Michael Rosenzweig's Mission
by Marni Prichard Manko
Michael Rosenzweig in front of a wall bearing words from the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guaranteed the free exercise of religious freedoms
AT FIRST GLANCE, Michael Rosenzweig might not be the obvious choice for president and CEO of the National Museum of American Jewish History. An attorney by trade, he has practiced at large firms around the country, was in-house counsel at a Fortune 500 company and taught law at the University of Michigan—but leading a museum as it morphs into one of the premier cultural institutions in the US? It’s a heady job, and one that presumably would go to someone with a career in museums or, at the very least, history. “Happily, the museum was very interested in thinking outside the box,” says Rosenzweig.
A devout man who has spent much of his free time fund-raising for myriad Jewish organizations as well as starting a Jewish day school in Atlanta, Rosenzweig’s new position allows him to integrate his deep religious commitment with his business experience. And passion and acumen is what’s going to be needed as he leads the formidable $150 million campaign to turn the once-quaint 7,500-square-foot gallery space into a nationwide nexus for the American Jewish community.
Rosenzweig’s goal is for the five-story, 100,000-square-foot museum located on In dependence Mall to become a world-class destination that educates, exhibits and interprets the American Jewish experience from 1654—when Jews permanently settled on the continent—to the present. The much-hyped interactive multimedia exhibition “Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame,” a nod to such extraordinary Jewish Americans as Albert Einstein, Estée Lauder, Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand, further illustrates the museum’s keen visual narrative.
“I have long thought that this period of Jewish history is in many ways the most exciting in the multi-thousand-year history of the Jewish people,” he says. “You can make the strong argument that we are the freest, most prosperous and most influential we’ve ever been as a community. But no one is telling the story.”
With enormous contributions from some of the country’s most renowned Jewish philanthropists (the Sidney Kimmel foundation donated a massive $25 million, while The Ed Snider Foundation donated $5 million and Spielberg donated $1 million through his Righteous Persons Foundation), Rosenzweig has both the professional and personal means to make his dream a reality. “I feel a huge amount of responsibility and excitement, but I think it’s going extremely well,” he says. “The project has resonated very deeply with people. This is the only institution doing what we’re doing, which makes it all the more critical that we do it right. I feel a sense of sacred responsibility because of that.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY NICK ANTONY