The National Museum of American Jewish History is doing something rare in the world of museum studies: It's seeking public input on a major exhibition.
When the museum opens at its new location on the city's Independence Mall, slated for November 2010, a core piece of its permanent exhibition will be the "Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame," recognizing the contributions of 18 Jewish Americans from a wide range of fields.
In preparation for that, the museum has relaunched its Web site — www.nmajh.org — including a section asking the public to help select who should be included as subjects.
Whether you're a fan of notorious rock 'n' roll philanderer Chaim Witz (that's Gene Simmons, to you) or pioneering Philadelphia Jewish educator Rebecca Gratz, jeans-maker Levi Strauss or baseball legend Sandy Koufax, the site will contain a list of 218 candidates selected by the museum's team of historians and drawn from the arenas of arts and entertainment; business and philanthropy; literature; performance; politics, law and activism; religion and thought; science and medicine; and sports.
A section will also be available for write-in votes.
The site will include biographical information on each of the 218 nominees. One of the purposes of the Web vote, said Michael Rosenzweig, the museum's president and CEO, is to educate the public on the contributions of some of the more unfamiliar names.
Rosenzweig said that the 18 individuals initially chosen will strike a balance between the popular vote and those the historians view as being essential inclusions.
"Not to denigrate in any way the choices that might be made by the public, but there has to be historical integrity," he said.
If your favorite American Jew doesn't make the cut the first time around, don't worry; Rosenzweig said that the exhibit will feature a "revolving group of 18" drawn from the 218 nominees, and that those not included in the exhibit itself would still be featured on the museum's Web site.
The Jewish Exponent and JTA, the Jewish news agency, are media partners for the Only in America project.
Rosenzweig said that, while he didn't want to tempt the fates, he did want to point out that things are going "splendidly well" at the new location, that construction is on time and on budget, and that the opening date of November 2010 would likely be a reality.