Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Exhibit to spotlight 350 years of Judaism in America

Queen City 1 of only 4 to show documents, artifacts

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

Gary P. Zola (left) is chairman of the sponsoring organization, while Frederic Krome is the exhibit's historian.
Cincinnati will be one of four cities to host an exhibit marking the 350th anniversary of the first Jewish settlers in North America.

"This is an American story. It's not just the Jewish history," said Frederic Krome, the exhibit's historian. "It is the quintessential American story, an immigrant story."

The exhibit, "From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America," is made up of 350 documents and artifacts telling the story of American Judaism beginning with the arrival of 23 refugees from Recife, Brazil, in New York City in 1654.

It will open at the Cincinnati Museum Center on Feb. 13 and run through May 1. It is free with admission to the center's Cincinnati History Museum.

The exhibit, a collaboration between the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Cincinnati-based Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the Jewish Archives, is in Washington, D.C., and will move on to New York and Los Angeles after its run in Cincinnati, presented by the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati.

Gary Zola, chair of the sponsoring organization, the Commission Commemorating 350 Years of Jewish American History, said the exhibit is coming to Cincinnati because of the city's contributions to Jewish history, especially the founding of Reform Judaism and Hebrew Union College.

But he says the exhibit is not just for Jews.

"By studying this tiny minority, one that was suppressed in Europe, and how it was swept into this nation and received its rights with the Constitution ... it is a remarkable story, and one I think is a great story for all Americans," said Zola, who is also executive director of the American Jewish Archives.

The exhibit will include rare items such as a letter written by Abigail Franks to her son in 1743; a Bible belonging to Rabbi Samuel Weiss, the father of magician Harry Houdini; the "Riegner Telegram," which alerted Rabbi Stephen Wise to the Nazi plan to kill Jews in occupied Europe, and a page from Albert Einstein's paper on the theory of relativity.

One item will be the handwritten poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, from which came the words "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" - which are inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The exhibit will include information about the contributions of Jewish Americans to culture, academics and athletics. But some of the most compelling items surround the Jewish community's struggle for civil rights, dating to the nation's founding, Krome said.

"This exhibit is a story about people struggling for human rights, the fight for civil rights, the fight for equality," Krome said.

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