Posted by: faithtravelfocus | May 4, 2011

Why Did Spielberg Leave His Camera in Philly?

National Museum of Jewish American Heritage

Why has iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg left his childhood movie camera in a Philadelphia museum? 

The little 1950’s 8 mm box is part of the story in the Philly’s newest historical repository, the National Museum of Jewish American History. Like much of what else you find in Philly’s extensive historical repertoire, this attraction educates visitors about the history of both America and the city that played such a pivotal role in shaping the culture. Religious tolerance and freedom were the vision of founder William Penn, and the City of Brotherly Love still reflects his emphasis on diversity.

 Located right on Independence Mall and near the iconic Liberty Bell – the new $150 million, 100,000 square-foot museum (a Smithsonian affiliate) – tells the stories, struggles and triumphs of Jewish immigrants to America and their contributions to society. It is the only museum in the nation that chronicles the history of Jews inAmerica. 

The narrative begins in 1654 with the arrival of 23 Jewish settlers in New Amsterdam (laterNew York City) where Governor Peter Stuyvesant, greeted them as “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.” 

The formation story of Jewish American identity continues through four floors of exhibits and theater screenings. The triumphant end exhibit, “Only inAmerica” Hall of Fame touts the achievements of luminaries such as Jonas Salk, Estee Lauder, Leonard Bernstein, and others. This is the place to see Irving Berlin’s piano and signed sheet music, Barbra Streisand’s costume from the 1983 film “Yentil,” Steven Spielberg’s camera, and other artifacts. 

Irving Berlin at his piano in 1948

Other galleries along the way deal with the reasons Jews came to America’s shores and how they assimilated into the culture, often with great difficulty. The struggles are evident, for example, in a depiction of an early 20th century sweatshop where clothing was produced under stressful and unhealthy conditions. 

Little known stories like the division in the American Jewish community about slavery, Maryland’s early 19th century “Jew Bill” that awarded Jews civil rights; and General Ulysses S. Grant’s orders to expel Jews from the area under his control in a bid to extinguish black market cotton are included in the museum’s educational exhibits. 

Everyone enjoys the various film shorts that range from Hollywood producers, actors and comedians, to politics, snips from Yiddish theater, civil rights and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. 

Philadelphia’s spiritual history is rich and includes the heritage of diversity that has been the city’s culture since William Penn founded it. In one small city section, you can find a Catholic church, Presbyterian church, the nation’s oldest synagogue, and the oldest AME church in the country – all testimonies to Penn’s vision of creating a haven for religious freedom. 

Here are some additional sites on Philly’s faith tour: 

Christ Church and Burial Ground – Known as “The Nation’s Church,” because revolutionary leaders like George Washington, Betsy Ross, and Benjamin Franklin worshipped here.Franklin’s grave is in the burial ground, one of the nation’s most historical resting places. 

Mikveh Israel – The congregation began in the 1740s and had a strong relationship withChristChurch. When the synagogue burned in the 1870s, Christ Church contributed funds to construct a new build. The congregations will share dinner together once a year. 

Arch Street Meeting House – the largest Quaker meeting house in the U.S., it reflects Quaker ideals of simplicity and equality in the construction. It also symbolizes William Penn’s Holy Experiment: religious freedom, rule of law, pluralism and diversity, respect for human rights and personal liberty. It’s also the place to learn about the Quaker influence on Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others in the young American nation. 

National Shrine of Saint John Newmann – Neumann was “the priest of the working class,” and the shrine honors his life. He was Bishop of Philadelphia, helped build 90 churches and 40 schools, and founded the Glen Riddle Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis. 

While you are exploring American Jewish history and Philadelphia’s religious heritage, don’t miss the city’s other pieces of cultural diversity off Independence Mall. Performing and visual arts stops like the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts abound, as do food choices from cheese steaks and Amish market food, to famous tables like Le Bec-Fin and restaurateur Stephen Starr’s concepts such as Buddakan.



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