The American Jewish Historical Exhibit: Proposed Objects

The goal of the exhibition, however, was to document the history of Jews in America. In response to increased Russian immigration, the committee planned to give space in the exhibit to both German and Russian Jews.[1]  The exhibit paid particular attention to connecting Jews to the “Discovery” and Columbus “including such objects as Columbus’ earliest accounts of his discovery, written in the form of letters to secrets Jews of Spain.”[2]  Other suggestions of what to include in the exhibit were: Washington’s letters to Jews, celebrities portraits, charts of Jewish synagogues and institutions, collections of books written by American Jews or about American Judaism.  All of these items served to legitimize the Jewish connection to the “Discovery” and the founding of America.  The Jews were not the alien parvenu, but deeply embedded in American history.  The Society also considered whether to include Ecclesiastical art and Jewish antiquities.  The organizers hoped that the exhibit would bring to light objects hidden away in Jewish households.  The Society saw the purpose of the exhibit as two-fold: demonstrate the connection of Jews to American history from the “Discovery” onward for the sake of the Jewish community themselves and for the larger general American public. 

Connecting American Jewry back to the “discovery” was so important to the American Jewish Historical Society that they included it again in the “Schedule of Objects.”  In that section, suggested articles include the title deeds of the earliest Jewish land and property holders.  This is of particular significance since the charge of the Jew as an alien or parvenu had always existed, but now was being tested further with the rise in immigration.  The society also wished to include Jews who had received honors in America, as well as photographs of Jewish cemeteries in America, again demonstrating the existence of long-existing Jewish communities in America.  The book collections includes pamphlets and books that detailed American Jewish history, the history of the congregations in America, as well as maps showing the distribution of the Jewish population in North and South America.  In the Ecclesiastical section, objects related to Jewish rituals and ceremonies are listed including: Torahs, Megilot, and Mezuot.  The planned exhibition had received enough publicity that individuals reached out to the American Jewish Historical Society offering objects for inclusion.  E. Bromberger wrote a letter to the society offering that he had plate engravings of biblical history that he would be “pleased to loan… for so laudable an object.”[3]   The exhibition also listed “Palestinian objects” seeming to show concern not only with showing the connection of Jews to America, but also their history as a long-existing civilization of the Middle East.




[1] A Jewish Exhibition: Movement Started To Have One in New York During the Coming Winter.”

[2] “A Proposed American Jewish Historical Exhibition.” American Jewish Historical Exhibition records; I-21; Box number 1; folder number 1; American Jewish Historical Society.

[3] Correspondence Pertaining to the Exhibition, B-F; American Jewish Historical Exhibition records; I-21; Box number 1; folder number 7; American Jewish Historical Society.