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. 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. 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. 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…”  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.
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, www.jstor.org/stable/1396393. Accessed 30 June 2021, p. 162
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.
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, www.jstor.org/stable/20101211. Accessed 29 June 2021.
Paul Bunyan lives on in the American and Canadian consciousness as a strapping lumberjack giant who embodies the spirit of the rugged North-American West. Many Americans commemorate this day by telling tales of the fictional Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox named Babe and celebrating other heroes of western folklore. What better way for us at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation to mark the day than by sharing a letter from Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th President (who himself often seemed larger than life) in which he declares his affinity for the West? Roosevelt describes himself as “nearly as much of a Dakota man as a New Yorker. I like pioneer life; and the part of our history for which I most care is that dealing with the extension of our frontier and the building up of the nation.” Happy Paul Bunyan Day!
Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the US Department of Education, Educating for American Democracy provides guiding principles that educators can use to transform how civics is taught in schools. Released as a report and pedagogical “roadmap,” the endeavor offers a blueprint of integrated civics and history instruction from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Key to the project’s roadmap and structure is a pedagogical shift from breath to depth; rather than focusing primarily on events and individuals from US History, the project centers on key themes and inquiries that recur over time. The roadmap is neither a set of standards nor a curriculum, but rather suggested strategies, implementation recommendations, and a website of curated examples.
The Teacher Resources 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 (when applicable).
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Adriene Usher, Director of Shapell Roster Research.
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!
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.
The day of David Rice Atchison’s presumed US Presidency was March 4, 1849. Who was David Rice Atchison and on what basis could he claim to have been the president of the United States, even if for only one day? Read more at the United States Senate Stories:
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.
“A new project sheds light on the lives and experiences of Ohio’s Jewish Civil War soldiers, aiming to share stories and history that have likely been forgotten through generations.
“The Shapell Roster: Jewish Service in the American Civil War, is the first comprehensive, national data archive documenting Jewish soldiers who served in the war, according to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s website. A virtual program focusing on Ohio soldiers was presented in conjunction with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Sept. 13, where researchers from Shapell and CJHS shared some interesting findings from their work thus far.
“Adrienne Usher, director of the Shapell Roster, said building the roster started with inspecting a previously created roster by Simon Wolf, a prominent Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and social justice advocate who published the book, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen in 1895. Wolf, who was born in Germany and immigrated to Ohio, compiled the book about Jewish service in American wars to refute anti-Semitic claims that American Jews are not patriotic.” – read more here.
Harry Truman was “one tough son-of-a-bitch of a man,” according to General Harry Vaughan. Vaughan would know. He served alongside Truman in France during WWI and also in the White House. But Truman had a vulnerable side, too. These seven letters, which span the period between Truman’s final days as president in January 1953 and the domestic and international turmoil of the early 1960s, reveal an unknown personal side to Truman. The letters were all written to Dean Acheson, Truman’s trusted Secretary of State. The two developed a close friendship during their White House years, and maintained a regular correspondence during Truman’s post-presidential years. In May 1971, more than eighteen years and scores of letters later, Acheson wrote his final letter to Truman, wishing his friend a happy eighty-seventh birthday. Truman would pass away the following year.
The modest, straight-talking Harry Truman took on the “terrible responsibilities” of the presidency after Franklin Roosevelt’s death in April 1945. It was baptism by fire for Truman. He had to navigate the final months of WWII and make the decision to use atomic weapons against Japan. After narrowly defeating Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election, Truman chose not to run for reelection in 1952. His approval rating was low and he withdrew his candidacy after losing the New Hampshire primary. Truman’s post-presidential years were marked by financial hardship, which inspired Congress to finally pass legislation to provide a pension for past presidents. Truman also faithfully campaigned for Democratic candidates.
These letters clearly communicate one element of Truman’s personal life – his love for history. He found great value in applying the lessons of the past to the problems of the present. He was an expert in presidential history, and referred to past presidents often in these letters. The writer and humorist Mark Twain is usually credited with the clever observation that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” These Truman letters illustrate the rhyming nature of history. They touch on topics – such as racial tension, conflict on the Korean Peninsula, sour relations with Russia, biased newspaper coverage, and partisan politics – that are still relevant today, though in different contexts.
Truman continually feuded with the Kansas City Star for its pro-Republican coverage and often derided columnists who wrote unflattering accounts of his presidency. He almost certainly would have used the phrase “fake news” if it was popular at the time. Instead, he went as far as to call many in the media “prostitutes of the mind,” in a famous letter from December 1955.
While bemoaning negative newspaper coverage, Truman, less than a year after leaving office in 1953, wrote of recent editorials that “if it weren’t tragic it would be the best comedy in history… I’ve read the press on Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Jackson, Lincoln, Cleveland, Teddy R., Wilson and F.D.R. and there seems to me to be no parallel” In another letter, Truman reviews his presidency and compares himself to Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Grover Cleveland – presidents who took decisive action and employed the full power of the Executive to handle domestic and international crises. He also compliments his good friend Acheson for being an extraordinary secretary of state, and compares Acheson to Thomas Jefferson and William Seward, who served George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, respectively.
Harry Truman Memoirs
Truman wrote in his memoirs, “My debt to history is one which cannot be calculated. I know of no other motivation which so accounts for my awakening interest as a young lad in the principles of leadership and government.” With little formal education, Truman was self-taught from voracious reading: in 1962 he wrote to Acheson about his childhood experiences reading books from the library: “Our public library in Independence had about three or four thousand volumes, including the ten encyclopedias! Believe it or not I read ‘em all… Maybe I was a damphool [damn fool],” Truman noted, “but it served me well when my terrible trial came.”
Learn More About Harry Truman After His Presidency
What could be more appropriate to read on National Grammar Day (March 4th) than Mark Twain criticizing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grammar? Though Twain was a little harsh writing about Emerson (who had been dead for four years,) Twain did respect Emerson, and had occasion to visit him a few times. Emerson, for his part, found Twain entertaining, and especially enjoyed The Innocents Abroad.
Excerpted from Twain’s original manuscript:
Dear Mrs. Benjamin :
You are right — it is from Emerson, grammar & all : a selection of my wife’s, who has been an Emersonian devotee all her life. I do not mean that the grammar is not correct, I merely mean that in one place it all at once arrests the flow of your serenity for a moment, like gravel in the bread.
On February 24th, President Abraham Lincoln sent word to his wife Mary’s friend, Senator Charles Sumner, requesting his presence. Mary was inconsolable; only four days earlier, on February 20th, 1862, the Lincolns’ son, Willie Lincoln, age 11, passed away in the White House. The 24th was the day of Willie’s funeral.
While a surprising number of presidential families have suffered the loss of a child, those who went through this tragedy while serving in office is much smaller. This collection explores how presidents and their families endured this pain while serving the country, and after.
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Quaker City passengers, August 1867. (Photo by William E. James, courtesy of Randolph James.)
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 Finn, Life 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
“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
The Shapell Manuscript Foundation and theNew-York Historical Society celebrates the 150th anniversary of one of the best-selling travelogues of all time with a new exhibition in New York, Mark Twain and the Holy Land, on view October 25, 2019 – February 2, 2020. This exhibition traces the legendary American humorist’s 1867 voyage to the Mediterranean and his subsequent 1869 book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress—through original documents, photographs, artwork, and costumes, as well as an interactive media experience.
In 1867, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910)—known professionally as Mark Twain—departed New York harbor on the steamship Quaker City for a five-and-a-half-month excursion, with stops in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land. Known at that point for his biting satire and humorous short pieces on California and the West, Clemens had serendipitously discovered a “pleasure cruise” to Europe and the Near East, and successfully inveigled his way onto the journey with an assignment from the San Francisco newspaper Alta California. Twain was to supply the paper with weekly columns about the trip and his fellow passengers. When he returned to New York and then to Washington, D.C., he began reshaping those columns and other notes made during the trip into a book, The Innocents Abroad (1869). It was this work that catapulted Twain to national fame, selling more copies during his lifetime than any other book he ever wrote.
Benjamin Shapell, President of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, remarked that “musing about the voyage in a passage later published in Innocents Abroad, Twain so aptly noted: ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindednes.’ That his travelogue espoused such a liberal sentiment while at the very same time also exposing the deep closed-mindedness of his fellow shipmates is the very reason why Twain’s biting perspective comes across as so fresh to us even today. We are pleased that the New-York Historical Society has brought together these rare manuscripts and artifacts, bringing Twain’s lively, influential, and singular experience to life.”
It took Mark Twain and his publisher a good two years to bring Innocents to fruition in 1869, but once in print, its success was immediate. Twain’s scabrous humor found an eager and receptive audience, well documented in contemporary reviews on display in the show. Innocents undoubtedly contributed to the vogue for traveling to the Holy Land, and the exhibit features letters by such notables as President Ulysses Grant, Gen. William T. Sherman, and Theodore Roosevelt, each of whom journeyed to Palestine.
Mark Twain and the Holy Land introduces visitors both to a young Mark Twain on the eve of celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, captured by artists, writers, and photographers.
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Mark Twain Signed Photo by Abdullah Frères in Constantinople, c. 1867. Shapell Manuscript Collection.
“Mark Twain and the Holy Land will highlight American humorist Mark Twain’s 1867 voyage to Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land, and his subsequent book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress. The show will introduce visitors to a young Twain on the eve of his celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, according to the New-York Historical Society, which organized it in partnership with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation.
“Original documents, including manuscripts, journal entries and letters by Twain, will be on view from October 25, 2019 through February 2, 2020.”
Read the full article by Tanya Mohn in Forbes here.
Shapell Manuscript Collection documents, items, and objects from the exhibition will be displayed online with the opening of the exhibition in New York, so check back soon. In the meantime, the Mark Twain Collection can be viewed here.
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Adrienne Usher, Director of Shapell Roster Research.
Director of Shapell Roster Research, Adrienne Usher, will be presenting a selection of beautiful, unique and exciting genealogical treasures her team has discovered in the Civil War Union Pension Records from Jewish soldiers. These include dates and locations for births, marriages, and deaths; addresses, occupations, photographs, maps, drawings, letters, certificates and physical descriptions. Learn how to access these rich resources, find out more about the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s endeavors, and discover how you can participate in the project.
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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Prisoner of war tents run right up to the deadline demarked by the low fencing. Image: Library of Congress.
“…the original deadlines existed in Civil War prisons…. officers would build rough wooden fences 10-20 feet high to contain the prisoners.
But, of course, a healthy man can typically climb a 10-foot fence. And, working as teams, troops could fairly easily clamber over 20-foot fences as well. So prison commanders built positions for sentries to watch the prisoner population, and the sentries typically had orders to kill any man attempting to escape.
Well, to ensure that the sentry would have time to shoot a man or raise the alarm before the prisoner got away, the camps put in something called a ‘deadline.’ This was a line, usually literally made on the ground with fencing or some type of marking, that prisoners would be killed for crossing.”
Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Image: U.S. Signal Corps, Wikimedia Commons.
Exactly 100 years ago today, on June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, the primary treaty which officially ended World War I, was signed by Germany and the Allies. President Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in negotiating the treaty, as well as in conceiving of the League of Nations, the intergovernmental organization meant to maintain world peace. The United States Congress, which was growing increasingly isolationist, had no interest in ceding power to join the League of Nations, and ultimately refused to ratify the treaty.
These two letters by Wilson, just a few years apart, are strikingly different in tone. In the first, Wilson is desperately mounting the campaign to garner Republican votes in favor of the treaty. In the second, an ailing former President Wilson, explains that he cannot read or speak too much of the war because he is “too much affected and upset by it.”
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The image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope. Photograph: EHT Collaboration.
This will be an epic week to remember for space and science enthusiasts. In the past 7 days, three monumental events have taken place:
On April 5th, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 dropped explosives on asteroid Ryugu. “Mission scientists plan to execute the final major step of the mission. They will lower the probe right into the crater and collect a sample. This will be the second sample collected from Ryugu: Hayabusa2 already touched down on 22 February, and collected some of its space dirt after kicking it up with a bullet.” (Scientific American)
On Wednesday, Aprill 10, the first images of a black hole were released. The magnificent international coordination and success centered on the “Event Horizon telescope (EHT), a network of eight radio telescopes spanning locations from Antarctica to Spain and Chile, in an effort involving more than 200 scientists.” (The Guardian)
Today, April 11, Israel is expected to join the United States, Russia, and China as one of the only countries to land a spacecraft on the moon. The Beresheet spacecraft is scheduled to land at 10:30pm Jerusalem time. “Once it lands safely on the Moon, the spacecraft will photograph the landing site and snap a selfie. Its key scientific mission, however, is to measure the Moon’s magnetic field as part of an experiment carried out in collaboration with Rehovot’s Weizmann Institute of Science.” (Jerusalem Post)
These inspiring efforts to extend humanity’s reach into space remind us of how far we’ve come. These manuscripts from those brave enough to be sent into space, and the leadership behind them, reveal part of the history and sacrifice that’s been made to come so far.
Left: MIT computer scientist Katie Bouman with stacks of hard drives of black hole image data. Right: MIT computer scientist Margaret Hamilton with the code she wrote that helped put a man on the moon. (image credit: @floragraham, twitter.)
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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.
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.
Jaya Saxena describes the experience of tracing her family history as more than just digging up facts – but as uncovering “the myths that are a part of the story of yourself, whether you like them or not. Learning your history is forced reckoning, asking you to consider whose stories you carry with you and which ones you want to carry forward.” Teresa Koch-Bostic, the vice president of the National Genealogical Society explains, “I think it appeals to people who love an intellectual pursuit, because that’s really what it is…. It’s solving a puzzle at the highest level, and the benefit is that you get to find out about your family.”
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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Northridge earthquake. United States Geological Survey.
Natural disasters do not discriminate. These letters about the impact of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake are recalled today on the 25th anniversary of the more recent Northridge earthquake, and following this exceptionally difficult year for Californians.
“We have the dreadful news that an earthquake has almost destroyed San Francisco. The wires are down, and it is difficult to get accurate information…. It is impossible, however, to hear anything, and we are in the dark.” – William Howard Taft, Secretary of War. April 18, 1906.
Secretary of War William H. Taft Reports That San Francisco is Almost Destroyed in the Earthquake
Mark Twain on the San Francisco Earthquake and a Picture He Cannot Get Out of His Mind
Jack London, Hit Hard By the San Francisco Earthquake
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Image: Alfred Dreyfus. Circa 1894. Aaron Gerschel, Wikimedia Commons.
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.
Mick McElkenny was a bodyguard to JFK during the president’s visit to Ireland in 1963, just months before his assassination in Dallas, Texas. Mr. McElkenny is the subject of the documentary, “The President’s Bodyguard.”
It is to be supposed that the 2018 mid-term elections will be fraught with controversy, and
some anguish. The recent past will be raked over; accusations lobbed; the word
“unprecedented” exhaled as commonly as breath. None of this, however, is new to American
elections. In 2016, so much candidate verbiage was expelled and expounded
in so many primary and general election debates, that any reasonable person might well have
assumed “Debate” was a weekly television series. Now, with the advent of the Labor Day
holiday, traditionally marking the “official” start of the campaign season, that live program,
after a two year hiatus, is back. But how it came to be made, and become as much a part of
the American election cycle as ballots themselves, is the story told here. It began, humbly, with
It’s hard to keep up these days with who is shouting what. Not gone entirely unnoticed, however, is the disquieting rise of an old contagion thought, in the United States at least, long extinct. Whether chanted in torch-lit marches, argued on college campuses, or broadcast by fringe candidates in local political races, antisemitism is back in the news. That “It Could Happen Here”, and did, is the subject of this letter about the worst blemish in the life of the Union’s greatest commander. When, in an 1862 order, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered that all Jews living in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi ,and parts of Southern Illinois, vacate, within 24-hours, their homes and businesses and leave, forever, the area of his command, he promulgated the most sweeping, and shocking, anti-Jewish regulation in American history. Here, writing six years later – and eagerly pursuing the presidency – Grant sought to explain his notorious “Jew Order” to the man, in fact, who inspired it: his father.
Host: You’re listening to a TLV 1. This is The Tel Aviv review. And I’m a now joined here in the studio by Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa, the curator of the exhibition Dreams and diplomacy in the Holy Land, American consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. That’s currently showing at the national library in Jerusalem. Also, here in the studio is Dr. Ron Bartour, a historian specializing in American attitudes towards the Holy Land, as well as a former broadcaster on Israel Radio and a rhetorician. Welcome both to the studio. Hello.
Dr. Ron Bartour:
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: Thank you.
Host: Nirit, we’ll start with you. There are a few striking things about the history of American consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. One of them is the great proactiveness and political involvement at a time when Washington’s official foreign policy was isolationists and non-interventionist. Why is that? What motivated them to be so active?
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: This is one of the most amazing things, that all those consuls came to Jerusalem. And if you see the motivation they had, it was mainly because they really wanted to come. They wanted so hardly that their friends colleagues tried the best they can do. They convinced the minister in Washington. And that even sent us to the first consul or almost consul in Jerusalem Warder Cresson. Warder Cresson-
Almost consul because he was [crosstalk 00:01:49] officially appointed.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: Almost consul… He appoin and then it was canceled even before he came to Jerusalem. Host: Right.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: The journey took about a month. And that time, the people in the government in a Washington, they found out who is the person, but it was-
[crosstalk 00:02:06] Yeah.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: The reason- Yes, the reason that they appointed him, because he was very religious person and he wanted to come to Jerusalem. He had no idea about the real Jerusalem.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: He thought about Jerusalem in the-
Host: [crosstalk 00:02:22] He had the Jerusalem syndrome.
Dr. Ron Bartour: The biblical Jerusalem.
Host 1: Yeah.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: And some kind of. And I think that was a, you mentioned the Jerusalem syndrome, maybe you can say that the American diplomacy, that time was some kind of Jerusalem syndrome. Because, they came with ambitions. And also, we say, all the thinking of American about liberty, about freedom, but what you think in America, the new world, the new zion [crosstalk 00:02:50] they wanted to create. They came to Jerusalem and they found it.
Sometimes it went over the top because Warder Cresson, for example, the reason his appointment was revoked was that he was mentally unstable and his ex-wife even tried to institutionalize him.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yes. But you see, the reason was religion. Some of them came, if we say Warder Cresson was very dramatic and extreme-
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: …example, but we can say about many other consuls. They won because the help of them or some relatives. They wanted to come. And when they came to Jerusalem, they came as the new guy in the neighborhood.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: And then, was no support, no policy from Washington. And then they had to deal with two main subjects. One of them was the American settlers-
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: …who is the American colonies and the other was the Jewish communities.
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Ron. What’s the thing that led the American policy in the land of Israel in Palestinian, in the Holy land. Was it just a Christian Zionism or were there other interests involved?
Dr. Ron Bartour:
In one word, Geopiety. Namely, if you look at this map, which was produced for the bicentennial, by my professor, Moshe Davis, the head of the Hebrew University, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, with his wife, you can see Moses and other distinguished guests from the Bible running around in the American map. And as a matter of fact, there were like 340 settlements, American, Puritan, Colonial settlements, and from the national [inaudible 00:04:41] period named after the Bible. So, geopiety speaking, Zion in America was in that nature. Furthermore, American students at Harvard in the 17th century had to study biblical Hebrew and they claimed it’s difficult. So, this led the government to appoint religious, mostly, people as consuls in the Holy land.
Because, in many ways the American Ethos is very similar to the Zionist Ethos. It mentioned the new Jerusalem, the new Zion, this whole thing about going back to the roots while discovering the new land. And some of those people that are covered in the exhibition were, you could say pro to Zionist, Zionist even before Herzl.
Dr. Ron Bartour:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Even though some of them had some hesitations, for example, the side of Cresson, who tend to be Jewish who became a Rabbi and married this- [crosstalk 00:05:50].
Dr. Ron Bartour: …as far as the wife and recently his tomb in Mt. Olives was found-
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: Thanks to the exhibition we found the- [crosstalk 00:05:59]
Host: Oh, really?
Dr. Ron Bartour: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so in his book, you can see this Magen David with his soul, his Jewish soul. And he’s saying in his book, the key of David, one true God, who was blessed forever and underneath his Hebrew name, Michoel Boaz Israel, which he shortened for my Mccovey. That’s the first-
Dr. Ron Bartour: …Mccovey, modern Mccovey.
Host: And he’s the one who actually converted to Judaism, but others who were practicing Christians. So, the mission primarily, but I don’t know if primarily, but you know, a big part of the mission, to establish good relations with the Jewish communities in Jerusalem and in many ways to give them the patronage.
Dr. Ron Bartour:
Yes. Especially extraterritorial rights, which was the core of the American capitulations in this regime with the Ottoman Empire in which foreigners could have acquired land, houses and outside of the Ottoman, Texas.
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Ron Bartour: So, this was very important for Jews who came in growing number to the Holy land, because Europeans usually [inaudible 00:07:17] for their rights and between them and the Turkish, the Ottoman Empire. And the Jews were afraid of losing their extraterritorial rights, they’re privileges. There were proteges. And from Russian protection, British protection, they were led to America. Now American had the Monroe Doctrine since 1823, this isolation [crosstalk 00:07:44].
Dr. Ron Bartour: So, the question is why the Turks were so eager or agreed to- [crosstalk 00:07:48]
Host: That’s what I was going to ask. How was it received by the Ottoman authorities, who ruled this piece of land? It was part of the empire at the time.
Dr. Ron Bartour:
And why America? Because, American official non-involvement was liked by the Ottomans, but specifically they liked American know-how, technologically speaking, of building ships, which the European destroyed in 1823 in Navarino where Greece was fighting for its independence. This was the real reason why in 1830, this- [crosstalk 00:08:21]
Basically it’s a cross-atlantic Alliance, even before it-
Dr. Ron Bartour: [crosstalk 00:08:27] The consul was established.
Dr. Ron Bartour: Yeah. Right.
Host: So, basically they were looking towards America as a potential potential ally. While the British, the French and the Russians were gradually becoming their enemies. That’s what you’re saying.
Dr. Ron Bartour:
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Nirit, we’ll go back to you. This Friday, on the 10th of January, there’s a gallery tour at the National Library where the exhibition is. And it will be dedicated to a specific consul, Victor Beauboucher, who’s actually a Frenchman.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: Yes. And one of the amazing thing is about all those characters that we see during… We’re talking about 16 consuls, because they couldn’t survive many years in Jerusalem. They just had to ask for another job after a few years and even after some months. And Victor Beauboucher was another very important consul, because he was involved in few major affairs, like, first day American colony in Jaffa.
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: And we are going to talk about the American colony in Jaffa, and also to see a film made by professor Yael Katzir, who documented the story. I guess most of the people knows now where the nice wooden building in Jaffa Tel-Aviv-
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: -street. But…
Host: And also Jerusalem, the famous hotel.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: No. But this is another American colony.
Host: Oh, right. Okay.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: That was with another consul that had made them a lot of problems [inaudible 00:10:15]. But Victor Beauboucher actually was… He came and he had to help them to go back to America because they came here and [crosstalk 00:10:27]
Host: Yeah. Who are these people? I mean, we know that the American colonies exists to this very day, like you said, in Tel Aviv near Jaffa and in Jerusalem and other places in the country.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And another American colony, which was actually the first one that we are talking about in Mt. Hope-
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: Which is [crosstalk 00:10:45]
Host: Yeah. That never survived. It existed for a few years and… Yeah.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: All of them, I think-
Dr. Ron Bartour: The forefather John Steinbeck, the famous American writer was murdered there.
Dr. Ron Bartour:
And I had [inaudible 00:10:57] back in 1855, and you can find it in the Senate document.
Host: Okay. That’s really fascinating anecdote, but who were these people who established the American colonies here?
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: In 1866, this American colony in Jaffa. Their leader was the preacher, George Adams. And he convinced them to come again to, to the Bible and to be farmers here. And they came with their wooden houses. This is an amazing thing that just came from Maine and they came with everything with them. But of course they came to nothing and they couldn’t survive. And after a while, they needed a real help just to help them to go back to America and to build their life. Only few families stay here. And one of them is the Floyd family.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: And Rolla Floyd, he was the first tour guide. He actually invented the tour guide in the Holy land.
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative) When was that? What the decade of 19th century?
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: We are talking in the ’60s.
Host: Okay, 1860s.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: It was between ’66 and ’67.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: And they had to leave. And one of the things that maybe to mention about this exhibition, because we have so many firsts, we tried to look for every consul. What’s happened during staying here?
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: And some of them said it was very boring and asked to leave.
Host: Yeah. Exactly. That was going… Yeah.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: But it wasn’t so boring. I guess, for most of them, it was too much interesting. [Crosstalk 00:12:35]
Host: Exactly. That’s my question to you, Ron, now. Another thing that struck me is that we were talking about, I don’t know, maybe a dozen consuls in just over half a century. And all of them asked to be transferred prematurely. [crosstalk 00:12:54] I don’t know all of them, but a great majority of them. And some of them, like Nirit said, found it boring. Others just couldn’t handle the network of pressures that was applied on them from the Turkish authorities, from the Department of State, in Washington, and from the Jewish community here. Many of them were embroiled in controversies that hit the very few newspapers that were here. All of this, of course you can see at the exhibition, but what do you think brought them to this situation?
Dr. Ron Bartour: First of all, you have to remember that the settlers and most of the consul came from the geopietic feeling. Not just them, Edward Robinson, the famous American archeologist who found the Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem and there was the wall.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Near the Western Wall. [crosstalk 00:13:56]
Dr. Ron Bartour: It said that he remembered his grandfather’s Bible, which led him to this profession, which led him to come to the Holy land. And so, under the Spoils system, this was the name of the department of States system until 1906, people were chosen because of personal reasons. Other missionary, like this Beauboucher for example, who actually was involved with his deputy Jewish wants before it was converted to Christianity named Finkelstein who became the private secretary later of Sewald, the famous secretary of state.
Dr. Ron Bartour: Okay. And this Sara Steinberg affair, where Beauboucher went Friday night to a Rabbi’s house to take out a small child rose so much fear. [crosstalk 00:14:52]
Why did he do that?
Dr. Ron Bartour: Because he was, in his heart-
Dr. Ron Bartour: …a religious missionary.
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So, he wanted to protect her from-
Dr. Ron Bartour: So to speak.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: Yeah. Her family was converted when-
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: …their parents died and only sister was a Christian, already.
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: And then there was a fight, who’s going to get the-
Host: So, they were all-
Dr. Ron Bartour: And this guy went to President Grant.
Host: Who’s that?
Dr. Ron Bartour: It’s Rabbi Schneersohn.
Dr. Ron Bartour: Grandson of the famous Schneersohn, who established Chabad. And he, as you see, speaking about geopiety, spoke to President Grant about this missionary consul, that should go home-
Dr. Ron Bartour: …so to speak. And as you can see, he was dressed like a prophet. This Rabbi said-
Host: So this-
Dr. Ron Bartour: As a matter of fact, he was the one who, for himself asked to become an American diplomat in Tiberia.
Host: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Dr. Ron Bartour: And-
Host: But it was denied.
Dr. Ron Bartour: It was denied because it was involved in the scandal in which he was beaten up by extreme Jews in the Galilee who didn’t want to go for modern agriculture and beaten him. But he succeeded in removing this consul Beauboucher from his office.
Dr. Ron Bartour: And he died in diaspora dreaming about a Tiberian-
Dr. Ron Bartour: …colony, [crosstalk 00:16:13] which was established.
Host: So, like-
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa: And that’s why we don’t have [inaudible 00:16:16] American Consulate in Tiberia [crosstalk 00:16:18].
Host: Yeah, because his mission failed. A lot like-
Dr. Ron Bartour: But President Grant came to the Holy land, maybe as a result of this.
Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Ron Bartour: And wrote about it, a diary, which we have.
Host: Okay. Like we see, those many, many dreams that penetrated diplomacy and vice versa, which makes the name of the exhibition so apt, Dreams and diplomacy and the Holy land, American Consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. Thank you very much for coming into the studio, Dr. Nirit Shalve Khalifa, the curator and Dr. Ron Bartour, a historian specializing in American attitudes towards the Holy land. And I encourage our listeners to come on Friday, the 10th of January at 11 o’clock in the morning?
Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
At 10:30 in the morning.
Host: 10:30 o’clock in the morning. 10:30 in the morning, to the National Gallery in Jerusalem for a gallery tour dedicated to Victor Beauboucher. Thank you very much and we’ll be right back.
Mary Benjamin is known as perhaps the most famous manuscript dealer of the twentieth century. That she’s the only woman on (and at the top of) the list of foremost autograph dealers is dwarfed by her widely respected authority. For decades, Benjamin practically singularly set the market value of autographs of presidents, poets, and prominent figures. Famously, she once snorted with disdain when a supposed autograph of George Washington was announced at an auction. With her photographic memory, she could tell instantly if a signature was real or forged. The auctioneer wasted no time and immediately withdrew the item from the sale. Mary Benjamin, who died in 1998, is certainly a personality worth reading more about for those interested in collecting. For her detailed obituary in the New York Times, click here.
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.
“Abraham Lincoln and the Jews don’t exactly go together in the popular imagination like bagels and lox. While Lincoln has been championed as a Moses leading African Americans out of slavery, the 16th president’s ties to the Tribe have not been well examined or even clearly acknowledged.” – Emily Shire, The Daily Beast. (more…)
“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…)
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…)
Be prepared to take some time to stroll through these nostalgia-inducing photos. Shorpy.com is a vintage photography blog that digitally enhances photographs acquired from a variety of sources, including the Library of Congress and National Archives. The clarity of the images is particularly impressive. Most of the photographs on the website date to the early twentieth century. I highly recommend visiting their site to enjoy the photographs in their full-size glory. (more…)
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Robert Huston Milroy. Photograph: Matthew Brady. Library of Congress.
Lest anyone think that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – delivered 150 years ago, today – came out of thin air, one has only to look at the wonderful, if weary, elegance of his 25 words written to General Robert Huston Milroy on October 19, 1863, just one month prior. Whether a warm-up to narrowing down his thoughts in a short, concise, and understandable manner, or merely a discrete example of the same, Lincoln was capable, we see here – be it in a national address, a debate, or on a simple card – of a literary brilliance unsurpassed by any other American president and barely, by any other American, period. This, then, is perhaps the best presidential short composition ever.
Famous people, as a general rule, do not become assassins. The man who shot Abraham Lincoln point-blank in the back of the head, however, was the most popular actor of his time. Yet John Wilkes Booth, for most of the Civil War, did not see himself in the role of assassin, but spy. At twenty-six, he was rich, handsome, adored – and a secret Confederate agent. Here, writing 150 years ago today, Booth works behind the scenes to appear in Washington, at Ford’s Theatre – an appearance which would prove but a rehearsal for the role in which he is still reviled: assassin.
The man who, for an entire generation, embodied youth and vigor, would have been 96 this year. At 43, he had been the youngest man elected President; at 46, the youngest to die in office, assassinated. But Jack Kennedy never expected, one way or the other, to live long. In chronic pain, suffering a myriad of illnesses, he had received the last rites of his Church three times before he was 40 – and that wasn’t counting the near-fatal sinking of the legendary PT-109 in World War II. Perhaps that was why he lived so fearlessly, intensely, joyously – and fast. He wanted to do everything, and he did – all of it, well. He could even fly. This war-time flight logbook, virtually unseen, is thought to be the only proof of this hitherto-unknown fact. Lieutenant Kennedy, USNR, it is noted, soloed once – on his 27th birthday. He is not known to having piloted an aircraft ever again.
John R. Sellers discusses Simon Wolf’s original research and roster of Jewish soldiers and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s efforts to review and expand upon Wolf’s original work regarding Jewish soldiers who fought in the American Civil War.