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LOC Opens Exhibit on ‘350 Years of Jewish Life in America’

The Library of Congress today will open its newest exhibit, “From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America.”

Located in the Thomas Jefferson Building’s Northwest Gallery, the exhibition traces the arrival of the first Jewish immigrants in 1654 through present-day culture.

“The exhibit examines Jewish experience through the prisms of haven and home,” explained the exhibition’s curator, Michael Grunberger, who also serves as head of the Library’s Hebraic Section.

Organized in conjunction with the Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History, the exhibition includes more than 150 items ranging from correspondence between the Newport, R.I., Hebrew Congregation and President George Washington to a video presentation on entertainment which includes footage from the 1990s sitcom “Seinfeld.”

The showcase, Grunberger noted, is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the arrival of the first Jewish immigrants to the United States in 1654. The immigrants arrived in New York City after fleeing from Recife, Brazil, and a newly empowered Portuguese government that had expelled them.

“For Jews the promise of America was deeply rooted in commitment to religious liberty,” Grunberger said.

In a Tuesday preview of the exhibit — divided into five areas: “Haven,” “A Century of Immigration,” “Confronting Challenges,” “Home” and a conclusion — Grunberger said he considers several “iconic” items among the most notable in the collection, including a 1994 print by French photographer Frederic Brenner.

The black-and-white image titled “Citizens Protesting Anti-Semitic Acts Billings” shows the residents of Billings, Mont., demonstrating in the street, many holding menorahs, in response to an attack on the home of a Jewish family that had been celebrating Hanukkah.

Other significant items, Grunberger said, included the early 18th-century letters of New York resident Abigail Franks, the wife of a prominent member of the Ashkenazic, or Eastern European, Jewish community. Franks’ prolific letters to her son, Naphtali, provide a unique view into assimilation of Jews into colonial American culture.

Visitors to the exhibition are greeted by an oversized time line punctuated with culturally and historically significant images, including the late conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, former Miss America Bess Myerson and professional boxer Barney Ross.

“They represent the diversity of American Jewish life,” explained Grunberger.

Items in the exhibit are culled from the Library’s own collection, as well as the the National Archives and Records Administration, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, which make up the Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History.

The exhibit, which will remain on display until Dec. 18, is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. There is no charge for admission.

In addition, the Library has published a companion book, also titled “From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America,” available for $50 in the Library’s Sales Shop and in bookstores.

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