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(RNS) Call it the Jewish version of American Idol: after more than 209,000 votes from around the world, 18 men and women have been chosen for the new National Museum of American Jewish History’s Hall of Fame.
The museum, slated to open in November 2010 in Philadelphia, had listed 218 finalists on its Web site for its “Only in America” gallery, featuring artists, athletes, scientists, civic and religious leaders.
Based on the poll results and input from historians, the winners ranged from established celebrities, such as Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg, to more Judaism-specific figures, including Rabbis Mordecai Kaplan and Isaac Mayer Wise, who founded the Reconstructionist and Reform movements, respectively.
Officials will not release how many votes each finalist had received, to avoid turning an educational exhibit into “a popularity contest,” explained Josh Perelman, deputy director for programming and museum historian.
“They have all made monumental marks on America, American culture and American Jewish life,” he added. “Jews have had 350 years of experience in this country, and what unifies these people is that they were able to take the opportunities afforded to them in America, through the freedoms we all have, to excel in their fields.”
The other honorees will include: musicians Irving Berlin and Leonard Bernstein; Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis; physicist Albert Einstein; baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax; cosmetics entrepreneur and philanthropist Estee Lauder; activist poet Emma Lazarus; Bible translator Rabbi Isaac Leeser; Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir; polio vaccine inventor Jonas Salk; labor leader Rose Schneiderman; Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer; Hasidic Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; and Zionist women’s leader Henrietta Szold.
The number 18 was chosen for its religious significance, as the Hebrew numerical symbol of life. Over time, the Hall of Fame will become a rotating gallery, featuring additional American Jews who have made major achievements.
Finalists who didn’t make the initial cut included: poet Allen Ginsberg; Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; entertainer Bette Midler; choreographer Jerome Robbins; and The Three Stooges. Voters can continue submitting names to the museum at
By Nicole Neroulias
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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