Our American Jewish Stories

Our American Jewish Stories

“Emma Lazarus! The New Colossus!” Drew pointed at the quote on the wall as we rounded the corner to the next gallery. 

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” read the famous quote. Drew told us about the quote’s position on the Statue of Liberty and Lazarus’ history as a writer, as Lazarous was the subject of her last Rosh Pinah project. 

When I found out that the National Museum of American Jewish History was offering free admission starting this year, I knew it would be a great opportunity for a BMitzvah field trip. We started at NMAJH by handing out cards to each member of the cohort. Each colored card had a different purpose: Question/Discussion, Comment/Opinion, Personal Story, Summary/Trend/Connection. Each member of the cohort was empowered to hold up a card as we walked through the galleries, gather the group, and discuss the object they were looking at.

Leo held up a Personal Story card in the Revolutionary War room to stand by a musket and tell us about the time he got to load one himself, while Ronia connected it to a book she’d read recently. 

Zahdi noticed that the little replica 1950s kitchen had recipes written on the cabinets, just like her bubbe did with her favorite recipes. 

Zoey and Remi held up their cards in a gallery focused on unionization and labor struggle, Zoey to give us context about Clara Lemlich (her Rosh Pinah subject) and Remi to express frustration at the statistics given about unequal pay for women at the time.


American Jewish history is filled with triumphs and tragedies. We dug into both in our visit to NMAJH.  We stopped for a long stretch near a display about Leo Frank and his trial. The cohort were appalled by the lack of justice served in the case and frustrated by the antisemitism involved. We also stopped for a while to watch videos about Jews in the entertainment industry, amused (if a bit perplexed) by videos of Eddie Cantor and Molly Picon, and amazed that the largest movie producers (Warner Brothers, MGM, Fox, and more) were almost all started by Jews. 

Once we got back to the first floor, though tired, the group all eagerly soaked in more stories of American Jews famous and not. With the thoughtfulness of this group and the unique connections and questions they ask, I have no doubt that they already have made and will continue to make an impact on our American Jewish community. Head here to read about the second half of our field trip!


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