Earlier American Jewish anniversary celebrations: 1905 and 1954.
On April 9, 1905, two hundred fifty years after the first permanent Jewish immigrants to settle on the mainland of North America received permission from the Dutch West India Company to remain in New Amsterdam, a planning meeting of Jewish leaders convened in New York City in the vestry of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish Portuguese Synagogue, to appoint an executive committee and a general committee of two hundred fifty male Jewish lay leaders and clergy, with "representatives in every State and Territory and in most important cities of the Union" to coordinate the approaching anniversary. (1)
To make the celebration a truly national event, the executive committee determined "that every Jewish congregation in the United States is requested to hold appropriate services on Saturday (November 25th) preceding the National Thanksgiving Day, 1905," and that "every Jewish Sabbath School shall be urged to hold similar festivities on the Sunday (November 26th) preceding Thanksgiving Day, to the end that the significance is impressed upon every American Jew." (2)
The executive committee chaired by banking philanthropist and community leader Jacob Schiff, consisted of prominent Ashkenazi members of nineteenth-century German descent including Louis Marshall and Cyrus Adler and the Reverend Dr. Henry Pereira Mendes of the Sephardic Shearith Israel Congregation. The committee had a keen sense of history and deep commitment to the Jewish community. Its members began the American Jewish Historical Society, the Jewish Publication Society, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. They would shortly found the American Jewish Committee and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. As post-Civil War communal leaders, they were beginning to feel "at home" in America, and wanted to prove that American Jewry, arriving just thirty-four years after the Mayflower were, in fact, "native born sons." The anniversary celebrations and the activities that ensued were intended to justify this fact.
The Executive Committee reprinted the statement printed in the American Hebrew delivered before the society of "Judeans" on April 2-9, 1905, "that whilst every American Jew is profoundly grateful for the liberties which he enjoys, in common with all the other citizens, under the Constitution and laws of the United States, he does not regard those blessings as a mere gift from others, but as of right his, because his ancestors were among the first settlers and pioneers of this country, were active in its development, fought for its independence and preservation, and because to the full extent of his power, he has contributed to its greatness." (3)
Louis Marshall, the renowned attorney and Jewish communal leader, added "The Jews as Elements in the Population, Past, and Present" to the executive report to depict the Jew as a settler in America who "should be classed as American pioneers, not as interlopers, not as exploiters, but as active participants in the building of the nation." Marshall emphasized that "their (The Jews) hearts, their hands and their fortunes have become inseparably united with those of city, the state, and the nation which they call their own. Their loyalty had never been questioned." (4)
To support their view of America's earliest Jews, the executive committee immediately began to gather general historical facts which had bearing on American Jewish history, compiled a bibliography on aspects of Jewish life that focused on the Jewish pioneer, and reprinted the comprehensive "America" and "New York" articles from the 1901-1906 Funk and Wagnall's Jewish Encyclopedia. "With the same goal in mind, the American Jewish Year Book of 5666, September 30, 1905--September 19, 1906, finished part three in a series of biographical sketches which, though incomplete, demonstrated "the presence in America of an amount of Jewish personality and achievement hitherto unsuspected, and, they point out the desirability of further work and publication in American Jewish biography." (5)
Earlier, in Philadelphia on May 8, 1905, at the conclusion of a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Publication Society of America, Dr. Cyrus Adler of Washington, D.C., trustee and editor (with Henrietta Szold) of the American Jewish Year Book presented the following recommendation: "The Board of Trustees recommends that the Society agree to assume charge of the publication and distribution of the volume to commemorate the two hundredth and fiftieth anniversary of the settlement of the Jews in America, and that a Committee of Five, of whom the President shall be one, be appointed by the President of the Society, to co-operate with other Committee appointed for the purpose." The board promptly agreed. (6)
The executive and general committees formed at the Shearith Israel meeting, with help from subcommittees and leading organizations across the nation, worked energetically for six months in preparation for the unprecedented celebration. Meetings and special services were held in more than seventy synagogues, halls, and community gatherings throughout the country. The festivities commenced as planned on Thanksgiving Day in 1905 in Carnegie Hall in New York City. Interspersed among orchestral, choral, and cantorial interludes, speakers included former president Grover Cleveland, New York State Governor Francis W. Higgins, Mayor George B. McClellan of New York City, and the Right Reverend David H. Greer, Bishop Coadjutor of New York. The principal oration at the meeting was delivered by Judge Mayer Sulzberger of Philadelphia. (7)
Although the celebrations took place as scheduled, the great jubilation was affected by reports of pogroms and horrors that took place throughout Russia on October 31st through the first week of November. There were more than 690 incidents resulting in between 800 and 1,000 deaths. These reports saddened American Jews, a great many of whom still had a close relationship to Russia and Russian Jews. (8)
President Teddy Roosevelt generally did not write letters for celebratory occasions. In this case, however, he sent a sympathetic message to the gala dinner inaugurating the anniversary festivities. On November 16, 1905, he wrote that,
Because of the lamentable and terrific suffering to which so many of the Jewish people in other lands have been subjected, makes me feel it my duty, as the head of the American people, not only to express my deep sympathy for them, as I now do, but at the same time to point out what fine qualities of citizenship have been displayed by the men of Jewish faith and race, who, having come to this country, enjoy the benefit of free institutions and equal treatment before the law. I feel very strongly that if any people are oppressed anywhere, the wrong inevitably reacts in the end on those who oppress them: or it is an immutable law in the spiritual world that no one can wrong others, and yet in the end himself escape unhurt. (9)
The two-hundredth-fiftieth anniversary celebration was a great success. It showed the American people that Jews were integral to the founding and development of their nation and it brought pride to the American Jewish community. The process created a mandate to gather, record, and present to the general and Jewish communities the chronicles of 250 years of Jewish life, activity, and legacy in North America. However, it failed to acknowledge the ever-broadening significance and contributions of the massive influx of Eastern European Jews who continued to arrive in the U.S. since the 1880s.
In 1952, forty-eight years later and two years prior to the intended 1954 Tercentenary celebration of Jewish arrival in New Amsterdam, American Jewish leaders, at the suggestion of The Reverend Dr. David de Sola Pool of the Shearith Spanish Portuguese Synagogue of New York and the officers of the American Jewish Historical Society and under the stewardship of the American Jewish Committee, established the American Jewish Tercentenary Committee (AJTC). The committee, chaired by investment banker Ralph E. Samuel, a respected leader in charitable and civic causes, gave itself two preparatory years to plan events that would be more meaningful and far-reaching than the 1905 celebration. It chose to begin the observance on September 12, 1954, marking the exact date that the band of twenty-three men, women, and children arrived on the shores of New Amsterdam. Ceremonies would begin with an auspicious afternoon service of reconsecration at Congregation Sheraith Israel, continue through May 29, 1955, and conclude with religious ceremonies at the Carter Baron Amphitheater in Washington. The committee's mission was to effectively promote recognition of the contributions of American Jews to American society. (10)
The celebration was ceremoniously announced on the steps of Shearith Israel by a proclamation on July 5, 1954, read in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. It called upon synagogues throughout America to set apart the period from September 12, 1954 to May 29, 1954 for "thanksgiving and rejoicing." (11) The overall theme for the Tercentenary was "Man's Opportunities and Responsibilities under Freedom."
The lead-time would provide the opportunity to raise funds to insure the success of national events and to enlist the participation of national organizations and local communities. Initially, funding came in very slowly but as the date of September 12 neared, momentum rose. "By the fall of 1954 every major organization had organized to take part in the observance, whether by contributing funds, passing of resolutions, appointing Tercentenary committees, issuing manuals, distributing materials, arranging meetings or conferences." (12) Indeed, the Tercentenary Committee nearly met its funding goal.
The Tercentenary year formally began as planned at a reconsecration ceremony on September 12, 1954, at Congregation Sheraith Israel, with one thousand people in attendance, and it continued through May 29, 1955, concluding with religious ceremonies. The opening ceremony was shared with people throughout the nation in newspapers such as the New York Times, Day-Jewish Journal, Herald Tribune, and in magazine articles and NBC radio recordings.
On the same day, the Tercentenary committee of the American Jewish Historical Society installed a seventy-five foot flagpole rising from a granite base sponsored by the State of New York in Peter Minuit Park in Lower Manhattan. Erected on the original landing spot, the flagpole commemorated the 1654 landing of the Jews in America and the founding of the Jewish community of New York. The bronze plaque on the flagpole's base read:
The gift, presented by Governor Harriman was arranged by the New York Joint Legislative Committee, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Proskauer. Erected by the State of New York to honor the memory of the twenty-three men, women and children who landed in September, 1654, and founded the first Jewish community in North America. (13)
This marked the first "Landing Day" commemoration. Landing Day commemorations continued through 1968 while the American Jewish Historical Society was located in New York City. When the AJHS moved to Waltham, Massachusetts, the Jewish Historical Society of New York (established in February 1973) continued the tradition, celebrating Landing Day annually from the mid-1970's through the mid-1990's. (14)
After the September 12th kickoff, three-hundredth anniversary celebrations continued with concerts and productions throughout the nation. The eleventh annual Jewish music festival used the Tercentenary as its theme. The esteemed 92nd Street YM-YWHA of New York City began a series presenting twenty-four evening events on Jewish culture. This inaugurated the Jewish Omnibus program, which, according to the Bronfman Center publicity bulletin, evolved into the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life established in 1992. (15)
The AJTC paid attention to detail to insure the successful execution of the year's overall program. To that end, representatives of the committee visited the White House on March 6, 1954, to invite President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the inaugural Tercentenary dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria on September 12, 1954. Committee chairman Ralph Samuel presented a smiling Eisenhower with a silver medal coined fifty years before to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Jewish arrival in America. (16)
The steering committee of the Tercentenary committee included the topmost leadership affiliated with mainstream Jewish life in America. Of its fifty-three members, five were women. Two notable members were former Federal Judge Simon Rifkind and State Supreme Court Justice Edgar Nathan Jr., who claimed decent from Abraham de Lucena, one of the twenty-three Jews who came to New York in 1654. (17) The national committee sought to be inclusive in scope, by including three hundred of the leading Jewish figures from communities across the United States. According to AJTC minutes, members were chosen according to their ideological, organizational, and religious affiliation and viewpoints and geographic locations. (18)
The AJTC had a full range of subcommittees, determined to develop significant programs and activities to substantiate the Jewish contribution to American culture, politics, science, and the military. It created a special committee to mount a historical exhibit which would become an integral component of the national celebration. The exhibit, entitled "Under Freedom," depicted the three-hundred-year life of American Jewry, and was featured at the Jewish Museum in New York City and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. There was also a contemporary fine arts exhibit of more than one hundred paintings and sculptures by American artists of Jewish background that traveled throughout the country.
Coverage of the festivities appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the country. Along with radio, the new television medium brought the story of Jewish participation in the evolution of the United States into the American home. Jewish organizations contributed to and sponsored programs on CBS, NBC, and the DuMont networks. The Eternal Light program sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America produced a series of programs devoted to the Tercentenary theme. (19)
Both ABC radio and the DuMont network carried President Eisenhower's Tercentenary dinner address attended by 1,800 religious, communal, and civic leaders in New York City on October 20, 1954. Irving Berlin began the program singing his "God Bless America," accompanied by the Jewish Chapel Choir of the United States Military Academy. All agreed that seamless Jewish integration into American life became most evident at the $50 a plate dinner when President Eisenhower shared the spotlight with the popular crooner Eddie Fisher. Eisenhower asked Fisher to repeat a verse of the new Irving Berlin song "Count Your Blessings" that Fisher had just concluded, as the television cameras began to roll for the president's speech. The president proceeded with his speech only after Fisher again completed the song. (20)
According to official AJTC releases and statements, the Tercentenary theme to promote the contributions of American Jews to American society was inclusive, engaging the Jewish population in all of America. Some thought this to be simplistic, even naive. For example, Jewish historian Abraham G. Duker claimed that Jews had been in America too long to have to prove their worthiness. Duker, in "Reflections on the Tercentenary," argued that, while many believed the Tercentenary celebrations would be most effective in dealing with prejudice and "deepen the integration of Jews into the American pattern," the greatest and most growing problem was that American Jews were integrated into American life but not into Jewish life. Duker prophetically warned that the problem facing American Jewry in 1954 was its own future as a distinct group. As the American Jew became comfortable and assimilated into the fabric of America, the Jewish community would wither away. Duker therefore believed that the organized Jewish community should enlist the Tercentenary as a tool to help "further Jewish psychological equality and integration." As he wrote, "It should lead to changes in our communal life and education to fit the conditions of a group that is no longer predominantly composed of newcomers, fearful of their rights and of their children who are uneasy about identifying themselves with their parents' immigrant past." Among his suggestions to achieve this were ideas that would begin to unfold about fifteen years hence, including "the establishment of chairs in Jewish civilization to give Judaism and Jewish culture a chance to be encouraged in the university curriculum," and "research, publication and interpretation in American Jewish history and contemporary life." (21)
Dr. Samuel Margoshes, the influential columnist, editorial writer of the Day Jewish Journal, and generally regarded as the dean of American Jewish journalists, interpreted the three-hundred-year Jewish presence in America with a different twist. He neither felt that American Jewry had to prove or justify itself to the American people or that American Jewry was at the cusp of assimilation or impending doom. He believed that American Jewry was coming into its own, ever-evolving and improving. American Jewry was a diverse, complex American ethnic group, unlike all other ethnic groups that had immigrated to the New World. American Jews did not emigrate from one country, such as had the Irish or the Germans. Jewish immigration came from sixty-four nations and five continents. Each cycle of Jewish immigration brought its own language, culture, and way of life, so that the Jewish community in the United States soon resembled a crazy quilt of languages and cultures and was held together only by a common faith and a sense of common origin, "much like the League of Nations rather than a unified historical entity." For Margoshes, "time and the American environment have conspired to set up a Jewish melting pot which has greatly succeeded in reducing practically all various Jewish elements within the community to conformity though unattainable as late as a generation ago." As Margoshes further explained, "Today there is a greater unanimity among American Jews with regard to such fundamental Jewish issues as Jewish ceremonies, Jewish cultural aspirations and the Jewish State than there has been for the last two hundred years since the various Jewish strains from many lands came to a diversified Jewish community in America." Unlike Duker, Margoshes asserted that, unlike other ethnic groups in America in the 1950s, "the Jewish group has succeeded to a remarkable degree in maintaining its identity." (22)
Stimulated by the Tercentenary observances, Jewish thinkers, critics, and educators repeatedly discussed and analyzed the status of Jews and their role in American life. Using his pseudonym Rufus Learsi, Israel Goldberg (23) convincingly argued that Harvard President Dr. Nathan M. Pusey, a non-Jew, best understood the American Jew and his role in America. Whereas the AJTC leadership spoke of Jewish gratitude and indebtedness to America for their rise in affluence and influence, Pusey, in his address at a celebration sponsored by the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston on December 26, 1954, reversed the Jewish apologia and declared that "America should be grateful to the Jews." Pusey asserted that the "growth and national well-being of America" derived from Jewish immigrants and their children. He emphasized that the Jews "have permanently and incalculably enriched the cultural tradition not only of the United States and of Europe, but the whole world." In reaction to this speech Learsi commented,
This then has been the lost motif in the official observance of the historic festival, a loss which the outward orientation it received made inevitable. It's a grievous loss for which there is no compensation. There have, of course, been other observances from which the motif has not been absent, observances staged by special groups, which met to celebrate their special approach and goal. But they lacked reverberation: they couldn't overcome the imposing apparatus by which the official character of the event was stamped.... It was a pity that those who formulated the theme and set the orientation for the observance did not have his address before them when they labored at their task. It is not impossible that what they produced might have breathed a different spirit. (24)
Among the most noteworthy publications during the Tercentenary year were Learsi's Jews in America: A History, and Oscar Handlin's Adventures in Freedom: Three Hundred Years of Jewish Life in America. Both appeared in time for the beginning of the Tercentenary and, according to the Jewish Examiner, they caused the "Battle of History Books" during the Tercentenary celebrations. The books were reviewed jointly by Professor Salo Baron in the New York Times Book Review on September 12, 1954, the day the Tercentenary began. Baron wrote that Learsi and Handlin were deficient in their ambition to thoroughly cover three hundred years of American Jewish history because of the "absence of preliminary research in the various fields of American Jewish history and sociology." However, Baron, chairman of the AJTC Education Committee and a proponent of publication of American Jewish histories, concluded that "both writers have made excellent use of the available data, and presented intelligent, readable summaries which deserve wide circulation."
A review in the Jewish Examiner on Friday, December 24, 1954, explained that the books were undeniably in opposition to each other because they were written from opposing point of views. According to Bernard G. Richards, Handlin's book was sponsored and supported by the AJCT and was sponsored by "the establishment" American Jewish Committee's Commentary, while the AJC ignored Learsi's book. Handlin, the Harvard historian, saw the Jewish ability to thrive in the freedom of America as a way to achieve integration and assimilation into the American way of life. The Zionist Learsi, on the other hand, understood the history of the Jews in America as part of the history of world Jewry, and saw great hope for American and world Jewry only if they remained true to their own traditions and unique character. Learsi's positive position regarding a healthy Jewish future encouraged the Jewish Examiner to endorse Learsi's book, stressing that it should be included on one's bookshelf for the Tercentenary.
Zvi Lurie, a former American who lived in Israel and served as member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, wrote "A Letter to the Tercentenary Committee," in which he questioned some of the decisions the AJTC made. (25) His lengthy epistle pointed out that the AJTC had included many worthy American Jewish personalities in its list of celebrated luminaries but had failed to recognize two giants, Henrietta Szold and Judah Magnes. Lurie asked if they were omitted because they had left America to build the Jewish homeland. How could the AFTC representatives from Hadassah, the largest Jewish American women's organization, not include Szold in its list of heroines? And what about Dr. Judah Leib Magnes? A great man who had played a role in the two--hundred--fiftieth anniversary, organized and headed the New York Jewish Kehillah, assisted in founding the American Jewish Committee, he had devoted "his life to stabilizing modern academic life for the Jewish people." He aimed "towards a synthesis of the cultural legacy of generations of traditional Israel and of the broad vistas of modern culture." (26)
Criticism of the AFTC's Tercentenary theme appeared elsewhere. The Intermountain Jewish News on March 25, 1954, quoted Dr. Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, author, educator, and editor of Jewish Spectator, who also argued there was "no need to justify 300 years of Jewish life in America by invoking what Jews have contributed to America. Even if American Jewry had not contributed a thing to the greatness of America, our homeness and belonging here could not be questioned." She was not alone in charging that the AJTC spent too much energy "proving that American Jewry belongs in America." Weiss-Rosmarin stressed that the Tercentenary should be used to the fullest advantage to promote Jewish education. She wrote, "The American Jewish Tercentenary will be Jewishly significant only if it places the main emphasis on Jewish, dedicating its resources and energy to analyzing the causes, motives and mainsprings of American Jewish existence and survival, so as to delineate a master plan for the future."
The AJTC was fearful of some of its critics. Afraid that certain leftwing groups might attempt to distort the purposes of the Tercentenary as it defined them, or even bring them negative publicity to it, the AJCT immediately disassociated itself with any Tercentenary celebrations that were held by groups or organizations not officially affiliated with the Committee. This apparently was in reaction to the unanimous April 1953 vote of the Jewish Labor Committee threatening to conduct its own separate observances unless AJTC agreed to "elevate the importance of labor and East European Jews to America in planning events for the anniversary celebration." The JLC, representing 500,000 Jewish members of AFL and CIO unions, indicated that "it would continue as part of the existing Tercentenary committee but would, in addition, conduct its independent observance." It added:
We dedicate ourselves to the idea that the most important contribution to the history of the Jews in America was made by the East European immigrants of the last century.... They assisted in the building up of the American Jewish community and its organizations such as trade unions, cultural groups, Jewish community life, the Jewish press and Jewish literature, all of which have over the years become an integral part of the achievements of the American people. (27)
Giving voice to similar dissent, the Jewish Exponent on September 4, 1953, reported that YIVO (Yiddish Scientific Institute) announced that it intended to give Eastern European immigrants and labor a voice in the Tercentenary by publishing a history of the Jewish labor movement in the United States. Dr. Nathan Reich, chairman of the YIVO Commission on Research, announced that the history would appear in a fourteen-volume edition in English and in a five-volume edition in Yiddish. The first volume, in English, was slated to mark the official American Jewish Tercentenary observance.
Despite their challenge to the AJTC, by the summer of 1954 there were as yet no signs of an alternate observance by the Jewish Labor committee. However, the Yiddish Kulture Farband spearheaded the formation of a Committee for the 300th Anniversary of Jewish Settlement USA (hereafter, Farband Committee) to engage in as many alternative yet significant activities as possible. This added a larger dimension to the overall celebration by representing two Jewish cultural, labor, and fraternal organizations. (28) This counter-organization asserted that the AJTC, which had been formed by the "establishment" American Jewish Committee, did not appropriately use the festive Tercentenary occasion to stress the need to "build further on its democratic heritage, at a time when McCarthyism threatens to destroy that tradition altogether." Nor had the AJC Committee mentioned the struggle against antisemitism or an appreciation for social progress. This seemed ironic, in view of the fact that the AJCT's theme was "Man's Opportunities and Responsibilities under Freedom." (29)
The initial organizing conference for the Farband Committee was held at the Hotel Capitol in New York City on June 19, 1954. Paul Ross and historian Morris U. Schappes delivered keynote addresses to the conference, which was attended by "258 delegates representing 154 Jewish people's organizations, and a number of individual visitors and invited guests." The agendas, goals, and programs for the year were approved by the attendees. Furthermore, the Farband Committee denounced the AJTC for warning against participation in the June 19 conference. (30)
The Farband Committee organized a historical exhibit located at its headquarters, 189 Second Avenue at 12th Street, on "the proletarian East Side." (31) In his "Spectator" column in the National Guardian, Michael Gold underscored the divide between the uptown (AJTC) and downtown (Farband Committee) Jews, when he wrote that, "Uptown in New York an exhibition stresses the smug, devitalized conservatism of the wealthy minority: I have seen the other exhibition at 189 Second Avenue, on the proletarian East Side. It is a great honor roll of rare prints, documents and pictures that illustrate the struggle of the Jew in the cause of American democracy.... There is too much wealth in the tercentenary exhibition for me to give even the titles. The contribution of the Jew, as of the Negro, has been long submerged and obscured by the enemy. May a Jew rejoice this once that his own tradition is finally revealed?" (32) According to the Daily Worker, the exhibit would run for only one month, occupying two floors, three halls, and have seventy-five panels and fifteen departments ranging from the colonial era through "Immigration through Europe and Czarist Russia, Labor struggles, anti-Semitism from the Civil War to the present, and Cultural Achievements." (33)
On October 16, four days to the official AJTC two-thousand-guest dinner, the Farband Committee sponsored a pageant at Carnegie Hall. Misha Rauch arranged the music, Lillian Shapiro choreographed the dance, and the Jewish Young Folk Singers sang. The Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus re-enacted the landing of the first Jews in New Amsterdam in 1654, as well as later episodes of immigration and American Jewish highlights. Yiddish poet and author Yuri Suhl wrote the script, and actors Howard Da Silva (34) and Zelde Lerner performed it in English and Yiddish. The pageant, referred to as "the Spectacle" but entitled "This is Our Home," covered "the colonial period, the Revolution, the Jefferson era, the Civil War, the mass immigration, the building of the great needle trades and unions," and participants, sympathetic to the Communists and the Left, had the courage to cover "the struggle against anti-Semitism and McCarthyism," as well. (35)
The Farband Committee presented a second Tercentenary performance at Town Hall before a packed audience on Saturday evening, May 14, 1955. Entitled "The Ballad of Asser Levy," the production had choral music by Paul Held and poetry by Yuri Suhl. The performance featured the Jewish People's Philanthropic Chorus conducted by Eugene Malek. The presentation, narrated by the actor Herschel Bernardi, (36) recounted the story of the band of twenty-three Jews who arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654. The stage scenery included "a replica of the lamppost at 23 Street and what should be Avenue A, where a street was recently named Asser Levy Place in honor of the man who led the first Jewish contingent here...." (37)
To no surprise, the AJCT determined to exclude any unauthorized left-wing components from its official celebration. With the Cold War, anti-Communist fears, and the rage ignited by McCarthy in the early 1950s, America's Jewish leadership and Jewish organizations distanced themselves from the Left. But the Left's challenge to its plans for the Tercentenary demanded that Lessing Rosenwald, president of the American Council for Judaism, be removed as associate national chairman of AJTC. Ninety people in Detroit called for his dismissal because of his organization's objectionable activities. Because he was a vociferous anti-Zionist, even at the end of World War II, Rosenwald had been denounced (by Rabbi Leon Frum) as "guilty of genocide against the Jewish people." David Bernstein, the national executive director of the AJTC, said that the steering committee would probably consider the request. (38)
But as the "Inquiring Reporter" of the National Jewish Post reported on May 28, 1954, not all agreed that Lessing Rosenwald should be dropped as associate chairman. Sidney Hollander of Baltimore, past president of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, felt "it would be regrettable for the Tercentenary Committee to be pressured into dropping Lessing Rosenwald because of views which happen at the moment to run counter to those held by other groups. If our Jewish community lacks sufficient tolerance to permit such differences it has benefited little from either its American or its Jewish heritage." Both Philip M. Myers, president of the Jewish Welfare Fund of Cincinnati, and Julian Freeman of Indianapolis, president of the Council of Jewish Federation and Welfare Funds, disliked the American Council for Judaism, but felt that Rosenwald should continue to serve as associate chairman of the American Jewish Tercentenary Committee. The matter was laid to rest.
One of the most important components of the Tercentenary was its Committee on Research and Publication, comprised of Jewish historians and chaired by Professor Salo W. Baron of Columbia University and president of the American Jewish Historical Society. The group approached its responsibilities with great determination, namely to promote Jewish scholarship, new bibliographies, and new histories. It worked tirelessly to encourage the study of the history of the Jews in America, a discipline that been long underdeveloped. The subcommittee had been directed by the national committee to produce a lasting scholarly memorial of the anniversary to be left to future generations. Although the committee proposed a ten-volume documentary history of American Jews, only the first three volumes eventually saw publication. The ambitious series was never completed, but many other histories, biographies, Jewish educational textbooks, and instructional materials emerged with the encouragement of the Tercentenary committee. (39)
According to local secular and Jewish newspapers and newsletters of Jewish organizations, the Tercentenary celebration was feted in communities from Los Angeles to Denver to St. Louis to Philadelphia to New York. Yet, Barbara Schwartz, Women's Editor of the Chicago Sentinel charged that women's groups were not using the Tercentenary celebration to showcase the wide spectrum of contributions American Jewish women made to the nation. She accused American Jewish women of being embarrassed by their immigrant past. Instead of demonstrating pride in their heritage, they looked to assimilate, losing "every shred of identity," so that only an "empty shell" remained. Schwartz encouraged "more forward thinking groups" to "start the ball rolling, others will follow suit, and the Tercentenary year will leave us richer for having experienced it." (40)
Schwartz apparently was not aware of the Tercentenary activities of other Jewish women's organizations. For example, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) was actively involved with the Tercentenary from the inception. As the Philadelphia Jewish Times reported, the Contemporary Jewish Affairs Committee, New York Section, National Council of Jewish Women, convened at the New York Historical Society to hear an address by AJTC's chairman Ralph Samuel in September 1954. Samuel took as his subject the Tercentenary's theme, "Man's Opportunities and Responsibilities under Freedom." He told the assembled women that the occasion offered "a challenge to each of us to give earnest consideration to vital problems that affect us as Jews and as Americans." He encouraged his audience to "come to grips with issues of our time, and this will be a good occasion for doing so." "Our nation is made up of people of many national, racial, and religious origins." "Have we not learned that the differences are as important and sometimes more valuable than the resemblances?" He questioned whether one can be an American and a Jew when he asked, "Can we develop a healthy sense of belonging without conforming?" "Our theme is not merely that upon which "to build a historic observance. It is a magnificent credo for us to adopt. As we review our opportunities so must we explore and shoulder our responsibilities of freedom." (41)
Mrs. Irving M. Engel, president of the National Council for Jewish Women, did not respond to Mr. Samuel's call. However, she did announce that, as its contribution to the Jewish Tercentenary, the NCJW would undertake a study of "Jewish Family Life in the United States during the observance." In contrast to Schwartz's accusation of Jewish women's indifference to Judaism and Samuel's quest for perfect integration into American society, this would be a study of introspection and pride, identifying those whose very essence contributed to the moral fabric, strength, and success of the Jewish community in America. As Engel explained,
We honor the accomplishments of the great leaders. American Jewish womanhood had produced such giants as Rebecca Gratz, Henrietta Szold, Rebekah Kohut and Council's founder, that inspired visionary, Hannah G. Solomon. I want in no way to minimize the glory of their deeds. But there are other women who have been equally responsible for all the achievements that this Tercentenary is attempting to celebrate. I refer to the thousands of unsung heroines of these 300 years. The quiet women who have given of themselves when they produce a strong and secure family life. The women who have quietly proved their belief in Judaism and in their country by the sacrifices they have made to educate and develop their children. Torah is our way of life and these unknown women deserve our deepest gratitude and appreciation for the influence they have exerted in these past centuries." (42)
Other women's groups enthusiastically embraced the Tercentenary. For example, the Emma Lazarus women's group wrote a play re-enacting the arrival of Jews to New York and their interaction with Peter Stuyvesant. This was featured as an important component of their year's programming. And to demonstrate their involvement in the American Jewish Tercentenary celebration, the B'nai B'rith women's magazine printed a photograph of B'nai B'rith women cutting a huge Tercentenary birthday cake at their donor luncheon.
The end of the Tercentenary year was marked by as much pomp and circumstance as at its inauguration nine months before. A crowd of two thousand marked the official end of the Tercentenary festivities in Carnegie Hall on Wednesday evening, June 1, 1955. Adlai E. Stevenson, the 1952 Democratic Presidential candidate, spoke, and called upon President Eisenhower to revise the Refugee Relief Act so as to speed the flow of immigrants from ravaged Europe to U.S. shores. In the wake of the Cold War, he pleaded for the exercise of greater responsibility and greater tolerance. He asserted that improper guardianship of freedom by the "western nations had given fascism and communism their foothold in the world." Senator Herbert H. Lehman "paid tribute to the record of Jews in safeguarding freedom." He looked forward to a hundred years hence, to the four-hundredth anniversary of the first Jewish landing in America, which he hoped "would be marked in a free and abundant nation dwelling in a spacious and peaceful world." To achieve this, however, an "inspired leadership must overcome the heavy murkiness that is settling around us to guarantee peace and social justice." (43)
The American Jewish Tercentenary was the greatest mass observance ever conducted by American Jews in their three-hundred-year history. Although the celebration's organizational design was based on the prototype set up by the original two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary committee, the Tercentenary was on a grander scale, reaching more communities and more participants. This reflected the evolution of the American Jewish community as a result of communal organization and major waves of immigration. Yet, the official AJTC was not sensitive to all segments of the Jewish population, and it did not evaluate itself introspectively. There were many passionate Jews politically left out of the AJTC, who felt they were not properly represented. There were others who felt the theme was inappropriate. They felt there was no need for Jews to prove that they fit into American society, but rather how they could survive as Jews without assimilating into society.
In spite of this, the American Jewish Year Book, the New York Times, and AJTC leaders considered the Tercentenary anniversary a success. American Jewry was greatly enhanced by the increased number of American Jewish histories, textbooks, and educational materials produced during this period. (44) David Bernstein, the former director of the AJTC, summarized that the Tercentenary "reminded the American public that the Jews played an important part in the American nation, provided a sense of stability and the dignity of the American Jewish community." To the American Jew, still reverberating from the trauma of the Holocaust and the struggle for the State of Israel, "it gave a new degree of self-confidence and the ability to reassess his own place in the American community." (45)
(1.) Louis Marshall, Executive Committee in Charge of the Celebration of 250th Anniversary of the Settlement of the Jews in the U.S. (New York, 1905), 1.
(2.) Ibid, 1.
(3.) Ibid, 2.
(4.) Ibid, 26
(5.) American Jewish Year Book, 5666, Sept. 30, 1905-September, 1906 (Philadelphia 1906), vii.
(6.) Ibid. 16, 17.
(7.) The Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of the Jews in the United States (New York, 1906).
(8.) American Jewish Year Book, 5667, Sept. 30, 1906-September 19, 1907, 263.
(9.) Ibid., 263-64.
(10.) Minutes American Jewish Tercentenary Steering Committee, June 1952-October 1953, American Jewish Tercentenary Celebration Collection, I, American Jewish Historical Society, New York.
(11.) "American Jews Will Mark Tercentenary Sept. 12-May 29," New York Herald Tribune, July 3, 1954; "Jews Set Dates of Tercentenary," New York Times, July 6, 1954.
(12.) American Jewish Yearbook 1956, 57 (1954): 114-15. Believing that New York State should be included in the AJC celebrations because twenty-three Jewish immigrants "symbolized the aspirations of all pioneers," New York Times, June 11, 1955, New York Governor Dewey appointed a 25 man-commission headed by Judge Joseph M. Proskauer, chairman of the national Tercentenary Committee, to represent the state at the activities. There was an appropriation of $5,000 to defray the costs of the state's participation. California Jewish Voice, June 18, 1954; Jewish Ledger, August 8, 1954.
(13.) "Jewish Tercentenary Flagpole is Given to the City, "New York Times, May 21, 1955.
(14.) Interview with Steven Siegel, president, The Jewish Historical Society of New York, November, 2003.
(15.) 92nd Street Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association, "Y Bulletin," October 6, 1954, 1.
(16.) "Medal for Ike," New York Times, March 6, 1954; "President's Day," Times-Herald, March 5, 1954.
(17.) "President to Speak at Jewish Fete," New York Times, October 10, 1954.
(18.) Minutes, AJTC, Steering Committee, June 1952-October 1953.
(19.) Radio and TV Programming, 3/12/54-10/24/54, AJTC Celebration Collection, III.
(20.) New York Times, October 20, 1954.
(21.) Congress Weekly, September 20, 1954, 9, 11.
(22.) "News and Views," Day-Jewish Journal, September 17, 1954, 1.
(23.) Author, historian, educator, and Zionist publicist, Goldberg was director of the Jewish Education Committee of New York. Interview with J.J. Goldberg, grandson, June 6, 2005.
(24.) Congress Weekly, January 1955, 5-6.
(25.) "To the Zionist Members of the Committee for the Celebration of the Tercentenary of Jewish Life in the United States," Israel Horizon, January 1955, 12
(27.) "Labor Votes Own Jewish Celebration," Herald Tribune, April 19, 1953.
(28.) New Guardian, October 11, 1954.
(29.) "300 Years of Jewish Defense of Freedom," Daily Worker, July 18, 1954.
(30.) Daily Worker, June 13, 18, 1954.
(31.) "May the Jew Rejoice," National Guardian, February 28, 1955.
(33.) Daily Worker, February 2, 1955.
(34) As one of the most vocal and demonstrative of Hollywood's leftists, Howard Da Silva became a convenient target for the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he was blacklisted. Unable to find movie or TV work, Da Silva returned to the stage in the 1950s, not facing cameras again until 1962. Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide, http:/www.movies. yahoo.com/shop?d=hc&id=1800010634&cf+bio&intl+us. Accessed on June 6, 2005.
(35) Daily Worker, October 13, 1954.
(36.) Bernardi was one of several actors blacklisted in the 1950s for alleged leftist politics, an experience he relived as a cast member of the 1978 film The Front. He was exonerated in late 1950s. Erickson, All Movie Guide.
(37.) "Ballad of Asser Levy Has Stirring Premiere," Daily Worker, May 16, 1955.
(38.) "Rosenwald's Ouster Before National Tercentenary Committee," National Jewish Post, May 5, 1954.
(39.) American Jewish Yearbook, 1956, 118.
(40.) Barbara Schwartz, "The Women's Sentinel," Sentinel, September 23, 1954.
(41.) "The Tercentenary, Challenge to Americans," Philadelphia Jewish Times, September, 1954.
(43.) New York Times, June 2, 1955.
(44.) American Jewish Yearbook 1956, 57: 118.
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|Author:||Rosen, Judith Friedman|
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|Date:||Dec 1, 2004|
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