Institutional Scholarship

Inside Out: American Jews and the Jewish America at the National Museum of American Jewish History

TriCollege Digital Repository

Title: Inside Out: American Jews and the Jewish America at the National Museum of American Jewish History
Author: Terry, Karen
Advisor: Koltun-Fromm, Kenneth
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Religion
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2009
Abstract: It has been said that the quintessential Jewish perspective is standing outside, looking in--that Jews are the world’s outcasts. When the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) opens its new building on Fifth and Market Street in Philadelphia, however, it will tell a different story. Jews at the museum are quintessential insiders, model citizens who teach the nation how to be American. Building on the narrative of liberty already present on Independence Mall, the architecture and content of the museum’s new building construct an image of an American Jewish community which celebrates, embodies, and defends American liberty. At the NMAJH, Jews force America to live up to the image it projects. The museum’s new core exhibit casts Jews as the guardians of American liberty, constantly fighting to make American society more egalitarian. Where America is passive or discriminatory, Jews appear active and inclusive; when America fosters prejudice, Jews point the nation toward its Constitutional promises of justice and liberty, interpreted from a post-Civil Rights perspective. Constantly reaching out to the underprivileged and advocating on behalf of persecuted groups, Jews at the NMAJH defend and uphold American ideals when the nation itself does not. They reveal America’s hypocrisy by embodying its imagined identity. And, since their advocacy results in expanded civil liberties, they make the United States American by helping the nation become the land of freedom and opportunity it proclaims to be. Jews, in other words, render the nation honest. The museum thus Americanizes Jews and judaizes America. Casting the American Jewish community as the embodiment of national ideals, the NMAJH constructs an image of America that depends on Jews to actualize its imagined identity. Jews, in this narrative, Americanize America. That is, they force the nation to uphold equal opportunity and justice for all. America, in this narrative, has Jewish roots. At the same time, the museum Americanizes the country’s Jewish population. As champions of equality and justice, American Jews embody the definition of liberty provided by the museum. They are model American citizens.
Subject: National Museum of American Jewish History (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Subject: Jews -- United States -- Exhibitions
Subject: Judaism -- United States -- Exhibitions
Subject: United States -- Ethnic relations -- Exhibitions
Terms of Use:
Permanent URL:

Files in this item

Files Description Size Format
2009TerryK_Release.pdf ** Archive Staff Only ** 24.07Kb PDF
2009TerryK.pdf Abridged Thesis 942.4Kb PDF
2009TerryK (HC Only).pdf Complete Thesis (Haverford users only) 3.498Mb PDF


Terry, Karen. "Inside Out: American Jews and the Jewish America at the National Museum of American Jewish History". 2009. Available electronically from

This item appears in the following Collection(s) Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as


Advanced Search


My Account