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Help decide who belongs in museum’s Jewish hall of fame

A nighttime rendering of the National Museum of American Jewish History on Philadelphia's Independence Mall, which is scheduled to open in November 2010. (Polshek Partnership Architects)

A nighttime rendering of the National Museum of American Jewish History on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, which is scheduled to open in November 2010. (Polshek Partnership Architects)

A rendering of the Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame, which is seeking the public's help to name its first 18 subjects. (Polshek Partnership Architects.)

A rendering of the Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame, which is seeking the public’s help to name its first 18 subjects. (Polshek Partnership Architects.)

PHILADELPHIA (JEWISH EXPONENT) — Emma Goldman or Louis Brandeis? Sandy Koufax or Hank Greenberg? Barbra Streisand or Steven Spielberg?

Or all of the above, plus a dozen more.

When the National Museum of American Jewish History opens at its new location on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall in November 2010, a core piece of its permanent exhibition will be the “Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame.” And the museum is looking for the public to help select the first 18 subjects.

Seeking public input on a major exhibition is a rare step in the world of museum studies. As part of the process, the museum has relaunched its Web site — www.nmajh.org — including a section asking the public to help.

The site contains a list of 218 candidates, along with biographical information, selected by the museum’s team of historians and drawn from the arenas of arts and entertainment; business and philanthropy; literature; performance; politics, law and activism; religion and thought; science and medicine; and sports. A section is available as well for write-in votes.

One purpose of the Web vote, said Michael Rosenzweig, the museum’s president and CEO, is to educate the public on the contributions of some of the more unfamiliar names.

Rosenzweig said the initial 18 individuals chosen will strike a balance between the popular vote and those the historians view as being essential inclusions.

"Not to denigrate in any way the choices that might be made by the public, but there has to be historical integrity," he said.

If your favorite American Jew doesn’t make the cut the first time around, don’t worry — Rosenzweig said the exhibit will feature a "revolving group of 18" drawn from the 218 nominees, and that those not included in the exhibit itself would still be featured on the museum’s Web site.

The Jewish Exponent and the JTA are media partners for the “Only in America” project.

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