Must Visit U.S. Jewish Museums and Synagogues in 2014

America abounds with museums and synagogues that celebrate and document Jewish life. Some focus on religious heritage, while others deal with Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.

From Mississippi to Washington D.C., here are some places worth a visit:

Jewish Museum of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland

Jewish Museum of Maryland

Jewish Museum of Maryland

One of the country’s leading centers for exhibits on Jewish history and culture, this museum combines art, rare objects, videos and computer stations, as well as a display dedicated to the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Current exhibits The Synagogue Speaks and Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in East Baltimore provide insight on stories of Jewish immigrants in the Baltimore area, including the rise of historic Lombard Street, where many Jewish immigrants settled.

Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Beachwood, Ohio

Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage

Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage

Metro Cleveland’s Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage opened in 2005 with the mission promoting the understanding of Jewish history in relation to the American experience. The Temple-Tifereth Israel Gallery is the fourth oldest gallery of Judaica in the United States and features a selection of sacred books, art and scrolls.

Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Jackson, Mississippi

Dedicated to preserving the culture and legacy of Judaism in the South, the institute emphasizes the impact of Southern Jewish communities. In 2000 the museum changed its name to Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life and began providing Judaic services and cultural programs to Jewish communities in the South, in addition to preserving the museum.

Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, California

Skirball Cultural Center

Skirball Cultural Center

The Skirball Cultural Center is known as one of world’s most dynamic Jewish cultural institutions. Its goal is to help visitors explore the connection between Jewish heritage and American ideals. The center’s main exhibit, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, traces experiences of Jewish people for over the past 4,000 years. Interactive computer stations and rare artifacts spotlight their journey.

Jewish Museum, New York City

Founded in 1904 as a small, donation-based museum, the Jewish Museum has evolved tenfold and now contains over 25,000 items, ranging from archaelogical discoveries to contemporary art by famous artists. The permanent exhibition, Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, tells the story of the Jewish people through more than 800 works of art. Temporary as well as online galleries accompany the permanent exhibit and give visitors ancillary artifacts to view.

National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

National Museum of American Jewish History

National Museum of American Jewish History

This museum tells the story of how Jewish immigrants came to the United States and became Jewish-Americans. The core exhibition offers insight into more than 350 years of Jewish life in America. The first floor is dedicated to the lives and achievements of 18 exemplary Jewish-Americans, capturing the museum’s central theme–that America has provided individuals with exceptional opportunity.

Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island

Touro Synagogue, built in 1763, is the oldest synagogue building in North America. One-hour tours include a seated presentation in the synagogue and time in the Loeb Visitor Center, where exhibits include History of Touro Synagogue, Religious Liberty in the United States and Jews in Early America: From Inquisition to Freedom. Shabbat services are held on Friday evening. The active congregation totals 100.

National Holocaust Museum, Washington D.C.

National Holocaust Museum

National Holocaust Museum

This museum is America’s national institute for the documentation, study and interpretation of Holocaust history. It also serves as the memorial to millions of people murdered during the Holocaust. The Holocaust is the museum’s permanent exhibition, presenting a narrative history with over 900 artifacts, video exhibits and theaters that include eye-witness testimonies. The permanent exhibition begins with photos of death and destruction as witnessed by American soldiers during the liberation of Nazi concentration camps in 1945.

Holocaust Memorial Center, Farmington Hills, Michigan

Serving as a remembrance for those who perished in and survived the Holocaust, the center recently added The Henrietta and Alvin Weisburg Gallery, which houses an authentic World War II box car, a silent testimony to the unmentionable horrors of the Holocaust. (Box cars were used by the Nazis to transport Jews to concentration camps.)

Illinois Holocaust Museum, Skokie, Illinois

The largest museum of its kind in the Midwest, the 65,000 square-foot-building includes an orientation film, audio testimony of Chicago-area Holocaust survivors and more than 500 artifacts, documents and photographs. The largest artifact is a wooden, German-made car similar to the type used to transport Jews to concentration camps during World War II. Other exhibits focus on the neo-Nazi conflict in Skokie and genocide around the world.

–By Stephen Kaminski