Vice President Joe Biden, Jerry Seinfeld and Bette Midler headlined a festive opening weekend for the new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.
The gala events marked the culmination of a decade-long, $150 million effort to move from a small space adjoining a synagogue to an impressive structure situated in the center of historic Philadelphia, near the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Constitution Center, the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent reported.
Midler jokingly wondered why the museum was located in Philadelphia rather than New York, where “there are more Jews in my building than in this town.”
But at the official dedication ceremony Sunday afternoon, which was heralded by a chorus of 50 shofar blowers, several dignitaries gave Midler her answer.
“The stories are Jewish stories, but they’re American stories above all else,” Biden told the crowd in his keynote address. “I can think of no other city that would be a fitting showcase for them.”
George Ross, co-chair of the museum’s board of trustees and chairman of the capital campaign, said he didn’t think he could have raised the $150 million for the museum if not for the prominent location in the middle of the city’s most historic square mile.
“If we can bring our children and grandchildren closer to that wonderful heritage, that moral compass that has preserved the Jewish people, then we will be a success,” Ross said at the ceremony, which also featured Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania’s outgoing governor, Ed Rendell.
Rendell, who is Jewish, complimented Ross for managing to get money from the state not just once but on four separate occasions.
“He wouldn’t accept the fact that this would be hard to do. His belief was so strong, his passion so great, he was impossible to say no to,” Rendell said. “It is something special for Philadelphia, for Pennsylvania, for America and for the world.”
The crowd ate up Seinfeld’s Jewish-tailored shtick. As the emcee and one of the chief entertainers, he riffed on everything from his mother who couldn’t figure out a cell phone to the undignified nature of bathroom stalls.
Barbra Streisand, who is one of only three living individuals honored in the museum’s Hall of Fame, was one of 800 guests to attend the opening dinner Saturday night.