for matzos as well as make-up.
The 6 story museum is an outgrowth of a collection started by a Synagogue. The building is 100,000 square feet. It is funded mostly by private donations. They say the story of the museum is a story of ethnic freedom. A tribute to the accomplishment of people that did not have such freedoms in other countries. There is a Torah on display dating from colonial times that represents when Jews first came to America.
There were millions more immigrants that came during the turn of the century. Some immigrants like Levi Strauss who invented blue jeans did very well early on but there were some hotels that advertised Christian Clientele only. Other signs in restaurants said, “We Cater To Gentiles Only.” Many movie stars felt they had to change their name to sound more American. Asa Yoelson became the piano player Al Jolson. Jacob Garfinkel became the actor John Garfield. Edward G. Robinson was Emmanuel Goldenberg.
Many ambitious Jews owned Hollywood studios that produced most movies. Louis B. Mayer ran MGM the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios. Carl Laemmle ran Universal Pictures. The 4 Warner Brothers had their studios too. Adolph Zukor ran Paramount Pictures. Hollywood was new and uncharted so, the Jews had no competition. It gave them the opportunity to be funny. The Marks Brothers, Milton Berle and George Burns flourished. Seinfeld said in his show how they have been moving for 5,000 years making jokes along the way.
It wasn’t until movement to America that Jews could thrive in safety. Barbara Streisand refused to change her name along with the composer of West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein. Bette Midler, Sara Silverman, Adam Sandler, Michael Blumberg all relish the good successful life here in America. We have benefited from their talents and ambition. I guess we can use a people museum too.

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