September 9, 2004: Library of Congress Exhibition Marking 350th Anniversary of Jewish Life in America Opens Sept. 9

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

"From Haven to Home: A Library of Congress Exhibition Marking 350 Years of Jewish Life in America" will open on Sept. 9 in the Northwest Gallery of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building. On view through Dec. 18, the exhibition is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

"The Library's collections are rich in materials that document the history and culture of America's Jewish community," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Letters from George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln to prominent Jewish Americans and comprehensive collections of materials in a variety of formats by and about America's Jews testify to a sympathetic, creative and reciprocal relationship between America and its Jewish community."

"From Haven to Home" marks the anniversary of the arrival in New Amsterdam (New York City) of 23 Jews fleeing Recife, Brazil, which passed from Dutch to Portuguese rule in 1654. The exhibition features more than 150 treasures of Judaica Americana from the Library's collections as well as items on loan from partner institutions on the congressionally recognized Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History. The members of the Commission are the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.

Featured items from the Library's collections that will be on display include:

  • The original letter from the Newport Hebrew Congregation to George Washington, as well as Washington's response, both of which include the famous phrase asserting that the United States "to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance";
  • Thomas Jefferson's 1818 letter to prominent American Jewish leader Mordecai M. Noah, in which the former president cautions that "more remains to be done, for altho' we are free by the law, we are not so in practice";
  • Rare colonial maps of Newport and New York showing the locations of each city's synagogue, as well as other houses of worship; 
    Abraham Lincoln's notation, penciled on the back of an envelope, confirming his intent to rescind Grant's infamous Order No. 11 banning Jews as a class from areas of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi;
  • Vintage film footage of life on the Lower East Side of New York City at the turn of the 20th century; and
  • Irving Berlin's tribute to his adopted home, "God Bless America," in his own hand.

Items on loan from the Library's partner institutions on the Commission include, from the American Jewish Historical Society, Emma Lazarus' handwritten "The New Colossus," the 1883 sonnet whose words "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" were inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty in 1903; from the National Archives and Records Administration, the May 14, 1948, note from President Harry S. Truman recognizing the State of Israel, with the president's own handwritten corrections; and, from the Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, the chilling "Riegner Telegram," which alerted Rabbi Stephen Wise in August 1942 of the Nazi plan to murder with poison gas all the Jews in occupied Europe.

Commission members will also lend items to other exhibitions commemorating the 350th anniversary that will open in Cincinnati, New York and Los Angeles between the fall of 2004 and early February 2006.

A companion book titled "From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America" has been published by the Library in association with George Braziller Inc. Edited by Michael W. Grunberger, head of the Library's Hebraic Section, this compilation of essays by leading historians provides insight into the complexities of the American Jewish experience within the framework of American history and culture. The 240-page publication, with more than 100 color illustrations, is available for $50 in bookstores nationwide and in the Library's Sales Shop. For credit card orders, call (888) 682-3557.

The exhibition, companion volume and a series of public programs are made possible by a generous grant from the Abby and Emily Rapoport Trust Fund in the Library of Congress, a fund established by Bernard and Audre Rapoport of Ft. Worth, TX and named in honor of their granddaughters, to support the Judaic programs of the Library.


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