Scenes of Ellis Island and the Lower East Side are poignantly at odds with the gilded halls of Meridian House. But the oil painting of an 18th-century merchant prince and princess, and the photo of diamond-draped Mrs. Simon Guggenheim seem right at home.
Both worlds are represented in "Jewish Life in America," an upbeat testimony -- through image, word and music -- to one immigrant group's odyssey through an exotic new world.
Celebrating the Anti-Defamation League's 70th anniversary and the American Jewish Historical Society's 90th, the exhibition touches the good, bad, ugly and beautiful in the American Jewish experience. While by no means exhaustive, the show is always engaging and sometimes surprising.
There is, for instance, a facsimile portrait of one Uriah Phillips Levy, posed aristocratically in front of a warship's cannon, the first Jew to be a commodore in the United States Navy. Commodore Levy, the accompanying narrative informs us, purchased Monticello in 1833, thus saving Thomas Jefferson's estate as a national shrine.
Other fun facts: America's first Jewish landing party was a group of 23 Portuguese outcasts fleeing Brazil in 1654. The state of Idaho elected America's first Jewish governor -- Moses Alexander -- in 1915. And a Jew named Barney Ross held three world boxing titles in 1934.
Anti-Semitism gets its due -- as with an 1882 cartoon depicting big-nosed Hebrews taking over a town -- and so does Rabbi Morris J. Raphall, who preached in favor of slavery in 1861.
But this show's subtitle is "Fulfilling the American Dream," and so it deals mostly with accomplishment and assimilation. Recorded music ranging from Yiddish songs to Gershwin lightens the visitor's mood in four of the mansion's stately rooms. JEWISH LIFE IN AMERICA -- At Meridian House International, 1630 Crescent Place NW, through August 19. Open noon to 5, Monday through Friday.