Jewish Museum files for bankruptcy

National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The National Museum of American Jewish History has filed for bankruptcy.

The museum at 5th and Market Street in Philadelphia, on the edge of Independence Mall, has not been able to overcome the cost of its building, which opened in 2010.

The bankruptcy filing will allow the museum to restructure itself financially and reduce its debt, which interim CEO Misha Galperin called “crushing.”

“It was to seek re-organization in order to reduce our debt of about $30 million, which we’ve been carrying since the construction of the new building 10 years ago,” he said.

The museum opened with much fanfare, in November 2010, in its sleek, modern building overlooking the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. In addition to its permanent exhibition about Jewish life in America, it has hosted temporary exhibitions about, for example, composer Leonard Bernstein, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and rock impresario Bill Graham.

But over the last 10 years, the museum has never been able to stabilize its finances the way it had planned.

“There was a period of low philanthropy between 2008 and 2010, which was when the debt was taken in the first place,” said Galperin. “It’s been impossible to reduce it significantly. It doesn’t allow us to do effective fundraising. People don’t want to give money to an institution that has this kind of debt.”

In a statement, board chair Philip M. Darivoff said, “While no institution chooses such a reorganization lightly, this decision is expected to bring with it a reduction in debt that will create a new level of sustainability that assures our part in telling a unique and compelling story of the American experience.”

The chapter eleven filing will allow the museum to restructure itself without closing its doors.

“This decision is expected to bring with it a reduction in debt that will create a new level of sustainability that assures our part in telling a unique and compelling story of the American experience,” said board chair Philip Darivoff in a statement.

Galperin says during the court proceedings there will be no staff layoffs or reductions in public programming.

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