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November 26, 2010

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 26, 2010 Philly museum opens with stars, and plenty of American nosta sipee00 By Deborah Hirsch Jewish Exponent PHILADELPHIA---Her granddaughter at her elbow, 89-year-old Ruth Sarner-Libms walked slowly through the fourth floor of the National Museum of American Jewish History, drinking in every display. Flashing a broad smile, Sarner-Libros said it was beyond anything she had imagined when she hosted the museum's first board meeting back in 1974. It took two years to open the modest collection in a small space adjoining the historic Congregation Mikveh Israel in the Old City section of downtown Philadelphia. Now, after a decade=long, $150 million campaign, those artifacts have been elevated to a sparklingnew 100,000-square- foot home less than a block away in the heart of the city's Independence Mall. "It's such a significant lo- cation, the exhibits are so impressive, the whole way it's put together, it's just an over- whelming experience to see a dream come true," said Sarner- Libros, the board president emerita, "to have a child of my imagination become a reality." In honor of the accomplish- ment, hundreds of people, many of them donors, joined Sarner-Libms in a weekend of celebration headlined by Vice President Joe Biden, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and entertainer Bette Midler. Founding members jump- started the festivities the morn- ing of Nov. 12 with discussions of the museum's architecture and how freedoms of the Jewish people have changed through- out American history. The next night, about 1,000 local and national supporters, stars and dignitaries gathered for a gala in a mammoth tent that spanned the block of Fifth Street just outside the building. Despite the steep admis- sion-individual tickets cost - George Bilyk Vice President Joe Biden delivers the keynote address Nov. 14 at the new Jewish museum in Philadelphia's grand opening ceremony. from $1,500 to $5,000--the museum couldn't accom- modate about 200 would-be revelers. Seinfeld emceed the swanky kosher dinner. The crowdate up his Jewish-tailored shtick as he joked about everything from his motherwho couldn't figure out a cell phone to the undignified nature of bathroom stalls. As Midler took the stage, she jokingly wondered why the museum was in Philadelphia rather than New York, where she quipped that "there are more Jews in my building than in this town." Herperformance, character- istically peppered with humor and profanity, was clearly tai- lored to the theme ofthe night. She sang only songs written by Jewish artists, beginning with her signature "Friends" and ending with Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Barbra Streisand created a buzz as an attendee, but she neitherspoke norsang. Instead, she sat front and center with her husband, James Brolin, with security guards nearby to keep away fans. One of 18 individuals high- lighted in the museum's Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame, which greets Visitors on the first floor, Streisand made time to stop in the museum's shop, where she spent $800 on threeyads (Torah pointers) and silver candlesticks. Meanwhile, in the museum's designated event space on the fifth floor, roughly 850 "young friends" bobbed along to a cover band on a chic white dance floor. Color-changing lights reflected on white fabric draped around the room. "The amount of energy you feel here right now is incred- ible," said Lindsey Morgan, 35, a mother of two who also helps her husband with his real estate lending company. "It's like an unspoken thing how this evening means so much to our heritage. This is one of the most exciting things to happen to the city ever." The next day, a chorus of about 50 shofar blowers her- alded the start of the official dedication ceremony. Nearly 2,000 people gathered on the mall in front of the museum, basking in the unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon. Biden echoed that senti- ment, saying that although the museum focuses on the Jewish people, "they're American sto- ries above all else. I can think of no other city that would be a fitting showcase for them." Other speakers included George Ross, co-chair of the board of trustees and chairman of the capital campaign; Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania's outgo- ing governor; and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Following the ceremony, the museum opened to members of the public who had reserved free timed tickets. Donors and supporters streamed into the halls, dragging confetti from the damp lawn on their shoes. Some came from as far as Cleveland and Seattle to see material they had provided for the exhibits. Others, like Anitta Boyko Fox, made the nearly two- hour trip from North Jersey to Mike Coppola/Getty Images Barbra Streisand (l), Jerry Seinfeld and Bette Midler were among the stars who gathered Nov. 13 for a gala celebrating the new National Museum of American Jewish History. see their familiar immigrant stories reflected in the exhibits. "It really hit home because I came here when I was t3, and all these years you don't have time to think, and all of a sud- den you get to be 86," Fox said, chuckling softly. Inspired by the collection, Fox took advantage of the sto- rytelling studio at the museum, where guests can record their histories for its archives. She spoke about growing up in Vienna and how an empathetic Superintendent saved her fam- ily by warning them to hide in the dark when the Nazis first overran the city. "All night long we heard the screaming and the crying, and the next day all the Jews were gone," Fox said, her voice trembling. "Our door was the only one that wasn't marked with a J." Bronya Vygodskaya, a law firm administrator from Brook- lyn, also knowswhat it feels like to experience anti-Semitism. In Russia, she was fired from her job teaching English in college "because I was a Jew. They of- ficially told me that." Experiencing hatred for being Jewish, she said, makes it even more important to preserve that identity. That's why the new museum means so much, she explained. "This woman," she said, gesturing at a photograph of an immigrant, "looks like my grandmother, you know?" At every corner, docents called to visitors to make sure they didn't miss a particularly interesting artifact--a tele- gram about the planned an- nihilation of the Jews during World War II or passports from immigrants who came through Ellis Island. Mixed in the maze of information were laminated sheets of Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers to pick up and Old World clothes for kids to try on. "I have to come back at least another dozen times so I can soak it all in," said Catherine Camlin, 54, of nearby Cherry Hill, N.J. "It's very, it's very ..." she trailed off, patting her hand over her heart. "It makes you want to trace your roots back, too." Her friend, Louis Seiden, 62, of Cinnaminson, N.J., said he hoped the museumwould show the non-Jewishworidwhat Jews accomplished in America. Attracting those visitors will be a challenge, but "if nothing else, something like this will bring people in," saidJoeAlbert, gesturing toward the piano that songwriter Irving Berlin once used. "This is really something, this is not what I would've imagined," said Albert, state commander for the Jewish War Veterans, Department of Pennsylvania. "And look, a Yiddish typewriter?" A small crowd congregated in the last exhibit, which invited Visitors to post responses to questions lining the circular room: Should religion play a role in America politics?Are Jews white? "Our religion is based on the constant questioning of things, so I think it's brilliant that they created this space for people to think and question," said University of Delaware freshman Jessie Leider, 18, as she posted her opinion on why intermarriage was a threat to religious communities. "It's an ongoing religion," Leider said. "It's not just the history. It's the future of our people." The museum officially opens today to 'the public. Jewish Exponent executive editor Lisa Hostein contributed to this report. Israed acti'dst monitors Palestinian messaging By Elaine Durbach New Jersey Jewish News The Palestinian leader- ship's threat to declare unilateral statehood is the most urgent issue facing Israel, said an American- born Israeli who monitors Palestinian media. The Palestinian Author- ity is seeking international legal recognition of the 1967 borders even as it has con- vinced 81 percent of Pales-, tinians that the Jewish state will eventually be wiped out, according to Itamar Marcus, head of Palestinian Media Watch, the nonprofit he founded in 1996. Chanukah Groove Join Temple Shir Shalom for your next and best Shabbat as Cantorial Leader Beth Schafer and Band bring in Chanukah with our annual Chanukah Candle Lighting and Oneg. Bring a family Chanukiah to light along with our temple family. Friday, December 3rd, 7:30 pm In the EPICenter at University Carillon United Methodist Church 1395 Campus View Court Oviedo, FL Anti-Israeli rhetoric and incitement by Palestinian organizations was Marcus' theme when he spoke in Clark, N:J., on Nov. 18 at Temple Beth O'r/Beth Torah. Marcus, who lives in Efrat, Israel, established PMW in 1996. From his office in Je- rusalem, he works with Zil- berdik and Barbara Crook, a Canadian who is the group's associate director and North American representative, and a team of translators fluent in Arabic and familiar with Palestinian culture. They monitor, analyze and publicize speeches by leaders of the. Palestin- ian Authority, Fatah and Hamas, as well as material in the media, and in school books. PMW reports suggest that Palestinian leaders, despite pledges to the contrary, still countenance imams and broadcasters who encourage children to seek martyrdom, display maps with no men- tion of Israel, and claimthat Palestinians held in Israeli jails are being tortured and ltamar Marcus used for Nazi-style medical experiments. In a phone interview with the New Jersey Jewish News on Nov. 5, just before leaving Israel for the United States, he said the group's focus extends Ieyond the media to the culture as a whole. At events like the one in Scotch Plains, and an Israel in Focus event in Los Angeles organized by the grassroots organization, StandWithUs, he said, he will show people how to defend Israel against overt and covert attacks. Marcus was appointed by the Israeli government to " represent Israel in negotia- tions with the Palestinian Authority in the Trilateral Anti-Incitement Committee about a decade ago. He has presented his findings on Palestinian incitement to academic audiences, com- munity groups, and law- makers in Canada, France, Norway and Australia. "The impact is always excellent," he said, "as people at that level do not deny what they can see and hear." Some, however, are too fixed in their views to acknowledge what he shows them. "Our target audiences are those who will listen to the facts," he said. For more information on Palestinian Media Watch and examPles of its reports, go to Elaine Durbach is Central Bureau chief of the New Jer- sey Jewish News from which this article was reprinted by permission. RSVP to 407-366-3556 View our website