Since their arrival in America, Jews have faced the difficulty of maintaining a separate group identity in an open society that embraced them as equals. Nineteenth-century efforts to unify American Jews around a common liturgical rite failed. However apart Jews stood, they resisted religious uniformity as much as their fellow Christians did. Over time, the Jewish community became ever more diverse, particularly as the Conservative and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism emerged in the twentieth century, joining the more established Orthodox and Reform movements, all of which subsequently broadened still further.
The nature of American society, with its acceptance of religious diversity, provided America's Jews with an unprecedented sense of security and safety. The feeling of being "at home" in America has varied from immigrant wave to immigrant wave, and even from person to person. By 1950, most American Jews were native-born, and a great many had participated in two world wars, experienced the Great Depression, witnessed the Holocaust and its aftermath, and supported the establishment of the State of Israel. In these post-World War II years, Jews became a vital force in the political process, demonstrated on behalf of oppressed co-religionists abroad and civil rights at home, and played a significant role in the cultural life of the nation. This series of transformative events--along with a fully developed network of religious and voluntary organizations--contributed to a shift in the Jewish perception of America from a safe "haven" to a true “home.”
In the Public Sphere
Legal impediments to Jewish participation in the political, social, and economic life of the country largely ended once Jews received political rights in Maryland in 1826. By then, Jews had turned their attention in new directions, seeking to assure their inclusion in all facets of American life and advocating on behalf of oppressed co-religionists abroad. They participated fully in the political life of the nation, advocated on behalf of causes important to them as Jews, and sometimes held out the promise of the "Jewish vote" in an effort to garner political support. Issues that have traditionally stood at the top of the Jewish community's political agenda include opposition to anti-Semitism, extension of civil rights, separation of church and state, the security of the State of Israel, and the welfare of Jews around the world.
"There Is No Jewish Vote"
Secretary of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites Myer S. Isaacs wrote to Lincoln on the eve of the presidential election, October 26, 1864, that "the Jewish vote does not exist." Isaacs nevertheless assures Lincoln that "the majority of Israelite citizens must concur in the attachment for the Union and a determination to leave no means untried to maintain its honor."
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“As for the Isrelites [Sic]… They Will Vote for You”
English born Isachar Zacharie was President Lincoln's chiropodist, political confidante, and special emissary. Among other things, Zacharie involved himself in helping Abraham Lincoln secure the Jewish vote. In a letter to Lincoln on November 3, 1864, Zacharie wrote: "I just returned to this city after a trip of nine days through Pennsylvania and New York state, and I am happy to inform you, that I am satisfied that I have done much good, I now think all is Right . . . . As regards the Isrelites [sic]--with but few Exceptions, they will vote for you. . . . I understand them well, and have taken the precaution--to see that they do as they have promised--I have secured good and trustworthy men to--attend on them on Election Day--My Men have been all the week seeing that their masses are properly Registered--so that all will go right on the 8th ins."
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"Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews!"
In this print, which appeared after a 1905 pogrom in Kishinev, a “Russian Jew” carries on his back a large bundle labeled “Oppression;” hanging from the bundle are weights labeled “Autocracy,” “Robbery,” “Cruelty,” “Assassination,” “Deception,” and “Murder.” In the background, on the right, a Jewish community burns, while in the upper left corner, President Theodore Roosevelt asks the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, "Now that you have peace without, why not remove his burden and have peace within your borders?"
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The Kishinev Massacre
The Kishinev Massacre of 1903, in which forty-nine Jews were murdered and hundreds were wounded, aroused universal condemnation and protest. For the first time, Jews in the United States took the lead in organizing nationwide protests. In addition to hundreds of demonstrations and meetings held throughout the nation, a massive petition drive protesting the slaughter was organized. Since the Russian authorities refused to accept the petition, it was deposited instead in the State Department's vault in a special box constructed to house it. In his letter accepting the petition, Secretary of State John Hay wrote: "It is a valuable addition to the public literature and it will be sacredly cherished among the treasures of the Department."
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The Crime of the Century
In this drawing by Homer Davenport, Lady Columbia, resplendent in patriotic attire, rebukes Czar.Nicholas II, who averts his eyes and appears embarrassed. Behind them is a poster with several skulls and bones, reading "Kishenev Massacre of 400 Jews--700 Jewish Homes Looted --Dead Left Bleeding in the Streets. Tirospol--General Slaughter of Jews--Young and Old Killed and Wounded."
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“The Victims in Their Agony”
The illustration in the center of this elegy depicts the April 1903 Kishinev massacre. The elegy is in seven parts, including “First signs of storm,” “The luckless in despair,” “The bugle call of the rioters to one another,” “The victims in their agony,” “The wailings of women and children,” “The devilish work in full force,” and “The survivors beg for bread.”
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Emma Goldman and "The Birth Control Question"
In this letter to Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman consoles Sanger on the sudden death of her five-year-old daughter Peggy, and urges her to gather her strength and to continue her work on the birth control question, which "has taken hold of the public as never before." Its "hold" was especially strong in the Lower East Side immigrant community in which Sanger worked as a visiting nurse.
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Yiddish Plays on Birth Control
These two Yiddish plays--Birth Control or Race Suicide and A Woman's Duty in Birth Control--were both submitted for copyright deposit at the Library of Congress. Both plays were written in the same year that Margaret Sanger and others opened America's first birth-control clinic in Brooklyn, New York. Women were alerted to the clinic's opening through the distribution of five thousand leaflets in English, Italian, and Yiddish. Police closed the clinic within ten days. Birth Control or Race Suicide, by the prolific playwright Harry Kalmanowitz, was performed in 1916 at New York's Roof Garden Theater.
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Harry Kalmanowitz. Geburth Kontrol, oder, Rassen zelbstmord [Birth Control or Race Suicide], 1916. Playscript, cast page, Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (151)
Samuel B. Grossman. Di Flikhten fun a froy in geburt kontrol [A Woman's Duty in Birth Control: A Drama in Four Acts]. Chicago, 1916. Copy of playscript title page. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (152)
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Ben Shahn and a Fight for Rights
The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) Political Action Committee was established in 1943 to educate and mobilize CIO members about political issues of special concern to labor. The Committee championed the rights of all workers and strived to raise awareness of the importance of protecting their rights by registering and voting. This is one of several posters Ben Shahn designed for the CIO.
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A Woman's Place is in the House
A leading American feminist and human rights activist, Bella Abzug (1920-1988) served in Congress from 1970 to 1976. In the years that followed, she headed the National Advisory Committee on Women, founded Women, USA, and co-founded the Women's Environment and Development Organization.
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The Jewish Vote in Hebrew
Displayed here are a variety of campaign buttons and stickers, each appealing to Jewish sensibilities through the use of Judaic symbols or the Hebrew language. One button even gives the election year according to the Jewish calendar: 5761 (a year that began in September 2000).
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Holding Public Office
Displayed here are a variety of buttons, stickers, and other election related memorabilia offering a snapshot of Jewish participation in the political process as members of Congress.
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War and its Aftermath
After Adolf Hitler ascended to power in 1933, American Jews undertook various measures to protest the ever-worsening circumstances of German Jews. They initiated a nation-wide boycott of German goods and organized protest marches and rallies in support of beleaguered German Jewry. Although 100,000 Jews were able to enter the United States during the 1930s, millions more were left stranded as attempts to ease America's immigration restrictions largely failed and other potential havens for Jews barred their entry. With the onset of the war in 1939, Hitler put his plan to annihilate European Jewry into action. On August 28, 1942, the contents of a telegram from Gerhardt Riegner were conveyed to Rabbi Stephen S.Wise. Riegner, an official of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland, outlined the Nazi intention to exterminate Europe's Jews. Wise remained silent, at the request of U.S. officials, pending official confirmation of the report. Some three months later, the State Department verified what has come to be known as the "Riegner Telegram." By this time, the Nazis had already murdered more than two million of the six million Jews who ultimately perished in the Holocaust.
Sponsored by the Jewish Relief Campaign, this World War I poster features a monumental female figure offering the bounty of America--a tray laden with food--to Europe's destitute women and children. The skyline of New York City and the Statue of Liberty are in the background. Between 1914 and 1924, American Jews raised an unprecedented sixty-three million dollars for relief of their suffering European kinfolk.
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Responding to the persecution of Jews in Hitler's Germany, American Jewry organized a nation-wide anti-Nazi boycott movement in 1933. Sponsored by the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Labor Committee, the massive rally pictured here filled New York City's Madison Square Garden on March 15, 1937. Speakers included John L. Lewis, head of the CIO, New York's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, head of the American Jewish Congress.
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"Giant Mass Meeting"
The dual-sided English-Yiddish broadside displayed here promotes a rally supporting President Franklin Roosevelt and his "policy of all aid to Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China," sponsored by the Jewish Peoples Committee, a pro-communist organization. David Dubinsky, president of the International Ladies Garment Union, declined to attend this September 18, 1941, rally because he viewed the sponsoring group as Communist controlled.
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Special V-E-day Services in Goldsboro, North Carolina
Temple Oheb Sholom in Goldsboro, North Carolina, held a special service to mark V-E Day, May 8, 1945, commemorating the surrender of Nazi Germany the day before. The congregation's rabbi, J. Gershon Tolochko, created a program for a special service, which was then reproduced in scroll form. The service began with the singing of the national anthem, followed by the recitation of a poem of the same name by B. Franklin Hunter. The poem's last stanza read: "And the Star-spangled Banner/ Of peace will yet wave. / O'er the lands cursed with war/ That we still hope to save."
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Hebrew Prayer for Roosevelt and Churchill
This hand-drawn plaque includes dual Hebrew prayers for Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. The one for Roosevelt, based on the traditional Jewish prayer for the government, reads: "[May He] who gives salvation to President Roosevelt, [He] whose kingdom is everlasting, protect, and increase, and raise up all of the officials of America, and [may] the King of Kings lift them up and lengthen their days in office."
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The Riegner Telegram
In August 1942, Geneva-based World Jewish Congress representative Gerhart Riegner cabled his New York and London offices to report the Nazi plan to murder with poison gas all the Jews in occupied Europe. Riegner's alarming report was cabled to Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise by Samuel Sidney Silverman, a member of the British Parliament. Wise, in turn, alerted the State Department and other American Jewish leaders. By November 24th of that year, when the United States and Britain publicly confirmed that mass murders of Jews were taking place, many of Europe's Jews were already dead. In this 1943 letter, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles assured Rabbi Wise that Riegner's communications would continue to be forwarded to Wise via diplomatic pouch.
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"Samuel Sidney Silverman (1895-1968) to Stephen S. Wise (1874- 1949)" HAVE RECEIVED THROUGH FOREIGN OFFICE FOLLOWING MESSAGE FROM RIEGNER" Telegram, August 29, 1942. Courtesy of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (171)
State Department to Stephen Wise, February 9, 1943. Typescript letter signed by Sumner Welles. Courtesy of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (173)
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The Harrison Report
Less than two months after V-E Day, President Harry S. Truman sent Earl G. Harrison, an expert on immigration and refugees, to investigate charges of mistreatment of Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) by the U.S. Army. Harrison inspected thirty DP camps and submitted this report, which changed America's policy towards the Jewish refugees. Displayed here are two pages from the report. The first page shown here outlines Harrison's mission, and the other page, includes Harrison's succinct assessment of the situation: "As matters stand now, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of the S.S. troops. One is led to wonder whether the German people, seeing this, are not supposing that we are following or at least condoning Nazi policy."
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"A Particular Responsibility"
President Truman forwarded the Harrison Report to General Dwight Eisenhower, instructing him to take steps immediately to remedy the conditions of the Jewish refugees in the American Zone of Occupation. In his letter to Eisenhower, Truman wrote: "I know that you will agree with me that we have a particular responsibility toward these victims of persecution and tyranny who are in our zone. We must make clear to the German people that we thoroughly abhor the Nazi policies of hatred and persecution. We have no better opportunity to demonstrate this than by the manner in which we ourselves actually treat the survivors in Germany."
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"The Saved Remnant"
Chaplain Abraham Klausner helped compile this extensive list of Holocaust survivors, which was published by the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in Bavaria under the auspices of the U.S. Army. As noted on the volume's title page, the list was compiled "so that the lost may be found and the dead brought back to life."
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"We Were Slaves to Hitler in Germany"
In 1946, under the auspices of the U.S. Army, a special Passover seder was convened in Munich that included many Jewish Holocaust survivors. A special, non-traditional supplement to the haggadah was printed for the occasion, its frontispiece announcing: "We were slaves to Hitler in Germany. . . . " Displayed here is the cover of that haggadah, featuring the insignia of the United States 3rd Army.
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"From Darkness to a Great Light"
At the request of a delegation of rabbis from the Displaced Persons camps, a monumental nineteen-volume edition of the complete Talmud was published in Munich-Heidelberg in 1948--only three years after the war ended--to help meet the religious needs of Holocaust survivors in the American zone. It is dedicated to the "United States Army," which provided the opportunity and the means for its publication. Shown here is the title page of this extraordinary work, which connects the Holocaust with the hoped for rebirth of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. At the bottom of the title page is a depiction of a Nazi slave labor camp flanked by barbed wire; above are the palm trees and the landscape of the Holy Land. The legend reads: "From bondage to freedom; from darkness to a great light."
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Zion and America
The Jewish immigrants who arrived in massive waves from Eastern Europe beginning in the early 1880s brought with them the ideas of "Hibbat Zion" (Love of Zion), a movement whose principal aim was the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. Political Zionism gained strength in America in 1914, when Louis D. Brandeis accepted a leadership post as chair of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs. The persistent efforts of America's Zionist activists on behalf of the establishment of a national homeland for Jews in Palestine were rewarded when the U.S. voted in favor of the United Nations 1947 partition plan. A two-thirds majority vote divided Palestine into two independent states, one Jewish and one Arab. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence and minutes later President Harry S Truman officially recognized the new Jewish state.
Hebrew Lotto Game
This Hebrew Lotto game was produced in Warsaw at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the emergence of political Zionism and the effort to revive Hebrew as a language of everyday life. Intended for children ages four to seven, the game sought to teach them to read Hebrew through play. The instructions suggest that a teacher using these materials could reinforce each lesson by weaving a story or a discussion with the words learned in the course of the game. Educational games like this one, designed to teach as well as to amuse, were played in American Zionist households and schools.
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Sophie Tucker's Certificate of Honor
Within American Jewish material culture, a special place is reserved for Zionist keepsakes and mementos issued in recognition of one's support for the State of Israel. Displayed here is a "Provisional Certificate of Honor" presented to star of stage and screen, Sophie Tucker, by the Jewish National Fund of America, pending receipt of her permanent certificate from Jerusalem.
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President Truman Recognizes the State of Israel
Just minutes after the State of Israel proclaimed its independence on May 14, 1948, President Truman officially recognized the new state. Displayed here is the president's note recognizing the State of Israel, which includes his handwritten revisions.
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The Vote for Partition
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two independent states--Jewish and Arab. Displayed here is New York Congressman Emanuel Celler's tally sheet, which he used to keep track of the vote; it also includes his handwritten notes quoting from the delegates' speeches.
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"The Follies of Zionism"
In a series of published "open letters," Rabbi Jacob Voorsanger of San Francisco set out his reasons for opposing political Zionism. Voorsanger believed that Zionism was a mistaken doctrine for Diaspora Jewry because Jews were fully already integrated into their European and American surroundings. In addition, he argued that Palestine was unsuitable as a prospective homeland for Jews. "Look at the geographical location of Palestine. Is it not out of the way? What waterways does it possess, has it ever possessed, to favor the development of commerce? . . . If these questions are asked, friend, the follies of Zionism become at once apparent."
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Published in Newark, New Jersey, in 1893, this early Zionist treatise castigates immigrants who choose to make America their home rather than Zion. The frontispiece illustration shown here depicts a Jewish traveler turning his back on a desolate Jerusalem and walking towards a prosperous America.
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Zionism and Patriotism
A successful lawyer, Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) became active in the nascent American Zionist movement on the eve of World War I. In 1914, he became chair of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs, the leader of American Zionism. His participation served to legitimize the movement in the eyes of American Jewry and other Americans. He believed strongly that Zionism and American patriotism were compatible, a view expressed in the pamphlet displayed here. In 1916, Louis Brandeis became the Supreme Court's first Jewish justice.
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"I See My Future as Very Close to the Future of Israel"
In October and November 1948--during Israel's War of Independence--Leonard Bernstein traveled to Israel, leading concerts of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in cities and towns across the land. In a letter to his parents, expressing feelings shared by many American Jews, he wrote: "If my present mood keeps up I see my future as very close to the future of Israel. I can do so much here--and it's the most important of all." The letter closes with a report on his visit to a Yemenite synagogue--"I went to Kol-Nidrei at a Yemenite synagogue, [and] got the thrill of a life. The music makes Stravinsky look pale." Also included was a brief note in Bernstein's hand in rudimentary Hebrew reporting on his health and itinerary.
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Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) to his parents Jennie and Samuel. Holograph letter (sent from Tel Aviv), October 15, 1948. Page 2 Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (185A)
Concert given with members of the Israeli Philharmonic for the armed forces in Beersheba, Israel], November 20, 1948. Gelatin silver print. Leonard Bernstein Collection. Music Division, Library of Congress (185B)
[Leonard Bernstein in rehearsal], Israel, 1948.Gelatin silver print. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (185C)
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Their Fight Is Our Fight!
With the Statue of Liberty looming in the background, this poster reminds American Jews of their own immigrant roots and urges them to support the overseas needs of refugees in Europe and Palestine.
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Based on the 1958 novel by Leon Uris, Exodus (1960) introduced America to the story of the State of Israel, turning its struggle for existence into the stuff of Hollywood legends. Its sympathetic portrayal of Israel's founding greatly strengthened the identification of America's Jewish community with the newly established state.
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At Home in America
Influenced by the pluralism of American society that encouraged diversity and multiple associations, the American Jewish community rapidly became internally pluralistic, establishing multiple religious movements, cultural affiliations, and advocacy groups to meet individual and communal needs. This pluralism is well reflected in the profusion of American haggadot, the home ritual used at the Passover seder. Hundreds of American editions of the haggadah have appeared, from traditional to innovative and reflecting a full range of religious, cultural, and political positions. The very first American haggadah appeared in New York in 1837 and included the declaration that it was the "First American Edition," implying, correctly, that many more editions would follow. Through these haggadot one can trace the journey of America's Jews from sojourners in a temporary haven to citizens at home in America.
"If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem"
A mizrach serves as a symbolic orientation towards Jerusalem, the direction towards which prayer is oriented. This highly complex mizrah illustrates Moses Henry's patriotism with the motif of the American eagle astride a shield and bunting of the Stars and Stripes. The architectural images also make reference to the ideals of Freemasonry, as during the nineteenth century many Jews began to join Masonic orders. This mizrah has a second function as an omer calendar, as the forty-nine roundels in the border count the seven weeks between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. The legend at the top reads "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither" (Psalms 137:5).
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New York's Temple Emanu-El
This prayer book, prepared for and published by Temple Emanu-El in New York City, has the outline of the temple's home embossed in gold on its cover.
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A Mizrah, to Direct Prayers Eastward
All Jewish prayer is oriented eastward, toward Jerusalem. To point the direction, a mizrah is hung on the eastern wall of the house. This one, published by H. Schile Company, is a lithograph to which color could later be added by hand.
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Isaac Mayer Wise
A pioneer of Reform Judaism in America, Isaac Mayer Wise, a prolific writer, became its acknowledged leader and its institutional architect, organizing the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (1873), the Hebrew Union College (1875), and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1889). The reforms that he instituted sought to adapt Judaism to modernity and to new conditions of life in a new land. This frontispiece portrait faces the title page of Wise's The Cosmic God, a philosophical work that had its origin in a series of lectures delivered by Wise in the fall and winter of 1874-1875. Minhag Amerika, which means the "American Rite," was intended to serve as the common prayer book for all of America's Jews. In fact, the community divided among a range of prayer books, traditional and liberal; none became predominant.
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Isaac M. Wise (1819-1900). The Cosmic God: A Fundamental Philosophy in Popular Lectures. Cincinnati: Office American Israelite and Deborah, 1876. General Collections, Library of Congress (190)
Isaac M. Wise (1819-1900). Minhag Amerika [The Divine Service of American Israelites for the New Year]. Cincinnati: Bloch, 1866. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (191)
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The “Trefa” Banquet
In 1883, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, president of Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College, invited both traditionalists and reformers to celebrate the rabbinical seminary's first graduating class and the tenth anniversary of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. To the surprise and chagrin of the more traditional attendees, the banquet fare included a variety of forbidden foods, horrifying some guests and causing many to walk out. The banquet is now commonly referred to as the "The Trefa (unkosher) Banquet," and has come to symbolize the rift between the reformers and the traditionalists that only grew more pronounced in the years that followed.
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A New York Benevolent Society
This elaborately decorated wall plaque of the "Rodef Scholem Independent Podhaizer Sick and Benevolent Association" features a New York State Certificate of Incorporation dated May 26, 1900. Listed on the columns flanking the certificate are names of members. At the top of the poster is an American eagle, which rests at the intersection of an American flag and a fanciful flag of Zion.
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Black Jews, Harlem, 1929
This photograph of the Moorish Zionst [sic] Temple in Harlem, New York, was taken in 1929 by James Van Der Zee, the acclaimed African American photographer who chronicled the Harlem Renaissance. In this striking image, an American flag and a flag of Zion appear next to one another, hanging beneath a banner announcing the name of the congregation.
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President Grant Makes a Contribution to Congregation Adas Israel
Adas Israel was the first synagogue building built in the District of Columbia and is closely linked with the beginnings of Jewish life in Washington. President Ulysses S. Grant and other federal and civic officials attended the dedication ceremony on June 9, 1876. Shown here is an official receipt from the Adas Israel "Hebrew" Congregation to the president acknowledging his ten-dollar contribution. In 1969, to make way for Washington's subway, the first Adas Israel building (which had not functioned as a synagogue since 1907), was moved from its original location at 6th and G Street, N.W., to 3rd and G Street, N.W., where it currently houses the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum and the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.
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Fire Insurance Map of the District of Columbia
This map provides a detailed block-by-block, building-by-building snapshot of Washington, D.C., in 1887. Included on such fire insurance maps are the precise locations of structures, including synagogues and businesses, providing a wealth of information not available elsewhere on the physical makeup of America's urban landscape. The "Hebrew Church" (Adas Israel Congregation) is indicated in block 487 in the upper left corner.
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Griffith Morgan Hopkins. "Northwest" from A Complete Set of Survey and Plats of Properties in the City of Washington, District of Columbia /compiled and drawn from official records and actual surveys; published by the author and proprietor G.M. Hopkins. Philadelphia: G.M. Hopkins, ca. 1887. Printed map with watercolor. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (197)
Adas Israel Synagogue, View of Structure Being Moved to Third and G streets, NW, 1969. Historic American Buildings Survey. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (198) Reproduction from negative: HABS, DC, WASH, 385-5
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"Rehabilitating" the Music of the Synagogue
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Jewish activists saw a need to reinvigorate the music of the synagogue. They argued that it had strayed too far from its roots in Jewish tradition, incorporating elements from popular operas and church masses. In his hymnal displayed here, Moritz Goldstein, the reader at Cincinnati's Mound Street Temple, sought "to select the best from the various Jewish text-books in use in this country, and so to arrange them that not only the choir, but also the congregation may take part in their rendition."
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Otto Lob's German-English hymnal published in Chicago, which included simple, natural, and light rearrangements of traditional melodies, was also part of the effort to revitalize liturgical music. The Jewish Women's Congress, chaired by Hannah Solomon, worked with cantors Reverend William Sparger of New York and Reverend Alois Kaiser of Baltimore to publish this collection of "The Principal Melodies of the Synagogue From the Earliest Time to the Present" as a commemorative volume available at the World's Parliament of Religions held in conjunction with the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
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Songs of Zion: Souvenir of the Jewish Women's Congress, 1893. National Council of Jewish Women Collection. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (200A)
Otto Lob. Israelitsche tempel-gesänge [Songs for Divine Service of Israelites]. Chicago, Illinois: E. Rubovits, 1876. Printed hymnal. Music Division, Library of Congress (201A)
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Rebecca Gratz was a pioneering founder of Jewish benevolent and voluntary organizations in her native Philadelphia. In 1819, she was instrumental in creating the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, and, in 1838, the Hebrew Sunday School. Written by an anonymous "American Jewess," most likely a young instructor at the school, The Teachers' and Parents' Assistant was intended to assist Jewish mothers and teachers in conveying concepts on the Deity to Jewish children. In a letter to Elizabeth Gist Blair, written in 1861 at the outset of the Civil War, Gratz wrote: "Mr. Leeser came here last night lamenting the departure of many of his congregation, among the 220 young Jews who went ... to the war .... Some of my Sunday School pupils are among the patriots."
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The Teachers' and Parents' Assistant or Thirteen Lessons Conveying to Uninformed Minds the First Ideas of God and His Attributes/by an American Jewess. Philadelphia: C. Sherman, Printer, April 8th 5605 . Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (204)
Rebecca Gratz (1781-1869) to Elizabeth Gist Blair. Manuscript letter, June 20, 1861. Blair Family Papers. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (203)
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Leonard Bernstein's "Yigdal"
In this composition for the synagogue, Leonard Bernstein sets to music the popular liturgical hymn "Yigdal," a poetic statement of the Maimonidean creed [thirteen principles of the Jewish faith] that often marks the end of the evening service. Bernstein's "Yigdal" was written for the United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education and included in Harry Coopersmith's anthology, U-leshonenu rinah: The Songs We Sing (New York, 1950).
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The Founding Resolution of the National Council of Jewish Women
This handwritten draft resolution brought the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) into existence at the conclusion of the Jewish Women's Congress at the World Parliament of Religions during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As outlined in the resolution, the organization's purpose was to "further the best and highest interests of Judaism and humanity." To that end, the NCJW organized vocational and industrial classes for immigrant children and sponsored free libraries, employment bureaus, kindergartens, and nurseries. With the influx of the great wave of immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century, the NCJW focused its efforts on caring for incoming single girls. The Council maintained a presence at Ellis Island and had representatives in some 250 cities and European ports to assist the young women when problems arose.
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Three Generations of Women Committed to Social Reform
Pictured on this postcard are Hannah Greenebaum Solomon (seated), her daughter Helen S. Levy, and granddaughter Frances Levy Angel. The lives of these three activists illustrate the multigenerational component of social reform work among women. Hannah Solomon was the founder of the National Council of Jewish Women. Her daughter Helen Levy was also active in the NCJW and involved in establishing day nurseries for working mothers, promoting public education in Chicago, and participating in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Frances Angel founded the Charleston, West Virginia, section of the NCJW, served on the Council's national board, and promoted remedial reading programs and public health initiatives.
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B'nai B'rith Membership Certificate
A member of B'nai B'rith, America's oldest and largest Jewish fraternal order, could proudly display his membership certificate, whose illustrations would remind all of the Order's mission and its threefold devotion: to country--the American eagle and shield; to faith--Abraham and Isaac, and Moses at Sinai; to fraternal benevolence--visiting the sick, consoling the bereaved, and caring for orphans.
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A Masquerade Ball
New York's Purim Association in the latter half of the nineteenth century sponsored lavish philanthropic masquerade balls. In addition to raising considerable funds for a variety of local communal organizations, these events were high points on New York Jewry's social calendar. Shown here is the announcement for the Purim Ball in support of the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum's building fund.
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Report of the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society
One of the oldest Jewish charitable associations in the United States, the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society prepared this special edition of its 1893 annual report in honor of the World's Columbian Exposition. In that year, the society reported that it sheltered almost 650 indigent children, with more than 2,500 individuals donating funds towards their support.
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"Do Not Cast Us Out in Old Age"
American flags top two columns labeled "Zion" (in Hebrew) on this illustrated cover of the register of the Home for the Aged, established in 1914 by "Cincinnati's Orthodox women." On this illustrated title page, an elderly couple walks between the columns, he with a cane, she leaning on him for support. Above their heads is a banner with the legend: "Do not cast us out in old age, when our strength fails us, do not abandon us," a variant of Psalm 71, verse 9 that forms part of the Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] liturgy.
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The First American Haggadah
Solomon Jackson, a native of England, who was the first Jewish printer in New York, published the "First American Haggadah" in 1837. The haggadah's forty-three leaves include the original Hebrew text, as well as an English translation by David Levi of London. Interestingly, the haggadah incorporates both Ashkenazic and Sephardic customs, as well as the publisher's optimistic statement displayed here that this is the "First American Edition"--"first," with others sure to follow.
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A Ketubah from Decatur, Illinois
This ketubah celebrated the marriage of Annie Oshinsky and William Berkson. Annie was born in New York City to parents of Polish descent. The family later settled in Marinette, Wisconsin. William Berkson was born in Russia. Arriving in America, William first earned his living as a peddler, described more genteelly in a newspaper account of the wedding as a "commercial traveler." The ketubah, which is a printed form, includes an engraving of an American Jewish wedding of the period. A brief English certification of the marriage is added to the traditional Aramaic text.
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The First Jewish American Cookbook
Published in Philadelphia in 1871, the Jewish Cookery Book by Mrs. Esther Levy is believed to be the earliest Jewish cookbook published in America. Levy's intent was to provide recipes that would satisfy the most exacting and elegant culinary standards, while at the same time adhering strictly to kashrut (dietary laws). The volume is opened to a page of advertisements, including one for Henry Greer's "Cosher" butcher shop.
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Good to the Last Drop
The Maxwell House Coffee company has been distributing free Passover haggadot to customers since the mid-1930s, when they attempted to make coffee drinking a new Passover tradition. More than twenty million copies of this Hebrew-English haggadah have been distributed, making it an enduring fixture in traditional American Jewish homes. The edition shown here was published in 1939.
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The Goldberg Seder
Former Supreme Court Justice and Secretary of Labor Arthur J. Goldberg and his wife Dorothy were famous for hosting Passover seders attended by members of Washington's political and intellectual elite. Displayed here is a page from the family's personal haggadah, with each host's initials next to an assigned reading. Dorothy's note in the margin reminded her to mention that "one of the best descriptions of the exodus is the great Negro spiritual 'Go down Moses.'" Also displayed here is a listing of the invitees to the 1961 Goldberg seder, the evening's menu (main course: beef bourguignon, potato kugel, and whole hot peaches, prunes, and apricots), and a draft invitation text. In addition to family and friends, the 1961 list included President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, the Speaker of the House, two Supreme Court justices, two senators, the president of the AFL-CIO, and one monsignor.
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A Feminist Haggadah
With the emergence of Jewish feminism in the 1970s, new ceremonies and rituals were introduced in the synagogue and home, including such innovations as baby-naming ceremonies, Rosh Hodesh (new month) celebrations, and feminist Passover seders. Displayed here is the Ma'yan Passover Haggadah, a feminist haggadah meant to be recited at the festive meal of Passover. It is opened to the section on "The Four Daughters," (in contrast to "The Four Sons" of the traditional version), in which both the questions and answers put women's issues front and center.
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Tempting Kosher Dishes
This cookbook was one of a series published by the Manischewitz Company based on recipes solicited from its customers. In Yiddish and in English, the recipes "cover every range of cookery, from a half-dozen ways to prepare the ever useful Matzo Knoedel to a delightful method of making Strawberry Shortcake."
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Scouring Powder in Red, White, and Blue
This red, white, and blue container of scouring powder, with its Yiddish and English text and its declaration that it is "Kosher for Passover," was specifically intended for religiously traditional East European immigrants to America.
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Queen Esther Crate Label
By 1900, California orange growers were shipping ten million boxes of oranges a year. With the large demand for oranges and other produce, packing companies hired artists to create memorable labels, like this one depicting biblical figure Queen Esther. Many Jews were in the produce industry as growers, distributors, and wholesalers.
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"Let Me Make One Thing Perfectly Clear!"
In this advertisement for Mogen David kosher wine, the "Father of Our Country," George Washington, is pressed into service to hawk "the best cherry wine," using the phrase, "Let me make one thing perfectly clear," an expression most often associated with yet another president, Richard Nixon.
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In the Best Passover Tradition!
This poster, by Robert Gage, one of America's outstanding poster designers, features an enormous matzo, topped with the Hebrew phrase "Kosher for Passover," a declaration that these matzos are fit for consumption on Passover, a festival with many special dietary restrictions. By emphatically stating that Goodman's Passover matzot are "in the best Passover tradition," the poster suggests that using this product at the seder will connect a family's current celebration to its own unique and meaningful tradition.
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You Don't Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy's
"You Don't Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy's Rye Bread," was an award-winning advertising campaign that introduced Jewish ethnicity into mainstream marketing. Posters often rely on stereotypes as visual shorthand. In this instance, by utilizing non-Jewish stereotypes to market a "Jewish" product, the posters addressed cultural and ethnic stereotypes while, at the same time, undermining their relevance. The marketing campaign was a great success, and Levy's became the largest seller of rye bread in New York.
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King Solomon at the Thalia
Yiddish theatrical productions were especially popular among the more than 2.5 million Jewish immigrants who arrived in America between 1880 and 1925. This early poster heralds a series of "star-studded" productions on biblical themes at the Thalia Theatre, located in New York City's Bowery district on the Lower East Side.
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The Tailor Becomes a Storekeeper
David Pinski's musical comedy, The Tailor Becomes a Storekeeper, was performed in Yiddish at Chicago's Great Northern Theatre through the Federal Theatre Project (FTP). The FTP was part of a large and ambitious effort by the U.S. Government to provide work for unemployed professionals in the theater in the aftermath of the Great Depression. In addition to Yiddish, the FTP's specialized units produced plays and performances in Italian, Spanish, French, and German. Displayed here is a costume design drawing from the Chicago production.
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David Pinski (1872-1959). The Federal Theatre Presents "The Tailor Becomes a Storekeeper:" A Comedy by David Pinski with Music. Chicago: Cross & Banta, between 1936 and 1941. Offset lithograph poster. Federal Theatre Project Collection. Music Division, Library of Congress (90)
David Pinski. A Tailor Becomes a Storekeeper. Costume design, watercolor and pencil on paper. Federal Theatre Project Collection. Music Division, Library of Congress (91)
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Bearing the images of great Torah sages, these cards are popular with children in Hasidic communities and represent a direct adaptation of the juvenile pastime of collecting sports trading cards from an amusing and entertaining hobby to a religious and pedagogic tool. Featured here is Rabbi Menahem Schneerson (1902-1994), leader of the Lubavitch Hasidic Community.
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Jewish Major Leaguers
Pictured here are the baseball cards of Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and Shawn Green, 3 of a new 142-card set of Jewish Major Leaguers: American Jews in America's Game issued by the American Jewish Historical Society, in cooperation with Jewish Major Leaguers, Inc. The set is an example of another popular national Jewish pastime: inventorying Jewish celebrities.
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Mendy and the Golem
The Mendy and the Golem comic book series features the story of a Hasidic child, Mendy Klein, and his protector, a golem named Sholem. In Jewish lore, a golem is an artificially created being that is endowed with supernatural powers. In the words of its creators, "Mendy and the Golem is a comic book with a difference. And the difference is that it's not only designed to entertain your children, but to educate them." Each of the early issues emphasized a particular mitzvah [commandment]; the premiere issue of the series focused on the commandment of hospitality to guests.
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The Cat in the Hat in Yiddish
The text of this classic children's book was translated into Yiddish by Sholem Berger and was "sponsored in part by Yugntruf, an organization of young people of every ideology and background dedicated to Yiddish as a living language."
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Heeb: the New Jew Review
The first issue of Heeb, which appeared in 2002, turned an ugly epithet on its head, transforming it for the magazine's intended audience into a term of pride and identity. Displayed here is the second issue, featuring a photographic essay on Jewish Bubbes (grandmothers), "the divas of South Florida," as the publication defines them.
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