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This exhibition underscores the various ways in which uprooted communities and individuals reconstituted themselves in a new land. The challenges of maintaining and reshaping Jewish identity in the face of assimilation and unstable socioeconomic conditions spurred the creation of fraternal and charitable organizations alongside religious institutions. Jewish life flourished not only through the development of communal structures, but also through the efforts of individuals in business, literary arts and politics.
Like its constituent Jewish communities, America was in the process of inventing and reinventing itself in response to new conditions. From the late-nineteenth-century era of mass immigration through the twentieth century, Jewish life metamorphosed with its environment. American culture was translated and disseminated to the Jews, for example, through the publication of a bilingual (Yiddish-English) Constitution and Declaration of Independence in 1891. This cultural diffusion flowed in both directions. Judaism was introduced to popular American culture through such literary ventures as Emma Lazarus's innovative Songs of a Semite.
Jewish communities maintained a strong awareness of, and appreciation for,
their newfound social and political freedom. Jews gained prominent status in politics;
one such individual is Judah P. Benjamin (1811–1884), a senator and attorney
general in the Confederate government. Congregations incorporated prayers for
officers of the American government and communally acknowledged the significant
debt they owed to such supporters of the Jewish community as George Washington
and Abraham Lincoln. This exhibition captures the hope that sustained the Jewish
people in their journey to a free society, their dedication to negotiating the
cultural challenges of a new American ethos, and the commitment to preserving
their own identities in the process.
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