Creating America

Creating America: Jewish Life from 1590 to the Present Day

For Jews, initially a tiny minority in the early Republic, freedom was both liberating and confounding. As individuals they were free to participate as full citizens in the hurly-burly of the new nation’s political and social life. But as members of a group that sought to remain distinctive, freedom was daunting. In response to the challenges of liberty, Jews adopted and adapted American cultural idioms to exprJewess themselves in new ways, as Americans and as Jews. In the process, they invented American Jewish culture.

Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish justice of the Supreme Court

Year: 1916
Collection: Photograph Collection: People

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941), known as the "people's attorney", dedicated his life to public service and served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939.

 

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Group of school children on New York City’s Lower East Side

Year: 1933
Collection: Graduate School for Jewish Social Work Collection

J.B. Lightman had his graduate school students photograph the street scenes of the Lower East Side in the early 1930s to document the disappearing Jewish immigrant street life.

 

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Photo of Selina Seixas

Year: 1860
Collection: Moses Family Collection

Selina Seixas (1838-1917) was a central figure in the women's suffrage movement in California. She came from a distinguished Sephardic Jewish family who could trace their roots back to 15th-century Spain and 16th-century England, and her great-grandfather Gershom Mendes Seixas participated in the 1789 inauguration of George Washington.

 

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Emma Lazarus

Year: 1880
Collection: Photograph Collection: People

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was one of the first successful American Jewish poets and the original manuscript of her famous sonnet “The New Colossus” – which is engraved on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty – is part of the AJHS archives.

 

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Letter from President John Tyler and other prominent gentlemen regarding an invitation to visit New York

Year: 1842
Collection: Mordecai Manual Noah Papers

 

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Pay Owed and List of Receipts from Mordecai Sheftall

Year: 1787
Collection: Mordecai Sheftall Collection of Revolutionary War Returns

Mordecai Sheftall (1735-1797) was the Commissary Quartermaster agent who supplied the Southern Revolutionary Army with beef, pork, tallow and salt during the American Revolution.

 

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Civil War Pardon for Confederate Solomon A. Cohen signed by President Andrew Johnson

Year: 1865
Collection: Cohen Family Papers

 

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Oil painting of Commodore Uriah P. Levy

Year: 1815
Collection: AJHS Collection

Uriah P. Levy (1792-1862) was a naval officer, real estate investor, and philanthropist. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and the first Jewish Commodore of the United States Navy.

 

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Letter from Moses Seixas Regarding Joint Letter to President George Washington

Year: 1790
Collection: Jacques Judah Lyons Collection

Moses Seixas (1744-1809) was a first generation Jewish-American who rose to prominence as warden of Newport, Rhode Island's Touro Synagogue of Congregation Jeshuat Israel, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Rhode Island, and co-founder of the Bank of Rhode Island. This letter is to the leaders of Congregation Shearith Israel regarding a joint letter to President Washington about the enfranchisement of Jews and their religious practice in the United States.

 

 

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World War II National Jewish Welfare Board Response Card for Sidney Irvin Cohen

Year: 1945
Collection: National Jewish Welfare Board Records

The National Jewish Welfare Board surveyed the armed forces in WWII and found that over 88,000 of the enlisted men and women responded as being Jewish. This was part of their effort to show American Jewish participation in the war effort. 

 

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First American Printed Jewish Prayerbook

Year: 1766
Collection: Gottesman Rare Book Collection

Full Title: "Prayers for Shabbath, Rosh-Hashanah and Kippur, or The Sabbath, the Beginning of the Year, and The Day of Atonements, with the Amidah and Musaph of the Moadim, or Solemn Seasons." According to the Order of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. Translated by Isaac Pinto. 

 

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View of Orchard Street on the Lower East Side Street

Year: 1934
Collection: Graduate School for Jewish Social Work Collection

J.B. Lightman had his graduate school students photograph the street scenes of the Lower East Side in the early 1930s to document the disappearing Jewish immigrant street life.

 

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Photo of Judah P. Benjamin

Year: Undated
Collection: Judah P. Benjamin Collection

Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884), called the "brains of the Confederacy", was a statesman and jurist in the United States, the Confederate States, and Great Britain who achieved high-ranking titles wherever he served. He was the first Jew to be elected to the United States Senate who had not renounced the religion and the first of that faith to hold a Cabinet position in North America.

 

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