Illusionist David Copperfield will be inducted into the National Museum of American Jewish History’s Ed Snider Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame on Dec. 12, alongside another legendary Jewish magician, Harry Houdini, the son of a Hungarian rabbi.
Copperfield, who is a native of Metuchen, New Jersey, has always felt a personal connection to Houdini.
“It’s very, very flattering, obviously,” he said. “And the fact that it’s in combination with somebody that is a leader in my art form is very humbling.”
He said he feels honored to be inducted into a group whose membership includes Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Spielberg and Irving Berlin.
“We are thrilled and grateful to be able to induct Harry Houdini and David Copperfield into Only in America at the same time,” NMAJH trustee and gala chair Sharon Tobin Kestenbaum said in a statement. “With this event, we are able to celebrate a cross-generational story. From immigrant Harry Houdini to first-generation American David Copperfield, this event clearly demonstrates what’s possible when individuals are simply given the chance to be great.”
The induction will include remarks by 2019 Academy of Magical Arts winners Lucy Darling and Asi Wind and descendants of Houdini. Darling is more well-known as “The Mistress of Magic”; Wind, once voted “Best Magician in Israel,” was born in Tel Aviv.
Copperfield, whose previous honors include 21 Emmy Awards, 11 Guinness World Records and the Living Legend honor from The Library of Congress, will accept the award and perform illusions from his International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas.
It’s an appropriate venue for accepting such an award. Copperfield’s library houses the world’s largest collection of historically significant magic memorabilia, posters, books, props and artifacts, and even boasts tricks that belonged to Houdini himself: the Water Torture Cell and the Metamorphosis Trunk.
Copperfield himself will induct Houdini into the NMAJH Hall of Fame. Copperfield, who was born David Seth Kotkin, has always felt a connection to Houdini, born Erik Weisz, on the basis of their shared Jewishness and excitement about the possibilities of magic. If the United States provided a feeling for Jews that they could make what they imagine into reality, Copperfield said, then magic done well can do the same for anyone.
“Magic is about making people dream,” Copperfield said. “It was never about, for me, fooling people, or amazing people. It was always about showing limitless possibilities, showing that you can do amazing things. You can go beyond the lot that you’re given.”
Copperfield’s mother was born in Israel, and his father’s parents were born in Russia; today, he is perhaps the most well-known living magician in the world.
“David Copperfield cares deeply about the history of his craft — his desire to know and preserve that history is something that resonates strongly with us as a history museum,” NMAJH CEO Misha Galperin said. “Museums and magic actually have a lot in common — they are about storytelling at their core, and are designed to intrigue, inspire and spark wonder.”
Copperfield has previous connections to Philadelphia.
Aside from numerous appearances on stage, he recalls visiting the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel as a young man for a magic convention. One year later, he recalled, the hotel suffered its famous outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which some blamed on those dastardly magicians.
“Somebody said in their story that there was a magic chemical that somebody mistakenly dumped into the air conditioning system,” Copperfield remembered with a chuckle. “And maybe the magicians were to blame for this horrible thing that took place.”
Copperfield and Houdini will be the 22nd and 23rd inductees into the hall of fame, joining Ginsburg, Spielberg, Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Louis Brandeis, Albert Einstein, Gertrude Elion, Mordecai Kaplan, Sandy Koufax, Estée Lauder, Emma Lazarus, Isaac Leeser, Golda Meir, Julius Rosenwald, Jonas Salk, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Rose Schneiderman, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Barbra Streisand, Henrietta Szold and Isaac Mayer Wise.
The virtual event, which is free and open to the public, will serve as NMAJH’s annual gala and brings to a close a difficult year for the museum.
In March, just prior to the beginning of the pandemic, the museum filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time, the museum reportedly owed more than $30 million to bondholders and about $1 million to unsecured creditors. The filing subsequently made NMAJH ineligible to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans as they were made available by the CARES Act. In May, two-thirds of the museum staff were furloughed.
Bankruptcy hearings are reportedly set for later this month.
“Only in America: Houdini and Copperfield” will be live-
streamed on Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. on YouTube, Facebook and at nmajh.org.
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