Diane Samuels, a Pittsburgh-based artist, believes that her mosaic Luminous Manuscript serves as a metaphoric table of contents and preface to the Center as a whole. Her artwork contains 80,500 pieces of glass and 440 underlying stone tiles . The tiles include 112,640 individual alphabet characters from 57 writing systems, collected from the handwriting samples of over 500 members of the Center for Jewish History's community (a short film on The Making of Luminous Manuscript is available). Samuels chose the distinctive graphic layout of a page from the Talmud on which alphabetic characters signify the infinite possibilities of language available through the combination and recombination of signs and symbols. The artist's work of enormous complexity and astonishing beauty puts Jewish history into a true artistic form, a sort of metaphor for the myriad possibilities of interpreting the signs and symbols of human communication to honor history and memory, and create many new meanings.
Biblical Species, a lyrical terrazzo floor embedded with aluminum, bronze, and mother-of-pearl that depicts botanical species was inspired by a story from the Old Testament and designed by Michele Oka Doner, a Michigan-based artist. The 4,000-square-foot floor stretches across the Center for Jewish History's 16th to the 17th Streets entrances. As in ancient synagogues—the community centers of their time—patterned mosaic floors were common, bearing images of the Temple as well as ritual plants and vessels. Doner's work illustrates the shivat haminim, or seven species, that Moses' scouts brought back–such as grapes, pomegranates, figs, wheat, barley, olives, and dates—to illustrate that the land of Israel "flows with milk and honey" (Numbers 12:27). The project required conducting extensive research on the artist's part as she studied ancient species and cultivation techniques. The mixture of bronze and aluminum melds the ancient and the contemporary—a perfectly suitable combination to reflect the Center's philosophy.