A Sept. 25 Religion article incorrectly stated that Ulysses S. Grant attended the dedication of Adas Israel, the first Jewish house of worship built in Washington, 24 years after issuing a war order that called for the expulsion of Jews from parts of the South. Grant attended the dedication 14 years after issuing the order
A larger-than-life image of conductor Leonard Bernstein greets visitors to a major new exhibit at the Library of Congress, followed by portraits of 1945 Miss America Bess Myerson, 1930s boxing champion Barney Ross, an unnamed girl protesting child labor in 1909, 19th-century statesman Judah P. Benjamin and 18th-century matriarch Abigail Franks.
Those and other figures dominate the entrance hall to "From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America," an exhibit that runs through Dec. 18 and features 185 objects of American Judaica, most from the library's vast Hebraic repository but with contributions from other collections.
Some are small but with potent messages, such as a postcard photograph of the 1913 lynching of Leo Frank, falsely accused of killing a girl in Atlanta. Some are large and colorful, including a World War I poster in Yiddish urging Jewish immigrants to help win the war by not wasting food. Others are medium-size and fanciful, like the image of a 1904 boychik (dandy) so taken with American fashion that he has lost all appearance of Jewishness.
And some are national icons: Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" and Emma Lazarus's poetic lines on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Here you see them in the writer's own hand.
Film clips, theater posters, baseball cards, caricatures, sermons, maps, prayer books, illuminated documents, liturgical objects, paintings, advertisements -- all types of media span the categories of religion, the arts, politics, sports, entertainment, the home and social activism.
"What's so stunning about the exhibit is that the Library of Congress has such an extraordinarily rich collection of Judaica Americana," said Pamela S. Nadell, professor of history and director of Jewish studies at American University.
Nadell said she had never known about some of the objects displayed, including a cartoon of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in New York, in which 146 immigrant workers -- a majority of them Jewish -- were killed because of locked doors and inadequate escape mechanisms. The cartoon, signed by "Lola" (Leon Israel), shows a demonic figure reaching toward some victims while others' faces glide on smoke streams toward heaven.
The country's first Jewish settlers arrived in 1654 in New York (then New Amsterdam), having been expelled from Brazil after the Portuguese regained control of the country from the Dutch. Peter Stuyvesant, the New Netherlands' director-general, tried unsuccessfully to eject them, said Nadell, who contributed an essay on Jewish women to a book accompanying the exhibition.
The perseverance of Jews and other religious groups that Stuyvesant wanted to expel, including Lutherans and Quakers, helped set a precedent for religious tolerance, she said.
Pluralism is a major theme of the exhibit, said curator Michael W. Grunberger, head of the library's Hebraic section of 170,000 items. Early maps of Newport, R.I., site of the country's oldest standing synagogue, and New York City show how close different houses of worship were to one another more than 200 years ago. In an eight- to 10-block area are sanctuaries for Jews, Baptists, Quakers, Congregationalists, Catholics and others.
Some visitors might be surprised at another sign of diversity -- the presence of early Jewish settlements far outside the New York area, Grunberger said. From 1780 to 1820, the largest Jewish population of any U.S. city was in Charleston, S.C., and other sizable communities appeared in Savannah, Ga., Philadelphia and Newport.
Among the exhibit's most important documents are letters between Moses Sexias, a leader of the Newport synagogue, and President George Washington, who visited the synagogue in 1790. In response to Sexias's letter urging religious freedom for people of all faiths, Washington echoed Sexias's own words in describing the U.S. government as one that "to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance."
The president continued: "May the Children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."
But bigotry did show its face in the decades to come.
On Dec. 17, 1862, with the South in ruins and speculators commanding high prices for cotton and other goods, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued what one historian called "the most sweeping anti-Jewish legislation in all American history."
General Order No. 11, as the proclamation was called, blamed Jews "as a class" for skyrocketing prices and ordered their expulsion from an area that included Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. Hundreds of Jews left their homes and businesses, and those who were cotton merchants saw their cotton taken over by Union officers and soldiers and sold to Northern textile mills at inflated prices.
Grant never formally apologized for the war order, which President Abraham Lincoln rescinded three weeks after it was issued. But 24 years later, as president, Grant attended the dedication of Adas Israel, the first Jewish house of worship built in Washington, and donated $10 to the building fund.
This act might have been some "politically redemptive practice," said Eli N. Evans, who contributed the essay "The War Between Jewish Brothers in America" in the companion volume. Whatever the reason, Grant's appearance at the synagogue dedication -- combined with Lincoln's extraordinary step of overruling one of his top generals during a war -- underscored the historic stance of America's presidents toward freedom of religion, Evans said in an interview.
The exhibit also demonstrates the diversity of American Judaism, with such distinctive denominations as Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism along with other expressions, such as humanistic Judaism. "Pluralism carried over and created an American Judaism with a multiplicity of groups," Grunberger told a tour group of 40 people this week.
He pointed to a menu for the 1883 banquet honoring the first graduating class of Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College, affiliated with the nascent Reform movement. The menu included such non-kosher fare as clams, crab and shrimp and a dairy dessert after the beef entree -- another violation of kashrut, the laws of kosher. Traditional Jews were horrified and walked out of an event commonly referred to as "Trefa [the unkosher] Banquet."
The strength of American Judaism, as with the entire religious experience in the United States, has been the ability to find unity among differences and respect and tolerance for the beliefs of others, Grunberger said in an interview.
"In an open and free society, the challenge is maintaining group identity, and pluralism provides multiple ways to identify," he said. "Just as pluralism strengthened American life, it strengthened Jewish life."
Pluralism, a major theme of the exhibit, "created an American Judaism with a multiplicity of groups," said curator Michael W. Grunberger, left, head of the library's Hebraic section of 170,000 items.Left, a World War I poster published by the U.S. Food Administration appeals in Yiddish to the patriotic spirit and gratitude of new immigrants with the message "Food will win the war!" Above, the subject of this 1904 sheet music's title page is a garishly dressed boychik, or dandy, who is so Americanized that his Jewishness is not outwardly apparent.