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The Ed Snider Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame celebrates extraordinary people whose lives demonstrate the power of what America makes possible. Some well-known, others less so, all left an indelible mark on America and the world. Together, their stories illustrate the unparalleled opportunity this country has offered Jews to aspire, achieve, and even change the world. They are stories of courage, imagination, aspiration, achievement, and service—stories that could happen only in America.
Prior to opening our new building’s opening in 2010, we invited the public and the Museum’s historians to vote for the first eighteen individuals to be included in the Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame. Nearly 210,000 votes were cast.
The original 18 inductees were: Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Louis Brandeis, Albert Einstein, Mordecai Kaplan, Sandy Koufax, Estée Lauder, Emma Lazarus, Isaac Leeser, Golda Meir, Jonas Salk, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Rose Schneiderman, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Henrietta Szold, and Isaac Mayer Wise.
In 2016 we began inducting new honorees into Only in America®, beginning with entrepreneur, philanthropist, and education pioneer, Julius Rosenwald. He was followed by groundbreaking scientist Gertrude Elion, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and most recently, the dual induction of Harry Houdini and David Copperfield—the world’s greatest magicians.
Below you can find short films about each individual, as well as Justice Ginsburg’s remarks at her induction ceremony at the Museum, and the full program of 2020’s Houdini/Copperfield event. You can also take a virtual tour of the gallery for an up-close look at the inductees stories and personal objects.
So great were Albert Einstein’s contributions to the worlds of mathematics and physics that in 1999 Time magazine named him “Person of the Century” and a Gallup poll ranked him the fourth most admired person of the twentieth century. Many schoolchildren can recite Einstein’s pioneering theory of relativity – E=mc2 – which helped determine how we understand the universe but the scientist’s contributions to our understanding of the physical world extend far beyond the formula he discovered. A Holocaust refugee long affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, Einstein won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in theoretical physics, which later would play a key role in the development of fiber optics, telecommunications networks, solar cells, and global positioning systems.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Sandy Koufax signed on as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. In 1961, Koufax won 18 games and struck out 269 batters, a league record. Koufax was the first major leaguer to pitch four no-hitters, including a perfect game. He was named the National League’s Most Valuable player in 1963 and became the first player to earn three Cy Young awards. At age 36 and 20 days, he became the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Koufax chose not to pitch in the 1965 World Series when a game fell on Yom Kippur.
The daughter of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors settled in New York in the colonial period, Emma Lazarus was a writer and a scholar of literature and languages. Even before Zionism became a cohesive movement, Lazarus’s poetry and essays protested the rise of antisemitism and called on Jews to create a homeland in Palestine. “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are two famous lines of her sonnet, “The New Colossus,” which was affixed to the Statue of Liberty in 1903. Lazarus was at the peak of her career when she died of cancer in 1887, at the age of 38.
Virologist Jonas Salk was born in New York to parents from Russian-Jewish immigrant families. In 1947, he accepted an appointment at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where, working with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, he launched his quest for a vaccine against polio, a virulent disease that primarily afflicted children. When news of his discovery of a vaccine was made public on April 12, 1955, Salk was hailed as a miracle worker. In 1960, he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, a center for medical and scientific research. Salk spent his last years searching for a vaccine against AIDS.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Rose Schneiderman made her mark as a prominent labor leader in early twentieth-century America. Born in Poland, she emigrated in 1890 and later experienced the harsh realities of working life in America’s big cities as a lining stitcher in a cap factory on New York’s Lower East Side. By 1903, she had successfully launched the first women’s local of the United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers Union, and she eventually became a national president of the Women’s Trade Union League. After the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which resulted in the deaths of over 100 female garment workers, Schneiderman addressed a mass meeting and called for increased workers’ rights. A member of FDR’s “brain trust” in the 1930s, she was Secretary of the New York Department of Labor and a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. She also devoted herself to the cause of women’s suffrage as a key organizer.
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Barbra Streisand is one of the most commercially successful recording artists in history, having sold more albums than any other female artist. She was born in Brooklyn and began her career singing in nightclubs.
Her first album, “The Barbra Streisand Album” (1963), won two Grammys and her first film, “Funny Girl” (1968), earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Streisand became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song as a composer for “Evergreen,” from the soundtrack of “A Star is Born” (1976). With “Yentl” (1983), she became the first woman ever to produce, direct, write and star in a major motion picture. She is the only artist ever to receive Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Directors Guild of America, Golden Globe, National Endowment for the Arts, and Peabody Awards, as well as the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
She is the first female director to receive The Kennedy Center Honors. Since founding the Streisand Foundation in 1981, she has raised and distributed $21 million to organizations supporting environmental issues, constitutional rights, AIDS research, women’s issues, and race relations, and has raised approximately $20 million, through performances and appearances, for additional causes and charities.
Isaac Mayer Wise
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
An outspoken champion of feminist causes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the first Jewish woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She was also the first woman to make both the Harvard and Columbia law reviews. Prior to serving on the Court, Ginsburg distinguished herself as a professor of law at Rutgers Law School in Newark, as co-founder of the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, and as director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. She served on the U.S. Court of Appeals from 1980 until her appointment in 1993 to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she has been a judicious and eloquent voice in support of civil liberties.
OIA Award image: detail of the Only in America award presented to Justice Ginsburg on December 19, 2019 at the Museum when she was inducted into Only in America. Award created by artist Glenn Grubard
Harry Houdini & David Copperfield
OIA Award images: Image of the Only in America award for Harry Houdini presented to his family and detail of award presented to David Copperfield on December 12, 2020 when they were inducted into Only in America. Awards created by artist Glenn Grubard.