American History & Jewish History Blog

May 30, 2023

US National Archives: Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War, The Union Army

What was it like to be Jewish in Lincoln’s armies? The Union army was as diverse as the embattled nation it sought to preserve, comprising a unique mixture of ethnicities, religions, and identities. Almost one Union soldier in four was born abroad, and natives and newcomers fought side by side, sometimes uneasily. Author Adam D. Mendelsohn draws for the first time upon the vast Shapell Roster database of verified listings of Jewish soldiers serving in the Civil War, as well as letters, diaries, and newspapers to examine the collective experience of Jewish soldiers and to recover their voices and stories. Hosted by the US National Archives.


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November 16, 2022

“What I learned about antisemitism from a remarkable new archive about Jewish Civil War soldiers”

Author Adam Mendelsohn shares his insights from researching for his new book, Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War – The Union Army. Published Nov 15, 2022, you can find the book on Amazon :

(JTA) — Max Glass, a recent immigrant from Hungary, had an unhappy Civil War.

Tricked out of his enlistment bonus when he joined the Eighth Connecticut Infantry — recent arrivals were soft touches for scam artists — Glass was then “abused for reason [sic] that I never understand” by men in his regiment. “It may have been,” he speculated,

becaus I did not make them my companions in drinking, or as I am a Jew. If I went in the street or any wher I was called Jew. Christh Killer & such names. I also had stones, dirt thrown at me.

He complained to his commanding officer, begging to be transferred, because “no man that had feeling could stand such treatment,” but to no avail. Finally, Glass fled his regiment, hoping to receive better treatment if he enlisted in the Navy. Instead he was tried as a deserter and sentenced to hard labor. Continue reading…

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Theodor Herzl addresses the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, Jerusalem Post Archive
August 28, 2022

125 Years Since the First Zionist Congress

The World Zionist Organization is marking the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, which took place in Basel 29-31 August 1897, in which Theodor Herzl announced his intention to establish a Jewish state. Israel’s President Isaac Herzog will attend the congress, and recreate the famous portrait of Herzl leaning over the balcony of the Hotel Le Trois Rois.

Read more about the event here, and browse our items on Zionism here.

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July 17, 2022

Upcoming, August 2022: Presentation at International Jewish Genealogical Conference

Shapell Manuscript Foundation researchers have been selected as presenters at the 42nd Annual IAJGS (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) Conference on Jewish Genealogy to be held virtually Aug. 21-25.

The Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War research team Adrienne DeArmas, Caitlin Winkler, and Alexandra Apito will present a two-part presentation about the highly anticipated Shapell Roster, a digital archive for Civil War Era Jewish Genealogy.

The presentation will be held in two parts: Part I is a pre-recorded orientation that will give a tour of a soldier’s record and an overview of the data collected. Part II is a live presentation on August 25, at 4PM EDT. The live portion will demonstrate the Roster’s search capabilities as well as allow for real-time Q&A.

Over a decade in the making, the Shapell Roster is a free-to-the-public online database with 64 searchable fields of data, 7,000 soldier and sailor pages, a bibliography of nearly 3,000 primary and secondary sources, and more than 50,000 historical documents. The goal of the Shapell Roster is to identify every Jewish soldier or sailor who served in the American Civil War.

The Conference will feature approximately 60 live-streaming presentations, 100 pre-recorded presentations and 40 group meetings. The event is hosted by IAJGS, an umbrella organization of more than 93 Jewish genealogical organizations worldwide. The IAJGS coordinates and organizes activities such as its annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy and provides a unified voice as the spokesperson on behalf of its members.

Registration for the conference is available here:  

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Josephine in Arizona Territory in 1880
March 15, 2022

Wyatt Earp & Josephine Marcus

Wyatt Earp remains one of the most famous figures in the history of the American West. A lawman and a gambler, his life was immortalized in legend, with fact and fiction inextricably woven together. Earp had two famous clashes with other Western legends. The first was Johnny Behan, the sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona, who would later pursue Earp after the latter’s infamous Vendetta Ride against the participants of the shootout at the OK Corral. The second – and most famous – was Doc Holliday,  the renowned gambler, gunfighter, frontier dentist, and friend, with whom Earp split. 

Yet the connecting thread between Earp and the two men from whom he later parted ways has not been discussed much in scholarship on Earp: a Jewish woman from New York named Josephine Marcus. Like Wyatt Earp, fact and fiction are difficult to separate when it comes to understanding the life of the woman who would become his wife. On both counts, this largely is due to Josephine’s attempts to guard the Earps’ legacy. What follows is a brief sketch of her life based on verifiable facts.

Josephine Marcus was born in a Brooklyn tenement in 1861 to Jews who had immigrated from an area of Prussia that is today Poland. When she was 7, her family moved to San Francisco in search of opportunity. San Francisco, though up and coming and booming, was also, like New York, crowded, and full of immigrants. Josephine’s father, a baker, experienced ups and downs financially; at times able to fund things like dance lessons for his daughters, at other times, the family was forced to move in with Josephine’s older sister and brother-in-law.  The stratification of San Francisco’s Jews – Germans at the top, and Poles at the bottom – was a source of struggle for Josephine. Knowing that she would never break into the right society, she decided to leave the Jewish community behind completely. 

Josephine’s interest in theatre was what ultimately put her on the path to Tombstone. In 1879, she and a friend joined a theatre troupe, and ran away to the Arizona territory, where she first became acquainted with Johnny Behan. Josephine’s family retrieved her that year, but Johnny followed her back to San Francisco, where he convinced her parents that his intentions with their daughter were honorable. In 1880, she was back in Tombstone with him, and though she went by Mrs. Behan, they were never legally married.

Wyatt Earp, on the other hand, was married, and had just arrived in Tombstone from Dodge City, Kansas in time for the town’s silver boom. Despite having a common-law wife, he was interested in Josephine, and she in him. By early 1881, Josephine caught Johnny cheating on her and kicked him out. In July of that year, the most famous gunfight in American history would erupt in Tombstone, between the Clanton brothers, part of an outlaw group known as “The Cowboys,” and the Earp Brothers, who were generally regarded as the lawmen. 

By the time of the shootout, Josephine and Wyatt were together. The gunfight itself would pit Behan against the Earps and their ally Doc Holliday. Behan would side with the Earps’ rivals, the Clantons. Though the circumstances surrounding the shootout remain hazy, the Earps’ acquittal of murdering the outlaws in cold blood at the OK Corral so enraged the Clantons, that they sought revenge, ultimately killing Wyatt’s brother Morgan, and injuring his other brother Virgil. In response, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday went on what would later be known as the Vendetta Ride, avenging Earp’s brother, and killing between four and fourteen men they suspected were complicit in killing Morgan Earp.

This officially made Wyatt Earp an outlaw, and also pitted him against Johnny Behan. Even before Josephine and Wyatt got together, tensions had been brewing between Behan and Earp over some political appointments in Tombstone. It’s hard to ignore the possibility that Behan might have had particular animosity towards Earp months after his wife left him for Earp. Behan never caught up with Josephine and Wyatt, who spent much of the next 47 years together roaming from one boomtown to another, dabbling in different investments such as mining and oil, and preparing Earp’s life story for film and print. 

Doc Holliday, who accompanied Wyatt on the Vendetta Ride, fell out with Wyatt in a less glamorous manner shortly thereafter, when they had both arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wyatt Earp was a guest at the home of Jewish businessman Harry Jaffa, the first mayor of the city. Apparently  over lunch in an Albuquerque restaurant, Holliday asked Wyatt if he was becoming a “damn Jew-boy.” Wyatt left the restaurant, and with it, his friendship with Holliday. Allegedly, Wyatt Earp was known to kiss the mezuzah before entering Jewish homes as a sign of respect to his Jewish wife, and it’s been speculated that this was the reason for Holliday’s jab at Earp.

Josephine Earp Date Of Death

Earp died in Los Angeles in 1929, and Josephine in 1944. It might come as a surprise that one of the deadliest gunslingers of the Wild West is interred in a Jewish cemetery in the San Francisco Bay area. What is unsurprising, however, is that the man (and woman) and the myth are inextricable. 

Enjoyed learning about Joesphine Earp? Discover other great blogs from Shapell, including Primary Sources: Meaning, Reliability & Where To Find Them, Libbie Custer, and more!

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Albert Einstein, 1920, Deutsches Bundesarchiv, 1930
January 27, 2022

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Albert Einstein

January 27th, the anniversary of the Allied Liberation of Auschwitz, marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. One of the most famous Holocaust refugees, whose face as well as life’s work is instantly recognizable and transcends language, culture, and time, is arguably Albert Einstein. As one might expect, Einstein saw the writing on the wall before the horrors of Nazi Germany were in full swing. Before Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, Einstein fled to America via Belgium and England in 1932. 

But Einstein wasn’t merely a refugee who fled the horrors of Nazi Germany to America. He also dedicated himself to continuing to warn the world about the dangers of the fledgling Nazi regime and helping others escape it. In 1932, Einstein helped publish an exposé of what the Nazi regime had in store for the world, including the brutalization of Jews, concentration camps, and even the burning of the Reichstag.  The following year, Einstein co-founded what would later become the International Rescue Committee. 

To learn more about Einstein and the Holocaust, take a look at our online exhibition, Albert Einstein: Original Letters in Aid of His Brethren, originally exhibited in partnership with the Beverly Hills Public Library. The exhibition traces Einstein’s early apprehension of the Nazi’s intentions towards the Jews in the 1930s, his efforts to warn others against them, his escape from Germany, and his support for a Jewish homeland.

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December 19, 2021

Podcast: IN Jewish History Explores Jewish Civil War History With SMF’s Roster Team

Listen to our Shapell Roster researchers discuss the Civil War history of Jews from Indiana on the IN Jewish History podcast hosted by Michael Brown.

The IN Jewish History podcast is about the stories of Indiana’s Jewish past by the Indiana Jewish Historical Society(IJHS) Hosted by Michael Brown. IN Jewish History explores different Historical perspectives from both academics and primary source interviews, and we look at how Indiana’s Jewish Community played a significant role in shaping Indiana’s past. IN Jewish History Podcast is funded by the generous support of the Leonard & Marion Freeman Charitable Fund.

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October 28, 2021

Dreyfus Affair Museum Opens in Paris

This week, the first museum in the world dedicated to the Dreyfus Affair opened in Paris. Fittingly, the museum opened as part of the Émile Zola House (Maison Zola), which had been undergoing renovations for a decade. Zola’s famous defense of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894 remains iconic for its courage and selflessness, an enduring beacon of hope and tolerance in our multicultural society.

The Dreyfus Affair was the fault-line on which French society fractured in the late 19th century. It impacted artists  like Pissaro, Monet, and Degas. 

Writers from all over the world, including Mark Twain, were swept up in the details of Dreyfus’s degradation ceremony outside the Paris military academy.

The Dreyfus Affair galvanized many Jews who had been previously undecided about Zionism. Theodor Herzl covered the trial as a reporter, and Max Nordau, one of the most public intellectuals at the time, was practically turned into a Zionist because of the Affair. The museum features documents, court papers, personal items, and photographs of Alfred Dreyfus.


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Etching of Max Nordau, 1899, Shapell Manuscript Collection
October 22, 2021

Max Nordau: A Man of Vision and Obscure Legacy

Every city in Israel has a Nordau Street, and it’s usually a main one. If you Google Max Nordau, you’re likely to find something about “Muscular Judaism,” or the degeneration of art. But Max Nordau was also one of the prominent pioneers of modern Zionism – he co-founded the Zionist Organization with Theodor Herzl and his prestige as an author and psychiatrist gave the fledgling Zionist movement some gravitas. While Herzl was and remains a Zionist icon, Nordau has largely been relegated to the past. Why is this?

Max Nordau’s path to Zionism was winding and complex.  He was born Simon Maximillian Südfeld in 1849 in Pest (Budapest, Hungary), like Herzl, who was born there eleven years later. [1] Unlike Herzl, who came from an assimilated Jewish family, Simon, or Simha, as Nordau was then known, was the only son in an observant family; his father was a rabbi, and young Max was given a religious Jewish education. When Max was fifteen, he abandoned Jewish practice, and when his father died, he changed his name from Südfeld (southern field) to Nordau (northern meadow). As a first-generation assimilationist,  Nordau’s name change reflected his desire to move away from his Jewish heritage to a more Germanic or “northern” culture.  [2] His later marriage to a Danish Protestant woman, Anna Dons-Kaufmann, furthered his assimilation.

In 1872, Nordau completed his medical degree from the University of Pest, travelled around Europe for a few years, and settled in Paris in 1880, where he worked as a correspondent for Die Neue Freie Presse, a Viennese newspaper. Nordau’s breakthrough work, The Conventional Lies of Our Civilization, was published in 1883. His critique of religion, as well as of the aristocracy, made him a household name. The book was translated to over fifteen languages, ran through at least seven editions, was banned in Austria and Germany, and was denounced by Pope Leo XIII.

Shortly thereafter, Nordau published Paradoxes, in which he explored optimism, pessimism, prejudice, passion, and other powerful undercurrents of society. This 1885 work eerily presaged the two Word Wars: “It is not probable that the Twentieth Century will pass away without having witnessed the conclusion of this grand historical drama. Until then a large part of Europe will see much distress and blood-shed, many crimes and deeds of violence; peoples will rage against each other, and whole races will be pitilessly crushed out of existence.” [3] Though this and many other observations Nordau shared in Paradoxes were prescient, this work is overshadowed by his most famous work, Degeneration.

In 1892, Nordau published Degeneration, a scathing denunciation of the excesses of modern art, explicitly mentioning such artists and writers as Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Emile Zola, and Oscar Wilde. Degeneration was such a popular work and concept that it has been immortalized in both Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Oscar Wilde’s plea for clemency after being convicted for “indecency” (sodomy). [4] Ironically, in its cataloguing of contemporary art’s failures, Degeneration essentially functions as an anthology of modernist art. 

The same year that Degeneration was published, Nordau met Theodor Herzl, another event that changed his life and legacy. Nordau had been working for Die Neue Freie Presse  since the 1870s, and Herzl had become the paper’s Paris correspondent in 1891. The two remained colleagues until 1895, when Herzl was referred to Nordau in the capacity of a psychiatrist. Herzl’s obsession with anti-Semitism and his proposed solutions of Jewish self-determination and autonomy, was considered so outlandish that Herzl felt compelled to seek professional psychological help. 

Nordau, who had detached from his Jewish identity but who had experienced a horrifying rise of personal and general anti-Semitism, was eventually swayed by Herzl’s position. Both men had covered the Dreyfus trial and were quite shaken by the blatant anti-Semitism in the French Republic. Nordau reportedly embraced Herzl after the latter had pitched his ideas about a Jewish State, and exclaimed “If you are insane, we are insane together! Count on me!” Within two years, Herzl and Nordau had established the Zionist Organization, and the first Zionist Congress took place that year.

Returning to the question of the two men’s very different legacies, perhaps the reason for Herzl’s fame and Nordau’s obscurity is the issue of nuance. Herzl was a Political Zionist, as opposed to a Cultural Zionist. Political Zionism sought to solve the problem of Jewish persecution, whereas Cultural Zionists were not necessarily concerned with Jewish autonomy but rather with the rebirth of Jewish culture. The East Africa Scheme (in which Britain was to establish a Jewish homeland in present day Kenya) illustrates the difference between these movements: Political Zionists accepted it as a practical and useful solution to getting the Jews out of Europe and away from persecution (albeit as a rest stop before inhabiting the land of Israel), and cultural Zionists rejected it outright, as Africa was not the ancient homeland of the Jewish people. 

But this is more than an example. Nordau nearly paid for this with his life. Though Nordau himself was not in favor of a Jewish colony in East Africa, as a member of the establishment Zionist Organization and a close friend of Herzl, he defended the scheme, as a temporary solution to the rising anti-Semitism and violent pogroms plaguing Eastern Europe. At a Hanukkah party in Paris in 1903, a mentally ill Jewish student attempted to assassinate Nordau, firing two shots at point blank range, screaming “Death to Nordau, the East African!” Nordau emerged unscathed, and a bystander was shot in the leg. Charges were not pressed against the Russian student, and the East Africa scheme was abandoned within two years. 

Nordau had been one of the most public intellectuals of his time, and his conversion to Zionism was a watershed moment not only for him, but for the rest of the Jewish assimilationists. To say people were surprised was an understatement; many people did not even realize that Nordau was Jewish. But perhaps the real answer to why Nordau’s popularity has diminished whilst Herzl’s continues to rise (a new biography on Herzl was released in 2020) is because the bulk of Nordau’s work was pseudoscience, and makes for uncomfortable reading in the twenty-first century.

Nordau’s interest in racial theories and racial Zionism, though de rigueur and part of turn-of-the-century Europe, would be considered racist by the mores of our time, especially in light of the Nazi’s popularization and adherence to racial theories. In that sense, much of Nordau’s work has been rejected and debunked. As for Nordau’s critique of modern art, the “cultural diagnosis” of a Jewish “psychiatrist who wrote about degenerate art forty years before Hitler” is not a good look. [5]

However, when Nordau addressed the tenth Zionist Congress in 1911, his words were tragically prescient. In criticizing Europe for emancipating Jews essentially only on paper, he conveyed an urgency to get Jews out of Europe that when read after the Holocaust, is chilling:

“The virtuous Governments, which work with such noble zeal for the spread of eternal peace acquiesce in the downfall of six million creatures–acquiesce, and no-one, except the victims raises a voice against it…The administration of hero funds and the distribution of the interest is laid in the hands of the authorities who favor the massacre of the Jews even if they themselves do not directly instigate them.”

Between the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the 1919 pogroms at Kishinev, Nordau agitated for Jewish autonomy in Palestine, advocating for the immediate transfer of thousands of Jews out of Europe and into their ancestral homeland in Palestine. In 1921, Nordau retired from public Zionist activities, dying two years later. In 1926, he was reinterred in Tel Aviv. Nordau, who was prophetic on a number of occasions and issues, faded away from the cultural and Zionist consciousness. Perhaps his legacy deserves another look.

  1.  Baldwin, P. M. “Liberalism, Nationalism, and Degeneration: The Case of Max Nordau.” Central European History, vol. 13, no. 2, Cambridge University Press, Central European History Society, 1980, pp. 99–120,, p. 101
  2.  Golomb, Jacob. Nietzsche and Zion. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2004, p. 49
  3.   Max Simon Nordau. Paradoxes. From the German of Max Nordau. Chicago, L. Schick, 1886, p. 365
  5.  van der Laarse, Robert. “Masking the Other: Max Nordau’s Representation of Hidden Jewishness.” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, vol. 25, no. 1, Berghahn Books, 1999, pp. 1–31,, p. 1
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Isaac Leeser, circa 1868, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons
July 13, 2021

Isaac Leeser’s Proto-Zionism

Isaac Leeser was one of the most important Jews of the nineteenth century, and certainly the most important rabbi in America at the time. Leeser, an orphan who had been raised by his grandmother, immigrated from Germany to Richmond, Virginia in 1824 at the age of eighteen to live with his uncle. Four years later, in 1828, Leeser publicly defended Judaism in the pages of The Richmond Whig in response to a virulently anti-Semitic article that had been published in London and then republished in New York.[1] Leeser’s polemics not only caused a stir, but brought him to the attention of the Philadelphia Congregation Mikveh Israel. Despite Leeser being only twenty-two and Ashkenazi, the Sephardic congregation asked Leeser to be their Hazzan, or congregational rabbi, a position he held for over twenty years.

It has been said that Leeser was the forerunner of Modern Orthodoxy in America. Modern Orthodox Judaism seeks to synthesize the traditions and tenets of Judaism with the secular and modern world while retaining the particularism of the Jewish people. He insisted on delivering his sermons in English (as opposed to German) in order for German Jewish immigrants to better integrate into their adoptive country, and popularized the practice of preaching in Orthodox synagogues. In a remarkable display of scholarly ecumenism, Leeser jointly published the Masoretic version of the Bible with an Episcopalian minister.[2] He also established and edited The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, a monthly magazine, from 1843-1868. This was the first Jewish serial to be published in the United States, and provided Jews with an established cultural foothold. Today, it is an invaluable record for historians of Jewish antebellum history. Perhaps where Leeser was the most visionary in bridging two worlds or philosophies was how he viewed the Holy Land. 

Supporting Jews who were living in the Holy Land seemed to contradict the desire of Jews living in the United States (or elsewhere) to integrate fully into American society, as it reinforced not only the theological notion of redemption to the Land of Israel, but also the sociological idea that the Jews were indigenous to the Land of Israel, and therefore foreigners in a strange land when living in the diaspora.[3] Leeser managed to belong to both camps – to reinforce and reinvigorate the traditionalism of Judaism, and yet at the same time, advocate for the Jew to be a model American citizen, and to be an outspoken proponent of the Constitution.  

Leeser’s thought on Zionism, his moderate position, was an evolution of several years and factors. Being Orthodox, he came from the traditionalist position that believed only in the return of the exiled Jews to the land of Israel with the coming of the Messiah. Two contemporaries helped change his mind: Mordecai Manuel Noah and Warder Cresson. As early as 1844, Noah advocated for a Jewish homeland, with the help of Christian allies. Leeser initially disagreed with Noah’s position not only because he could not imagine gentile support for a Jewish country in Palestine, but more importantly, because Noah’s vision seemed to lack the support of divine providence. Nonetheless, Leeser printed Noah’s work in The Occident. And despite disagreeing with Noah on the subject of Jewish autonomy, Leeser’s traditional worldview meant that he did support the indigent Jews in Palestine throughout his entire career. Though they didn’t come to fruition, Leeser also supported Cresson’s agricultural aspirations in the Holy Land. 

A turning point in Leeser’s thought was the European Revolutions of 1848. That year, Leeser, observing that Germany, Poland, and Italy had successfully reconstituted themselves as nation-states, wondered “why should not the patriotic Hebrew also look proudly forward to the time (even without revelation) when he may again proudly boast of his own country, of the beneficent sway of his own laws…” [4] Leeser finally conceded Noah’s point that he had vigorously opposed for years earlier, interestingly relegating the major theological point to a parenthetical one. Leeser no longer saw Divine Revelation as a prerequisite for Jewish statehood in Palestine.

Another component of Leeser’s already affirmed Jewish patriotism came at the end of his life, in the 1860s. The turmoil preceding and following the Civil War brought with it a rise of anti-Semitism in both the North and the South. Major-General Ulysses S. Grant’s General Orders No. Eleven, issued in December of 1862, expelled Jewish people from Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and parts of Illinois with 24 hours notice. Though President Lincoln quickly rescinded the order, the state-sponsored anti-Semitic expulsion had already horrified Leeser. Like Theodor Herzl some thirty years later watching French Republic pull itself apart over the Dreyfus Affair, Leeser was convinced of the practical need for a Jewish state. 

Before supporting the idea of an autonomous Jewish State in Palestine, Leeser was an eager supporter of Jewish agrarian communities in the Holy Land, in particular the endeavors of his friend, Warder Cresson, to farm the land around Jerusalem. By the end of his life, Leeser was an ardent supporter of a self-sustaining Jewish enterprise in its homeland. In other words, Leeser was an early Religious Zionist. 

  1.  Sussman, Lance J. “Another Look at Isaac Leeser and the First Jewish Translation of the Bible in the United States.” Modern Judaism, vol. 5, no. 2, 1985, pp. 159–190. JSTOR, Accessed 30 June 2021, p. 162
  2. The word Masoret is Hebrew for tradition, and the Masoretic version of the bible is considered the most authentic version of the Hebrew bible. It was codified between 600 and 1000 AD by Talmud scholars who wished to transmit the original text of the Old Testament. They also provided vowel signs to ensure correct pronunciation as well as important marginal notes.
  3. Shiff, Ofer. “At the Crossroad between Traditionalism and Americanism: Nineteenth-Century Philanthropic Attitudes of American Jews toward Palestine.” Jewish History, vol. 9, no. 1, 1995, pp. 35–50, p. 38.  JSTOR, Accessed 29 June 2021.
  4.  Occident, vol. VI, no 2 (May, 1848), pp. 71-72
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Director of Shapell Roster research, Adrienne Usher
May 31, 2021

Director of Shapell Roster Joins JewishGen’s Advisory Board

We are pleased to announce that Shapell Roster Director, Adrienne Usher, has been invited to join the Honorary Advisory Board of JewishGen’s USA Research Division. The advisory board is made up of a variety of academics and specialists, all with a focus in the area of Jewish American Studies or Genealogy. 

With a mission to preserve “our Jewish family history and heritage for future generations,” JewishGen features millions of records, unique search tools, and opportunities for researchers to connect with others who share similar interests. 

A project of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, the Shapell Roster is a comprehensive, online database of Jewish-American soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War for both the Union and the Confederacy. Under Adrienne Usher’s leadership, the Shapell Roster research team has spent the last decade verifying the names of previously assumed Jewish soldiers, identifying their accurate military service, and adding more than a thousand soldiers that Wolf omitted.

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Wikimedia Commons
April 8, 2021

National Library Week: Staff Reading Picks

Did you reach the end of the Internet while stuck at home during the pandemic? If so – or you’re just looking for a new medium – we’ve gathered a list of some of our staff’s favorite American History books in a nod to National Library Week. Let us know if you pick one up and what you think!

Eliza Kolander, Strategic Partnership Manager: 

They’ll Cut Off Your Project: A Mingo County Chronicle is a memoir by Huey Perry in which he recounts his efforts to help a local, low-income Appalachian community achieve self-sufficiency and challenge the corrupt local government who tried to block their progress at every turn.

Michal Gorlin Becker, Administrative Director: 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson is the story of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial killer who used this event to target his victims.

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts is a groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism that exposes why the AIDS epidemic was willfully ignored or underplayed by public health professionals.

Ariane Weisel Margalit, Director of Special Projects: 

Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion by Edward Lawson delves into the 1925 Scopes Trial, which pitted creationism against evolution, and influenced the ongoing discussion regarding religion in American society.

The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural by Wendell Berry is a collection of twenty-four essays in which the author explains the interconnectedness of humans, animals, land, weather, and family.

Thea Wieseltier, Director of Public Affairs:

Truman, David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of President Harry Truman.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a New York Times  best-seller that reflects on America’s race problem, through letters of the author to his adolescent son.

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner discusses the enormous shift in America following the Civil War and the end of slavery and its enduring relevance in contemporary America.

Grant is a 2017 New York Times best-selling biography on Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow.

Naomi Weiss, Research Associate: 

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the  Murder of a President by Candace Millard explores Garfield’s assassination at the hands of a mentally unbalanced office-seeker through the lens of pitfalls of contemporary medicine.

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto takes a look at the rough and tumble colony of New Amsterdam, contrasting it with the dour New England that looms large in the American imagination, and discusses how the Dutch Republic planted the seed of liberalism in the American cultural landscape in their colony at Manhattan.

Caitlin Winkler, Researcher, Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War: 

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. DeAnne Blanton and Lauren  M. Cook tell the overlooked stories of women who disguised themselves as men and fought for both the Union and the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

The Things They Carried is a collection of interlinked short stories by Tim O’Brien about the experiences of men in a platoon serving in the Vietnam War

Alexandra Apito, Researcher, Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War: 

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who

 Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell tells the story of Virginia Hall, rejected by the secret service because she was a woman and had a prosthetic leg, was the first woman deployed to occupied France to spy on behalf of the British.

Kenny Kolander, Research Associate: 

Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of a Young Black Girl in the Rural South by Anne Moody is an eye-opening memoir of a woman who was born to sharecroppers in rural Mississippi and her journey to stand at the frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement.


Jamie Levavi, Director of Digital Projects has a great recommendation for children that might be more accessible than Twain’s suggested reading for young adults:

The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson by Ann McGovern. For much lighter reading, this children’s book made an impression on me in elementary school – to the point that as an adult, I recalled it and bought it for my daughters. Less a story of U.S. history, and rather the true story of a young woman who did not allow the norms of the time to bind her, The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson, is about a young woman who successfully disguised herself as a man and served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. This book and others like it, such as the Who Was series, are fantastic biographies that will get kids curious and reading and will stick with them!


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General Order No. 11 Historic Marker, Mississippi.
March 31, 2021

Ulysses Grant’s General Order No. 11 Historic Marker In Mississippi

On March 18th, 2021, a new historical marker was installed by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation in Holly Springs, Mississippi, with support from the City and the Marshall County Historical Society Museum.

The marker commemorates General Ulysses S. Grant’s infamous General Orders No. 11, often considered the worst anti-Semitic Government act in American history. The order – -issued on December 17th, 1862, from Holly Springs — expelled all Jews from Grant’s military district, which comprised areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. 

President Abraham Lincoln countermanded the General Order on January 4, 1863.

Learn more here of how Grant later tried to lose the anti-Semite label engendered to him by the order.

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Adriene Usher, Director of Shapell Roster Research.
February 14, 2021

Webinar: Researching Hebrew Union Veterans Association (HUVA) Members, Part II


The National Museum of American Jewish Military History and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation invite you to join us as we explore the progenitor of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. – the Hebrew Union Veterans Association, in the context of the Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War.

We will discuss the origins of the organization, talk in detail about the lives of some of their members, and explain how the Shapell Roster research team has discovered the service history of several of the soldiers. Have your questions and comments ready for the Q&A at the end!

Date and Time: Mar 18, 2021, 3PM EST

Register here.

Part I of this webinar is available to watch on YouTube.

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December 17, 2020

Join Us On January 12th: Original Manuscripts in the Contemporary Classroom

Join us on January 12th for History Lessons: Working with Original Manuscripts in the Contemporary Classroom.

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation is proud to present, “History Lessons: Working with Original Manuscripts in the Contemporary Classroom,” a conversation with Gil Troy, Sara Willen, Jonathan D. Sarna, and Nathan Sleeter. Leading scholars will discuss how we take the treasures of the past and turn them into relevant lesson plans that teach middle and high school social studies students how to think like historians. The four lesson plans are based on primary sources from the Shapell Manuscript Collection, and provide teachers and students the opportunity to explore meaningful, and sometimes lesser-known, scenes from history. Each lesson plan fits within state and national educational standards and includes ideas for differentiation, assessment form, and document-based questions.
January 12th, 2021
6PM EST on Zoom
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Theodor Herzl with a Zionist delegation in Jerusalem, 1898. Wikimedia Commons
December 14, 2020

Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, and the East Africa Scheme

In August of 1897, after putting together the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Theodor Herzl, resplendent in his white tie and tails, his noble visage self-consciously groomed, rose to speak. He had to wait for a quarter of an hour for the applause to die down. A few days later, the congress ended as it began – with thunderous applause, this time with the younger delegates lifting and carrying  Herzl on their shoulders around the hall. [1]  

Six years later, in 1903, at the Sixth (and Herzl’s last) Zionist Congress, Herzl, who had less than a year to live, strained to breathe as he spoke, and had a rebellion on his hands. Only after declaring in Hebrew “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning” did the aggrieved party, the Russian caucus of the Zionist delegates, agree to come back into the hall.  [2] Herzl had suggested that the Congress consider the British offer to create a Jewish homeland in East Africa (modern-day Kenya), which was such a point of contention that it threatened to split the World Zionist Organisation. Herzl’s dear friend and right-hand man, Max Nordau, was even the target of an attempted assassination shortly thereafter. What happened in these six years to the Zionist Organization? The answer might be found in a closer examination of the relationship between Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, and a young rival, Chaim Weizmann, the future first president of the State of Israel. 

Chaim Weizmann was roughly fifteen years Theodor Herzl’s junior. Unlike Herzl, an assimilated Central European Jew, Weizmann hailed from Russia, and in addition to his doctorate in chemistry, was the beneficiary of a traditional Jewish education and upbringing. Weizmann first laid eyes on Herzl at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898. [3] The two men maintained a correspondence, and actually found common ground in Weizmann’s goal of establishing a Jewish university in Palestine. 

But by 1901, a growing number of younger Zionists were unhappy with the slow progress of the Zionist movement. These young men, mostly Russian, as was Weizmann, felt that though Herzl had given Zionism a shape, he was off the mark when it came to its substance. Weizmann’s anti-Herzl agitation (“Herzl has no idea of Russian Zionism and of Russian Zionists”) served to make a name for himself, and more critically, led to a meeting with Herzl. Though Weizmann was spoiling for a fight, the elder statesman recognized the need for the younger generation to have their own conference, which took place shortly before the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1902. Though there was some chafing between Herzl and the younger group, which called itself the Democratic Fraction, Herzl tried to work with them and keep the Zionist movement unified. By 1903, shortly before the Sixth Zionist Congress, Weizmann was at the helm of the Fraction, which, for all its animated discussions, hadn’t achieved much. 

The violent pogroms in Kishinev in April of 1903 alarmed Herzl to the point where he very seriously considered accepting the British government’s offer to establish a Jewish homeland in East Africa. Though Weizmann initially heard Herzl out on the idea, he was amongst the many Russian delegates who vociferously opposed the resolution at the Congress in August of that year. Pandemonium broke out, with the Russian delegation splitting off and having their own meeting, passing a resolution refusing to ratify any formal consideration of the East Africa scheme. [4] In this separate meeting, Weizmann denounced Herzl as “not a nationalist, but a promoter of projects.” [5]

In fact, Herzl never denied the centrality of Palestine to the Jewish people. Despite the Fraction’s claims earlier that Herzl didn’t understand Russian Zionists, it was the existential threat to Russian Jews that made Herzl consider the scheme as a temporary measure to ensure their safety. This reassurance, echoed by Nordau at the lectern, incidentally, was enough to placate at least two other Russian delegates: Weizmann’s brother and father. [6]

Though the Congress closed with an agreement to send some delegates to get the lay of the land without any formal commitments, the East Africa scheme caused a major rift and power struggle in the Zionist Organisation. Weizmann, who had been agitating against Herzl’s political Zionism for a few years now, took full advantage of this rift in order to boost his own profile as well as the commitment to the Land of Israel. Immediately after the Congress, he launched an all-out attack on the East Africa scheme, focusing solely where it had support: Western Europe. And as his professional opportunities dried up in Switzerland, Weizmann’s two callings — chemistry and Zionism– intersected, and Weizmann found himself pursuing both in what had been Herzl’s territory: the United Kingdom. 

The African scheme fizzled out by December of 1903, as a result of opposition by British colonists in  East Africa. And yet, it still held the Zionist Organization in a power struggle. By July of 1904, Herzl was dead, and the Zionist Organization was bereft. Nordau, the natural choice for Herzl’s successor, declined. Weizmann, who finally had his ducks in a row, moved to the UK a few months later. En route, he met with Nordau, who mused that some day, the young Weizmann would take up the mantle of Zionist leadership. [7]

Weizmann had already done a lot of campaigning for his cause – that of the Land of Israel for the Jewish homeland – on his pilot trip to London in 1903. If anything, Herzl had achieved a landmark in getting the British Empire to recognize the Zionist cause. Weizmann picked up where Herzl left off. And two years later, in 1906, Weizmann had his first meeting with Lord Balfour. Weizmann’s refusal to contemplate the East Africa scheme had a profound impact on Lord Balfour, though it would be another decade until Weizmann would pull off one of the most remarkable diplomatic achievements of the 20th century: the Balfour Declaration. This  British commitment to a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel was a long road that was paved by Weizmann, but one blazed by Herzl.


  1. Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel From the Rise of  Zionism to  Our Time (New  York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), p. 46
  2. Anita Shapira, Israel: A History, trans. Anthony Berris (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 2014), p. 23
  3. Norman  Rose, Chaim Weizmann: A  Biography (New  York: Viking, 1986), p. 49
  4. Derek Penslar,  Theodor  Herzl: The Charismatic  Leader (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020), p. 192
  5. Rose, p.  73
  6. Rose, p. 72
  7. Rose,  p. 85
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David Ben-Gurion, Israel Defense Archive
November 18, 2020

Ben-Gurion the Archivist

In 1950, the State of Israel was only two years old and David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, was facing monumental, existential challenges. The fledgling state was still imperiled by enemies, a struggling economy, and even food security. Yet Ben-Gurion, widely acknowledged by historians for his prescience as well as his ability to seize historic opportunities, locked in on one particular idea while vacationing in Tiberias: preserving Jewish manuscripts. In Ben-Gurion’s own words,

Our first duty is to save Hebrew literature. There are thousands of Hebrew manuscripts lying idle in various libraries. Many of them have vanished in the darkness of the past or have been destroyed by the wrath of oppressors…It is the duty of the State of Israel to acquire and gather those exiles of the spirit of Israel dispersed in the Diaspora. [1]

Thus began Ben-Gurion’s ambitious project: to establish an Institute of Manuscripts in order to microfilm and catalog every single Hebrew manuscript in existence. The Prime Minister, who had also served as Defense Minister, had already created the military archive two years prior. In this same letter to his Finance Minister, Ben-Gurion requested an allocation of £50,000 for the project, “without delay.” Ben-Gurion, whose own home was crammed with books, and who would set out to write a history of Israel upon his retirement, had made a decision that was rooted in philosophy. In his studies of military history, Ben-Gurion noted, “decisive and constant victory is that of spiritual power.” According to Ben-Gurion, the source of spiritual power for the Jewish people in their new country would be their ancient literature. Once returned home to its roots, these manuscripts would provide the spiritual sustenance needed to overcome the very material challenges the Jewish people now faced, and serve as the nucleus from which to study and preserve the corpus of Hebrew literature.

Ben-Gurion’s project was also the natural continuation of Chaim Weizmann and Albert Einstein’s dream of the founding of a Jewish university in Jerusalem. Indeed, the microfilm project was a partnership between the state and the Hebrew University. In 1925, at the inauguration of the Hebrew University, Weizmann (who would serve as the country’s first President), acknowledged the asymmetry of a country with existential issues establishing a university:

It seems at first sight paradoxical that in a land with so sparse a population, in a land where everything still remains to be done, in a land crying out for such simple things as ploughs, roads and harbors, we should be creating a center of spiritual and intellectual development. But it is no paradox, for those who know the soul of the Jew. It is true that great social and political problems still face us and will demand their solution. We Jews know that when the mind is given fullest play, when we have a center for the development of Jewish consciousness, then coincidentally, we shall attain the fulfillment of our material needs.

Ben-Gurion, who spent many days at the New York Public Library between 1915 and 1917, where he met his wife, Paula, also understood the importance of enabling Jews to access the world’s cultures and literature. “Everything human is not foreign to us–and everything human must be provided for us in our language,” the Prime Minister asserted, as he took the first steps to launch the Hebrew series Masterworks of World Literature. Ben-Gurion, perhaps uncharacteristically, let the series committee decide which works of literature to translate into Hebrew, though he did request that they include a particular passion of his: Indian philosophy. 

Ben-Gurion’s prescience and ideals concerning making far-flung Hebrew manuscripts accessible is today echoed in the near-universal effort of digitizing manuscripts for the public. The result of Ben-Gurion’s vision of making Jewish materials from all over the world available to anyone, anywhere, can be seen in the National Library of Israel’s Ktiv website, where many of the Hebrew manuscripts are on view.


  1. For more on Ben-Gurion’s ideas about the relationship between the Hebrew language and the modern state of Israel, see Anita Shapira, Ben-Gurion, Father of Modern Israel, pp. 182-183


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November 7, 2020

NEW: Teacher Resources Curricula Now Available at Shapell

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation is happy to announce the release of teacher resources. These new resources, in the form of four lesson plans for middle and high school, are available on our website. 

Developed to improve students’ historical thinking skills, the four lesson plans are based on primary sources from the Shapell Manuscript Collection. They provide teachers and students the opportunity to explore meaningful, and sometimes lesser-known scenes from history. 

John F. Kennedy and Service (intended for 7th or 8th grade Civics or History) uses the unique example of Kennedy to explore what it means to live a life of service. Designed for 11th grade U.S. History, Abraham Lincoln and the Jews introduces students to the attitude of our 16th president towards various religious minorities; Americans Tourists in the Holy Land explores early tourism with the help of the writing of Mark Twain; and third-party politics during the historic 1912 election are explored in Theodore Roosevelt and the 1912 Election, which could also be used for 12th grade U.S. Government. 

Each lesson plan fits within state and national educational standards, and includes ideas for differentiation, assessment form, and AP History practice questions (when applicable). 

These lesson plans were developed in partnership with Nate Sleeter and Kris Stinson, of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. 

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July 26, 2020

Watch: The Hebrew Union Veterans Association & Shapell Roster Webinar

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation invite you to join us as we explore the progenitor of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. – the Hebrew Union Veterans Association, in the context of the Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the American Civil War. We will discuss the origins of the organization, talk in detail about the lives of some of their members, and explain how the Shapell Roster research team has discovered the service history for several of the soldiers. Have your questions and comments ready for the Q&A at the end! Chartered by an act of Congress in 1958, the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, under the auspices of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., documents and preserves the contributions of Jewish Americans to the peace and freedom of the United States, educates the public concerning the courage, heroism and sacrifices made by Jewish Americans who served in the armed forces, and works to combat anti-Semitism.

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June 3, 2020

Webinar: Discover Hebrew Union Veterans Association & Shapell Roster

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation invite you to explore the Hebrew Union Veterans Association. We will discuss the origins of the organization, talk in detail about the lives of some of their members, and explain how the Shapell Roster research team has discovered the service history for several of the soldiers. Have your questions and comments ready for the Q&A at the end!

To reserve your spot, register for the webinar at the link.

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Camille Pissarro. Self-portrait. 1898. Sammlung Vogel Collection, New York. The Yorck Project, Wikimedia Commons.
January 21, 2020

Camille Pissarro and the Dreyfus Affair

The French Impressionists were a tight-knit group of artists centered in Paris in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Though there were other factors which contributed to their parting of ways, the Dreyfus Affair seemed to signal a point of no return for this once-intimate group of painters. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was the only Jewish artist in this small circle of Impressionists. Like many assimilated French Jews, Pissarro did not attribute much importance to his Jewish identity; his mother, though, was of a different opinion, and refused to speak to Pissarro’s non-Jewish wife.[1] The Pissarro family was traditional enough that a letter survives from Pissarro’s father asking him to join the family for the meal before the High Holiday of Yom Kippur, and when his father died, Pissarro expressed himself in traditional Jewish mourning liturgy.[2]

It wasn’t just Pissarro’s parents who tried to remind him of his Jewish identity. In an 1882 letter, Pissarro observed that despite the lack of any Biblical themes in his work, critics insisted on comparing him with the deeply Catholic Jean-François Millet, whose work was influenced by the Old Testament: “For the Hebrew that I am, there is very little of that in me; isn’t that funny?”[3]

Long before the Dreyfus Affair – in which a Jewish army captain was framed for treason – fractured French society to the point where even artists and writers were divided amongst themselves, Pissarro’s colleagues and friends exhibited  tinges of anti-Semitism. In 1882, Pierre-Auguste Renoir refused to be part of an exhibition because he didn’t care for the socialist politics of his fellow-exhibitors. He wrote to the organizer saying that he did not want to be a “revolutionary. To stick by the Israelite Pissarro, that’s Revolution.”[4] 

A decade later, and about three years before the Dreyfus Affair rocked France, there was an Impressionist exhibition in 1892, at which Pissarro was on the receiving end of some anti-Semitic bile from none other than Renoir’s younger brother. Pissarro wrote to Monet of the abuse, mentioning the allegations that he was “a prime schemer without talent, a mercenary Jew, playing underhanded tricks.” Though Pissarro assured Monet that he would ignore the absurd comments, and that his main concern was the discord being sown amongst the Impressionists, he clearly cared enough to mention it. He even went so far as to ask Monet, “Is it because I am an intruder in the group?”[5]

A few years after Pissarro’s letter to Monet, in September of 1896, Pissarro wrote a letter of thanks and encouragement to a young literary critic and anarchist named Bernard Lazare, also an assimilated Jew, who had just written a pamphlet on anti-Semitism.[6] Lazare was one of the first to recognize not only the widespread anti-Semitism in French culture, but also that Dreyfus was innocent. By November of 1897, two months before Émile Zola published  J’Accuse, Pissarro was already convinced of Dreyfus’s innocence.[7] 

In January of 1898, Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, who had sold military secrets to the Germans and framed Dreyfus for treason, was found innocent in a closed military court. It was in response to this miscarriage of justice, that Émile Zola dropped the bombshell known simply as “J’Accuse,” published in Georges Clemenceau’s L’Aurore on the 13th of that month. In his full page open letter to the French government, Zola accused the army of framing Dreyfus and of a massive coverup. Zola called for the case to be reopened. Though he was found guilty of criminal libel and forced to flee France to avoid jail time, Zola’s article galvanized the pro-Dreyfus camp (known as the Dreyfusards), mobilizing them as a political force to be reckoned with. Monet, who had been acquainted with Zola for nearly thirty years, immediately signed the “Manifesto of the Intellectuals” petition in support of Dreyfus. Days after Zola’s letter appeared in L’Aurore, Pissarro asked that his name be added to the petition, as well. Two months later, Pissarro agreed to be part of a committee to award Zola with a medal. When Renoir was asked to sign a pro-Dreyfus petition, he promptly refused, and disparaged Zola.

In January of 1898, the same month in which Pissarro requested to join the petition, he had his last encounter with Degas, who had remained cordial, if not distant from Pissarro for much of that decade. By the time Degas stopped speaking to Pissarro, Degas had become wildly anti-Semitic, and that January, famously threw a model out of his studio for expressing doubts as to Dreyfus’s guilt. That year, Degas and Renoir began to refuse to greet Pissarro on the street.[8]

The relationship between the artists never improved. When Pissarro died in 1903 at the age of 73, Degas did not attend the funeral, telling Pissarro’s son that it was due to illness. Privately, he wrote something entirely different to his fellow anti-Dreyfusard friend, the painter Henri Rouart:

So he has died, the poor old wandering Jew. He will walk no more, and if one had been warned, one would certainly have walked a little behind him. What has he been thinking, since the nasty affair, what did he think of the embarrassment one felt, in spite of oneself, in his company? Did he ever say a word to you? What went on inside that old Israelite head of his? Did he think only of going back to the old times when we were pretty nearly unaware of his terrible race?[9]

Here, Degas pinpoints the Dreyfus Affair as the turning point for Pissarro’s colleagues becoming more conscious of Pissarro’s Jewish identity, and in turn the rupture the Affair caused amongst the group. Overall, this was emblematic of most of French society, which was split between Dreyfusards and Anti-Dreyfusards. Sadly, Pissarro died three years before Dreyfus was reinstated to the army in 1906, under George Picquart, the Minister of War. Picquart was notably the anti-Semitic colonel who, nevertheless, bravely uncovered the scandal against Dreyfus and went to prison for following the evidence. Picquart had been appointed by the new prime minister, the publisher of Zola’s “J’Accuse”: Georges Clemenceau. In a sense, Pissarro had just missed his Dreyfusard colleagues’ victory in the battle for justice.

[1] Stephanie Rachum, Camille Pissarro’s Jewish Identity, p.11

[2] Ibid, p. 10

[3] Ibid, p. 12

[4] Nord, Philip. “The New Painting and the Dreyfus Affair.” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, vol. 24, no. 1, 1998, pp. 115–136. JSTOR, Accessed 21 Jan. 2020, p.126

[5] Rachum, p. 12

[6] Ibid, p. 18

[7] Rachum, p.21

[8 ] Rachum, p.24

[9] Ibid, p.24

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Quaker City passengers, August 1867. (Photo by William E. James, courtesy of Randolph James.)
January 16, 2020

“Not So Innocent Abroad” – Jewish Review of Books

Diane Cole describes her experience visiting “the remarkable exhibit ‘ark Twain and the Holy Land, on display at the New-York Historical Society until February 2, 2020. It celebrates the 150th anniversary of the 1869 publication of Twain’s second book, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress, the author’s wry-eyed travelogue of the five-and-a-half-month luxury steamship cruise that would carry him and his fellow shipmates across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Mediterranean Sea, and on to its ultimate destination, the Holy Land.”

“Although relatively few readers today would rank this volume [Innocents Abroad] as their favorite among Twain’s works—that honor would more likely go to The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnLife on the Mississippi, or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer—it was, in fact, his bestselling book over the course of his lifetime and remains one of the bestselling travel books of all time. In achieving literary fame so early in his career—his only previous book was The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches—Twain jumped onto his own trajectory of authorial celebrity, his name (or pen name, his birth name being Samuel Langhorne Clemens) recognized throughout the world.” – Diane Cole, Jewish Review of Books

Click here to read the full article.

View the digital exhibition here.

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View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in 1841. Courtesy of Dahesh Museum of Art.
December 25, 2019

“The Twain Shall Meet” – The New York Jewish Week

“The artistic pursuits of Mark Twain, the great American writer and humorist, and Emma Lazarus, the first important Jewish American poet, are celebrated, respectively, at the New-York Historical Society (NYHS) and the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Both exhibitions creatively bring archival materials to the public.

While I haven’t been able to verify whether Lazarus and Twain actually met in person, it’s clear they moved in similar 19th-century New York social circles, and they shared an interest in Palestine.” – Sandee Brawarsky, The New York Jewish Times

Click here to read the full article.

View the Twain exhibition here.

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Image: Zvi Hirsh Heller (aged 15) of Petach Tikva studied at the Hebron Yeshiva. He was a victim of the 1929 Hebron Massacre and died of his wounds in hospital in Jerusalem. Rechavam Zeevy, Wikimedia.
August 29, 2019

A Presidential Response to the 1929 Hebron Massacres

In August 1929, following inflammatory sermons and inciting rumors, pogroms were instigated in which Arabs slaughtered Jews in British Mandate Palestine. The Hebron Riots of 1929 – part of the Palestine Riots of 1929 – sent shock-waves around the world, and ended centuries of continued Jewish presence in Hebron. Americans were particularly aghast as newspapers reported that a number of those massacred were students from New York and Chicago. Americans campaigned for the government to intervene on behalf of the Jewish Americans and their property in Palestine.

This letter from President Herbert Hoover is in answer to one such missive, where he manages to respond, yet says very little.


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Netanyahu holding a cabinet meeting commemorating Ben-Gurion's passing Image: Koby Gideon, Government Press Office.
July 15, 2019

Netanyahu: The Longest-Serving Israeli Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu made history in the past when he became the youngest Israeli prime minister, and the first to be born in the independent State of Israel. This week, on July 20, 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu will make history yet again by becoming Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister. Until the 19th of July, Israel’s first prime minister and founding father, David Ben-Gurion, will have held the record, serving a cumulative total of thirteen years and twenty-seven days. Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu was also elected to four terms, three of them consecutive.

In this summer of 1963 letter, written after resigning as prime minister for the second time, Ben-Gurion –  gifting himself an additional two years on top of his thirteen served – shares his insights about the appropriate length for a prime minister to remain in power. 

Enjoyed Learning About The Longest Serving PM of Israel?

Enjoyed learning about the longest-serving Prime Minister of Israel? Then discover other great blogs from Shapell, including David Rice Atchison President For A Day, The Most Athletic Presidents, The First Vaccine, and more!

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Image: Theodor Herzl on the ship-deck as it arrives at the shores of Jaffa at dawn. October 26, 1898. The Herzl Museum, Wikimedia Commons.
April 8, 2019

National Library of Israel Features Theodor Herzl Postcards

In October 1898, Theodor Herzl arrived in Jerusalem, to work toward furthering his initiatives to create a Jewish state. While in Palestine, he met with the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, twice; once near Holon, and a second time in Jerusalem. During his journey, he regularly sent letters and postcards home. The National Library of Israel houses this collection, and highlighted here are the postcards Herzl sent to his daughter, Paulina.

You can view more of Herzl’s postcards and photographs here, and read his letters about creating a Jewish state in our Theodor Herzl Collection.


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Harold Holzer, Historian and Lincoln Expert.
January 31, 2019

Historians Explain Why We Collect Manuscripts

People who are interested in history collect manuscripts because they want to know what somebody was really like. When you look at a letter, you’re looking at what was going on in a person’s life – what did this feel like to the person experiencing it at that time – and before you know it, you have a whole world coming alive.

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Image: Alfred Dreyfus. Circa 1894. Aaron Gerschel, Wikimedia Commons.
January 14, 2019

Inspirational Letter from the Wrongly Imprisoned Alfred Dreyfus

This shockingly inspirational letter from Alfred Dreyfus was written shortly after he was wrongly convicted of treason and degradated in a public military ceremony. Writing to his sister and brother-in-law, he tells them of his suffering; not of the conditions he is subjected to, but the suffering and pain in being so powerless to prove his innocence. Despite this weighing heavily on him, he tells them his “pure and clean conscience will give [him] superhuman strength,” and he will clean his name “from the stain that has been inflicted upon it unjustly.” He exhorts them to “not bow your head, but to keep it higher than ever” as he will also do.

Not losing faith, he is sure that “with all of our combined efforts, our wills focused into a single one, we will succeed” in revealing the truth and clearing his name. Read the full transcript of this stirring letter and view the original papers here.

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January 16, 2017

Lincoln and the Jews – Book and Exhibition Reviews

Lincoln and the Jews: A History illustrates how President Abraham Lincoln – perhaps best known for his efforts in abolishing slavery – intended to secure equality and freedom for all Americans, including another growing minority group in Civil War-era America: the Jews. Read the reviews and discover the story at our online exhibition or purchase a copy of the book.


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July 17, 2014

50 Children

“The new book, ’50 Children’ tells the remarkable story of two Philadelphia-area Jews who, at the dawn of World War II, went to extraordinary lengths fighting red tape on both sides of the Atlantic to save the lives of children on the brink of the Holocaust in Europe.” – Jordan Hoffman, Times of Israel (more…)

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March 26, 2014

Anne Frank Family Photos at the Anne Frank Fonds

This month marked the anniversary of the death of Anne Frank.  She would have been 84 years old had she lived to today.  Looking for a way to mark this tragic event, I came upon a site where photographs of the Frank family are displayed.  These images of intimate family life brought home for me the terrible tragedy Otto Frank faced, and very much how the mind cannot fathom the atrocities and tragedies that consumed Europe and European Jewry during WWII and the Holocaust. (more…)

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