Feb 24, 2004 — Some 31 books chronicling early American Jewish life now form an exhibit at Yeshiva University’s Mendel Gottesman Library, on the Wilf Campus, that commemorates 350 years of Jewish immigration.
“New World – Old Books” showcases volumes from the library’s Rare Book Room that illustrate the 2000-year diaspora and the formulation of organized Jewish communities in America, which began with the first immigration of Jews from Brazil to New York in 1654.
“What we tried to do with the exhibit is two-fold,” said Zalman Alpert, the curator of the exhibit and a reference librarian at the Gottesman Library. “We wanted to showcase the richness of our library and its wide collection of Jewish Americana, and for the anniversary, I tried to choose books that showed how Jews organized communities in the U.S.”
A book of prayers, printed in London in 1776, and offered by Jews in England in support of King George’s soldiers, is the oldest book in the exhibit. Other books include a lunar calendar for the years 1805 to 1859 that lists Jewish holidays and a table “of the hour to commence the Sabbath in the City of New York;” various prayer books; a discourse by Mordecai Emanuel Noah at the consecration of New York’s oldest synagogue, Shearith Israel; a book on European military expeditions in 1855 and 1856 by Major Alfred Mordecai, an early Jewish graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; a speech by Mr. L.C. Levin of Philadelphia, one of the earliest American Jews to serve in the U.S. Congress; and an 1861 pamphlet defending slavery by the Rev. M. J. Raphall, New York’s leading Orthodox rabbi.
“I hope the YU community will realize that although Jews were much acculturated to American life, they were extremely Jewish at the same time,” Mr. Alpert said. “America had a vibrant Jewish life even in colonial times, and I think the exhibit reflects that.”
“New World – Old Books” will be on display on the fourth floor of the Mendel Gottesman Library through May 31.