The rededication of an institution – a modern-day Hanukkah tale
On December 6, the final day of Hanukkah 5782, we will officially announce a new name for the Museum, in recognition of an extraordinary new gift from an extraordinary old friend: genius designer, fearless entrepreneur, successful businessman, generous philanthropist and real mensch, Stuart Weitzman.
Each year as I celebrate Hanukkah with my family and enjoy the warmth and light of the season, I reflect with gratitude on the passing of another Gregorian year, and I luxuriate in an abundance of latkes and sufganiyot — an indulgence before the inevitable New Year’s commitment to salads and stationary bikes.
This year, like every year, I am also reflecting on the Hanukkah story itself — that of the ancient struggle to keep the stories and culture of the Jewish people alive.
At the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) we challenge ourselves every day to best execute on our dual mission of engaging Jews more deeply with their heritage, culture and history while striving to engage all Americans (and foreign visitors) with the richness and diversity of the American Jewish story.
But the tale of Hanukkah resonates even more deeply and feels even more poignant to me this year.
On December 6, the final day of Hanukkah 5782, we will officially announce a new name for the museum, in recognition of an extraordinary new gift from an extraordinary old friend: genius designer, fearless entrepreneur, successful businessman, generous philanthropist and real mensch, Stuart Weitzman.
NMAJH will now be known as the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History. Stuart has also made a meaningful gift to establish the Stuart Weitzman Endowment Fund, which will help support future exhibitions and other activities of the museum.
Later that evening, as Hanukkah comes to a close, we will celebrate Stuart, along with all of those who made this Miracle on the Mall happen.
As many readers know, NMAJH exited bankruptcy on September 17, 2021. Our friends and benefactors in acts of extraordinary generosity forgave $14 million in loans, and even paid the legal costs for that process. At the same time, we reached a settlement with the bank where we agreed to pay $10.5 million of the $17 million that we had owed.
This settlement was made possible by our modern-day Maccabee, Mitchell Morgan and his family who, in addition to forgiving the $1 million note that they he held, agreed to buy our building for $10 million so that we could pay off the bank, and then lease it to NMJAH for $1,000 per month. The Morgan Family also gave us the option of buying back the building any time over the next 42 months.
The Weitzman gift will allow us to buy back the building from the Morgan family right away, but the impact of the Morgans’ generosity–and that of our other benefactors will always reverberate through the walls of our extraordinary 100,000 sq. ft. James Polshek-designed building on Independence Mall.
Our small but mighty remaining army of staff and volunteers has worked tirelessly and achieved enormous success running a “virtual museum” since COVID-19 forced our doors to close. Our six online exhibitions and dozens of programs attracted four million participants in the past 20 months. We are now planning our reopening as we re-dedicate ourselves to this unique American Jewish institution.
The very word “Hanukkah” means dedication in Hebrew. This year at Hanukkah we rededicate ourselves to our mission as we dedicate the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History.
Misha Galperin, Ph. D., is CEO of the National Museum of American Jewish History.