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Dr. Gary P. Zola Speaks at Opening of New Exhibit on Lincoln and American Jewry at Presidential Library

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Dr. Gary P. Zola

With Firmness in the Right: Lincoln and the Jews, a new exhibition at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) in Springfield, Illinois, is currently open through November 15, 2015.  The exhibition, which is presented in collaboration with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, will include treasured Lincoln documents, photographs, letters, and other artifacts from the Shapell Manuscript Foundation along with items from the Chicago Historical Society, Brown University, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the ALPLM’s own large Lincoln collection.

An opening night reception on Sunday, August 2 at the ALPLM featured Dr. Gary P. Zola, Executive Director, Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and the Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor of the American Jewish Experience & Reform Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Dr. Zola’s remarks focused on Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with United States Jewry as well as the distinctive effect his incomparable legacy has had on the American Jewish experience.  Zola is the author of the recent award-winning volume, We Called Him Rabbi Abraham:  Lincoln and American Jewry (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014). The book documents the ways in which Lincoln has Americanized Jews while they, in turn,  have Judaized the martyred president.

Autographed letter from Lincoln to Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, November 4, 1862

Inspired by the recently published book Lincoln and the Jews: A History, by Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell, the exhibit was on display at the New York Historical Society from March through June, 2015. With Firmness in the Right:  Lincoln and the Jews explains the significant role Abraham Lincoln played in paving the way for acceptance and inclusion of Jews in society; it also tells the story of how a number of Jews, both as a group and as individuals, affected Lincoln deeply and became his friends, colleagues, and allies.  Many items have never been exhibited publicly until now, and they shed light on the significant and close relationship Lincoln developed with Jews.

“For over 150 years, Jews have held many American leaders in high esteem, but they maintain a unique emotional bond with Abraham Lincoln,” observed Dr. Zola. “From the time of his presidency to the present day, American Jews have constantly viewed Lincoln as one of their own, casting him as a Jewish sojourner and, in certain respects, a Jewish role model.

“Many of the items on display have never before been on public display and they shed light on the significant and close relationship Lincoln developed with Jews. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum deserves our praise and support for bringing this remarkable and intriguing exhibition to the Midwest.”

Unused Ford’s Theater ticket for April 14, 1865, the night of the assassination

“This exhibit tells a remarkable story about Abraham Lincoln and the friendships he developed with Jews in his pre-presidential and presidential time,” said Eileen R. Mackevich, MBE, Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  “The exhibit also reveals how Lincoln strongly opposed bigotry and prejudice even among his generals. Fittingly, Dr. Gary Zola, an exceptional speaker and scholar who spoke to all of us, talked about the exhibit and the special relationship between Lincoln and the Jews.” 

The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, founded in 1947 by its namesake on the historic campus of the Hebrew Union CollegeJewish Institute of Religion, is committed to preserving a documentary heritage of the religious, organizational, economic, cultural, personal, social and family life of American Jewry. The Marcus Center contains over 15,000 linear feet of archives, manuscripts, nearprint materials, photographs, audio and videotapes, microfilm, and genealogical materials.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.