Road Trip – Jewish Museums in the US
Who doesn’t love a good road trip? While you’re enjoying novel landscapes and regional cuisine in any of the other 50 states, it’s easy to build in some time to appreciate Jewish culture, art, and history. Make your trip memorable by visiting some of the best Jewish Museums our nation has to offer – from coast to coast and even some surprising places in between.
Our trip starts in the Pacific Northwest with a stop in the vibrant city Portland to visit the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. The current location opened its doors in June 2017 after a couple of starter homes and a merger. Their mission is to explore the legacy of the Jewish experience in Oregon, teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust, and provide opportunities for intercultural conversation.
Through photographs, artifacts, archives, oral history, and fine art, the experiences of 150 years of Jewish life in Oregon come to life. Core exhibitions include Discrimination and Resistance, an Oregon Primer; Oregon Jewish Stories; and The Holocaust, an Oregon Perspective.
As you travel towards the sunrise, plan to spend a little time in Skokie, Illinois, which was once dubbed the world’s largest village. There, you can take in the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, which was designed to remember the past and transform the future. Originally called the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois, it was founded by a group of Chicago-area Holocaust survivors in the wake of neo-Nazi who threatened to march in Skokie in the 1970s. The current facility opened in 2009 and focuses its exhibitions on Holocaust subject matter and related social justice topics. Be sure to check out the Interactive Holograms: Survivor Stories Experience and the Take a Stand Center!
Hop on Route 66 in Chicago and head down to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The city is famous for many things, including a downtown mecca of art deco architecture. And if art is your thing, be sure to check out the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art. Moving into its current space in 2003, the museum houses a permanent collection of art and artifacts that reflect 5,000 years of Jewish history, from the ancient pre-Canaanite era all the way to the settlement of Jewish communities in the Southwest. The museum’s mission is to preserve and share the legacy of Jewish art, history, and culture. Visitors will also find the Herman and Kate Kaiser Holocaust Exhibition, archives, a library, and genealogical resources.
HIT THE EAST COAST
When you think of Charleston, South Carolina, you might not automatically think of smalltown Jewish life. But stop by the Jewish Heritage Collection at the College of Charleston to experience more than 500 oral histories, along with archives, manuscripts, photographs, and genealogical records that tell the story of the Jews of South Carolina.
College of Charleston’s Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library collaborates with the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina to preserve the living memories of Jewish life in small towns across South Carolina and place historical markers at sites of Jewish interest.
THE NATION’S CAPITAL
It’s no secret that Washington, DC, offers a wealth of places to experience history. Amidst the White House and Lincoln’s Memorial, you’ll find a few museums dedicated to the Jewish experience, including the stunning United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the new Capital Jewish Museum.
Among the more unique is the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. It was chartered by an act of Congress in 1958 to honor the courage, heroism and sacrifices made by Jewish Americans who served in the armed forces and to combat anti-Semitism.
Walk the Hall of Heroes to learn about Jewish-American servicemen who have received the Medal of Honor, explore the Major General Julius Klein exhibit to discover the historic life and work of a military hero, and so much more.
Now it’s time to jump on I-95 for a short 2.5-hour drive to Philadelphia, famous for cheesesteaks and the Liberty Bell. One other can’t-miss attraction is the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History, built to preserve, explore, and celebrate the history of Jews in America and connect us to our heritage.
It was originally founded in 1976 by the members of historic Congregation Mikveh Israel, which was established in 1740 and known as the “Synagogue of the American Revolution”. A Smithsonian affiliate, the Weitzman boasts the largest collection of Jewish Americana in the world, with more than Travel 30,000 objects and a family-focused environment. Share the covered wagon playroom with the kids or cram into the It’s Your Story recording booth to share your family stories!
THE BIG APPLE
It’s hard to go wrong with any one of the many Jewish museums in the city that never sleeps. You’ll have your pick of the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Center for Jewish History, and others. But make sure you save time for the stunning Museum at Eldridge Street.
Housed in the Eldridge Street Synagogue, it resides within the first great house of worship built in America by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in 1887. It tells the story of Jewish immigrant life on the Lower East Side through Yiddish signs, Jewish ritual objects, archival documents, artifacts from the synagogue’s restoration, and excerpts from a collection of oral histories.
It’s been a whirlwind tour, but as it turns out, you can take in plenty of Jewish culture and heritage right here at home in California. When you’re on a stay-cation or looking for a meaningful way to spend a Saturday afternoon, play tourist and visit some cultural icons in the area.
Dive into Jewish musical history at the Milken Archive of Jewish Music in Santa Monica; in Los Angeles, visit the Holocaust Museum LA, the first survivor-founded and oldest Holocaust Museum in the United States; or embrace American democratic ideals of freedom and equality at the Skirball Cultural Center.
Wherever your travels take you, go towards peace.