Drawn by the chance to celebrate 350 years of American Jewish history at the newest addition to the most historic square mile in the nation’s first capital, hundreds of people from across the country descended on Philadelphia to hear Vice President Joseph Biden announce that a new museum’s Jewish stories were, in fact, manifestations of distinctly American ideals.
“In telling the story of the American Jewish experience, this museum in my view, tells the story of America’s identity,” Biden said Sunday at festivities in front of the new $150 million home of the National Museum of American Jewish History.
In hailing the contributions of a host of American Jews, Biden quoted from a diary entry written by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, upon his 1940 departure from Lisbon, Portugal, and much-awaited arrival in the United States.
The diary page is on permanent display in the museum’s “Only in America” exhibit, along with two other items connected to the Chabad-Lubavitch leader. (The museum also highlights the contributions of 17 other Jewish figures.)
“We have to heed the words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson,” stated Biden. “We should not satisfy ourselves with what we have accomplished and we should always strive to realize the potentials and abilities that G-d has given us to perfect the world.
“This is the message that the museum will spread to the whole world.”
After his remarks, the vice president instructed his Secret Service agents to invite Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, the director of the Lubavitcher Center in Philadelphia, to make his way from the audience and join him at the stage. The two embraced for several minutes.
Along with the diary entry, the museum’s display includes a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously awarded in 1995 on occasion of the Rebbe’s birthday and corresponding National Education Day, and a dollar that the Rebbe gave businessman Ronald Perelman to signify his participation in the philanthropist’s charitable distributions.
On that bill, the Rebbe circled the words “In G-d We Trust,” and in an attached letter, empowered Perelman to be an emissary to “spread the proclamation on the bill.”
According to Shemtov, who also serves as chairman of the umbrella organization of Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the vice president’s remarks were poignant.
They encapsulated the Rebbe’s insistence that not only Jews living in America, but all Americans, remain steadfast in – as the words in the Declaration of Independence state – their “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”
The Rebbe’s guidance, noted Shemtov, strengthened a modern spiritual awakening on these shores and inspired generations of Jewish activists and leaders.
“The Rebbe restored confidence and faith and hope to the physically destitute who had given up, and the spiritually destitute, who had been given up on,” explained the rabbi. “He taught that a person must always do more to reach his potential.”
Other speakers on Sunday, including Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, pointed to the museum’s location – caddy corner to Independence Hall – as significant.
“Nowhere else but in Philadelphia,” said the mayor, “the cradle of American liberty, can this story be told so well or so honestly.”