This Museum of American Jewish History Just Reopened in Philadelphia After 2 Years — Here's What's New

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Exterior of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History
Exterior of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Barry Halkin/Halkin Photography/Courtesy of Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

When Philadelphia's Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History reopened last month after being closed for more than two years, they decided to do things a little differently.

The museum, which reopened its physical building with a new slate of art and artifacts and with free admission through at least the end of the summer, hopes to redefine what it means to be a history museum, Josh Perelman, the chief curator and director of exhibitions and interpretation, told Travel + Leisure. It's that vision, honed and influenced by two years of real-world events, that has allowed the museum to examine questions of identity — American identity, ethnic identity, and religious identity — as well as the responsibilities people have to themselves and their communities.

Rockwell wall with Pink Curve at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History
Rockwell wall with Pink Curve at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Robert Hakalski/Courtesy of Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

"Visitors are going to find a considerable amount of new content in the museum and new ways of presenting the stories of American Jewish life, especially as they intersect with other minority populations in this country," Perelman told T+L. "Unlike a typical history museum, upon reopening we decided to reflect this and work with artists and art, opening the door to some really critical and complicated questions."

He added: "No one community's history exists in isolation. If we're to understand and be successful in moving through this contemporary moment... it's about finding our commonalities."

The museum, now known by its abbreviated name "the Weitzman," and named after shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, shut down in March 2020. Perelman said the museum then transitioned into an online-only presence and built up its virtual special exhibition programming. But a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filed just before COVID-19 made weathering the hiatus that much harder and prevented the physical museum from reopening as quickly as many other cultural institutions.

Ben Shahn with Poster wall at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History
Ben Shahn with Poster wall at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Robert Hakalski/Courtesy of Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Now, situated on Philadelphia's iconic Independence Mall and with a new endowment in place, the Weitzman is ready to welcome back guests.

"We span more than 360 years of history, beginning in the 17th century," Perelman said. "It's the experiences of American Jews as a lens into the story of our nation. The fact that we're on Independence Mall is incredibly significant in how we tell our story."

When people arrive, they will see an outdoor installation of Deborah Kass' "OY/YO" sculpture, a bright yellow aluminum statue with several meanings from "YO," a popular phrase in Philly and the word "I" in Spanish, to "OY," a popular Yiddish phrase. The sculpture will remain in place until at least May 2023.

OY:YO installation in front of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History
OY:YO installation in front of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Jessi Melcer/Courtesy of Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

OY:YO installation in front of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History
OY:YO installation in front of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Tara L. Cahill/Courtesy of Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Visitors can check out the special Jonathan Horowitz exhibition, on display through the end of the year, which explores "the transformative changes America has experienced since 2020."

The museum also features a pair of artifacts taken from a hostage situation earlier this year at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas: a tea cup the rabbi offered the perpetrator and a chair the rabbi later threw at him during the escape.

The museum is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.