Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War

*Brothers Edward Jonas (Union Soldier) and Charles H. Jonas (Confederate Soldier). Collection of Wendy Wells, and Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society.

March 10 - August 11, 2013

In the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a new exhibition presented by the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum offers a provocative and revealing perspective on the bloody conflict: The Jewish experience.

Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War tells a story that might surprise even history buffs: The Civil War was a crucible for American Jews, laying the groundwork for their integration and Americanization on a large scale.  It enabled the full participation of Jews in American life – militarily, politically, economically and socially – and set the stage for massive Jewish immigration decades later.

Co-presented by the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum, Passages through the Fire brings to life the active role Jews played in all aspects of the war, and also provides an unvarnished look at Jewish involvement in slavery – the era’s key issue.  As original documents and artifacts make clear, Jews shared attitudes about slavery with most of their compatriots.  Many Jews, despite their own history, considered slavery justified.

This groundbreaking exhibition, curated by Ken Yellis, includes the largest and most comprehensive collection of materials relating to Jews and the Civil War assembled in the last 50 years.  The core of the exhibition is the unmatched collection of Robert D. Marcus of Fairfax, VA, generally regarded as the world’s most significant collection of Civil War Judaica.

While portions of the Marcus collection have appeared in previous exhibitions, the collection has never been exhibited on this scale.  Passages through the Fire also showcases dozens of magnificent documents and artifacts from museums, libraries and private collections across the U.S, including: the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Sergeant Leopold Karpeles, a flagbearer in the Union army – and one of six Jewish Medal of Honor recipients; religious and ceremonial artifacts (haggadas, mezuzahs, dreidels) used by Jewish soldiers during the war; an incompletely printed Confederate $500 note on whose blank side the Jewish Major Sidney Alroy Jonas handwrote the poem that became the basis for the Southern myth of the “Lost Cause.”

With Abraham Lincoln himself as a major character, the exhibition also spotlights little-known episodes that shook American history.  As Passages through the Fire illustrates, President Lincoln reversed an order by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant expelling Jews “as a class” from the massive Tennessee Territory after accusations of disloyalty.  Another part of the exhibition reveals how the role of military chaplains had been reserved for Christians only until President Lincoln engineered the law’s reversal during the Civil War – a landmark moment.

Through handwritten letters, photos, and little-seen documents, we also meet larger-than-life historical characters including the brilliant Jewish Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin; Lincoln’s friend and podiatrist, the resourceful Isachar Zacharie, who performed spying missions on the President’s behalf; and the fearless Eugenia Levy Phillips, a Jewish woman of New Orleans who dared to defy the Union general, Benjamin F. “Beast” Butler.

“The exhibition demonstrates that the Civil War was a major turning point in American Jewish history,” said Dr. Jacob Wisse, director of Yeshiva University Museum.  “Ironically, given that it was a civil conflict, it vastly accelerated the process of Americanization; and it laid the groundwork for Jews’ identification with America – and for America’s acceptance of Jews.”

Dr. Jonathan Karp, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, agreed.  “The Civil War was the first opportunity presented to Jews in large numbers to participate fully in American life.  It was war that let Jews demonstrate their belonging and membership,” he said.  “The Civil War battleground gave the same Jews the opportunity to perform numerous services – as soldiers, nurses, running patriotic fairs, being spies, also doing something very traditional – peddling.” 

The exhibition will feature three short films created exclusively for Passages through the Fire by award-winning filmmaker Oren Rudavsky.  The mini-documentaries – on Jews and slavery, Grant’s expulsion of the Jews and anti-Semitism, and the legacy of the Civil War for Jews – will feature interviews by leading historians, including Jonathan Sarna, Harold Holtzer, and Hasia Diner.

The films are available to viewed at YU Museum’s Vimeo site: http://vimeo.com/yumuseum/civilwar

From New York, Passages through the Fire will travel to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, in Baltimore, which will present the exhibition from October 2013 to February 2014.

PROGRAMS:

AN EVENING WITH KEN BURNS: REVISITING THE CIVIL WAR DOCUMENTARY SERIES 20 YEARS ON

Sunday, April 14, 2013, 6:30 pm

Over the course of 5 days in September 1990, Americans were captivated by Ken Burns’s master history lesson on America’s bloodiest conflict. This program features the reflections of the filmmaker on the 150th anniversary of the war.

KADDISH FOR LINCOLN

Monday, April 29, 2013, 7:00 pm

In the days following Lincoln’s assassination, Jews in many synagogues uttered the traditional kaddish prayer of mourning – a remarkable tribute to a non‐Jewish leader. Renowned Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer explores the 16th president’s relations with Jews during the war and Jews’ enduring fascination with Lincoln.

SISTERS IN ARMS: JEWISH WOMEN AND THE CIVIL WAR

Monday, May 6, 2013, 7:00 pm

Whether as volunteers in hospitals, resisters of military occupation, or even spies, Jewish women played a prominent role in nearly all aspects of the war – some were also important memoirists of the conflict. Historians Pamela Nadell, Dale Rosengarten, and Nina Silber discuss this intriguing but little‐known aspect of the war.

JEWISH SOLDIERS IN THE CIVIL WAR/ JEWS AND THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG

Monday, June 3, 2013, 6:00 pm

Civil War scholar John Sellers details a major new research project to identify the thousands of Jews who fought in America’s deadliest conflict, with response by historian J. David Hacker (6‐6:30pm). Followed by a panel discussion at 6:30pm on Jewish participation in the war’s most famous battle, with collector Robert D. Marcus, historian Lance Sussman and Gettysburg tour guide extraordinaire Gary Kross; also featuring Gettysburg artist Mort Künstler.

CURATOR’S TOURS

Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 6:00 pm

Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 6:00 pm

RESERVATIONS

Tickets for the April 14, April 29, May 6 and June 3 programs are: $15 general; $10 CJH, AJHS and YUM members; seniors; and students. For reservations, go to: www.smarttix.com or call 212‐868‐4444.

Reservations for the April 10 and June 12 Curator’s Tours are required by email to programs@yum.cjh.org. Tours are free; space limited.

All programs will be held at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NYC.

SOME OF THE OBJECTS IN THE EXHIBITION… 

Captain Jacob Jacobs, 83rd NY Infantry, wounded at Gettysburg, Collection of Robert Marcus

Self portrait by Solomon Nunes Carvalho, Baltimore, ca 1849-1856, Collection of the Yeshiva University Museum

Letter from a Georgia officer describing the first Jewish funeral he had ever attended, Savannah, 30 August, 1863, Collection of Robert Marcus.

“Judge DeLyon has yielded to the ultimate Law of Life and was buried this morning. I attended the funeral services at his house and witnessed for the first time the ceremonies constituting a Jewish burial. As you may suppose, not a word was said of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Author of all salvation and the hope of our resurrection. The emotions suggested by the occasion were sad to the extreme.”

Col. Abraham C. Meyers, Quartermaster General, Confederate States Army, Collection of Robert Marcus 

Sabato Morais Acrostic spelling the name of Abraham Lincoln in Hebrew. Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Isachar Zacharie, 1827 - 1900, Physician to Abraham Lincoln, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Rabbi David Einhorn. When the Civil war broke out in 1861, he denounced the defenders of slavery so unsparingly that to stay in his then adopted city Baltimore became dangerous. The mob threatened his life, and he fled on the night of April 22, 1861, guarded by friends, to Philadelphia, where he became rabbi of the Congregation Keneseth Israel. In August, 1866, Einhorn became rabbi of the Adath Yeshurun congregation in New York. Collection of Robert Marcus.

1890 letter from father of Leopold Karpeles describing his son’s military service and the circumstances of his winning the Medal of Honor in the Battle of the Wilderness, written on stationery of Medal of Honor Legion. Karpeles was a Union Color bearer and won the Medal of Honor for his heroism. Sgt. Emil Karpeles, his brother, fought for the Confederacy. Collection of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.

Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War

*Brothers Edward Jonas (Union Soldier) and Charles H. Jonas (Confederate Soldier). Collection of Wendy Wells, and Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society.

March 10 - August 11, 2013

In the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a new exhibition presented by the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum offers a provocative and revealing perspective on the bloody conflict: The Jewish experience.

Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War tells a story that might surprise even history buffs: The Civil War was a crucible for American Jews, laying the groundwork for their integration and Americanization on a large scale.  It enabled the full participation of Jews in American life – militarily, politically, economically and socially – and set the stage for massive Jewish immigration decades later.

Co-presented by the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum, Passages through the Fire brings to life the active role Jews played in all aspects of the war, and also provides an unvarnished look at Jewish involvement in slavery – the era’s key issue.  As original documents and artifacts make clear, Jews shared attitudes about slavery with most of their compatriots.  Many Jews, despite their own history, considered slavery justified.

This groundbreaking exhibition, curated by Ken Yellis, includes the largest and most comprehensive collection of materials relating to Jews and the Civil War assembled in the last 50 years.  The core of the exhibition is the unmatched collection of Robert D. Marcus of Fairfax, VA, generally regarded as the world’s most significant collection of Civil War Judaica.

While portions of the Marcus collection have appeared in previous exhibitions, the collection has never been exhibited on this scale.  Passages through the Fire also showcases dozens of magnificent documents and artifacts from museums, libraries and private collections across the U.S, including: the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Sergeant Leopold Karpeles, a flagbearer in the Union army – and one of six Jewish Medal of Honor recipients; religious and ceremonial artifacts (haggadas, mezuzahs, dreidels) used by Jewish soldiers during the war; an incompletely printed Confederate $500 note on whose blank side the Jewish Major Sidney Alroy Jonas handwrote the poem that became the basis for the Southern myth of the “Lost Cause.”

With Abraham Lincoln himself as a major character, the exhibition also spotlights little-known episodes that shook American history.  As Passages through the Fire illustrates, President Lincoln reversed an order by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant expelling Jews “as a class” from the massive Tennessee Territory after accusations of disloyalty.  Another part of the exhibition reveals how the role of military chaplains had been reserved for Christians only until President Lincoln engineered the law’s reversal during the Civil War – a landmark moment.

Through handwritten letters, photos, and little-seen documents, we also meet larger-than-life historical characters including the brilliant Jewish Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin; Lincoln’s friend and podiatrist, the resourceful Isachar Zacharie, who performed spying missions on the President’s behalf; and the fearless Eugenia Levy Phillips, a Jewish woman of New Orleans who dared to defy the Union general, Benjamin F. “Beast” Butler.

“The exhibition demonstrates that the Civil War was a major turning point in American Jewish history,” said Dr. Jacob Wisse, director of Yeshiva University Museum.  “Ironically, given that it was a civil conflict, it vastly accelerated the process of Americanization; and it laid the groundwork for Jews’ identification with America – and for America’s acceptance of Jews.”

Dr. Jonathan Karp, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, agreed.  “The Civil War was the first opportunity presented to Jews in large numbers to participate fully in American life.  It was war that let Jews demonstrate their belonging and membership,” he said.  “The Civil War battleground gave the same Jews the opportunity to perform numerous services – as soldiers, nurses, running patriotic fairs, being spies, also doing something very traditional – peddling.” 

The exhibition will feature three short films created exclusively for Passages through the Fire by award-winning filmmaker Oren Rudavsky.  The mini-documentaries – on Jews and slavery, Grant’s expulsion of the Jews and anti-Semitism, and the legacy of the Civil War for Jews – will feature interviews by leading historians, including Jonathan Sarna, Harold Holtzer, and Hasia Diner.

The films are available to viewed at YU Museum’s Vimeo site: http://vimeo.com/yumuseum/civilwar

From New York, Passages through the Fire will travel to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, in Baltimore, which will present the exhibition from October 2013 to February 2014.

PROGRAMS:

AN EVENING WITH KEN BURNS: REVISITING THE CIVIL WAR DOCUMENTARY SERIES 20 YEARS ON

Sunday, April 14, 2013, 6:30 pm

Over the course of 5 days in September 1990, Americans were captivated by Ken Burns’s master history lesson on America’s bloodiest conflict. This program features the reflections of the filmmaker on the 150th anniversary of the war.

KADDISH FOR LINCOLN

Monday, April 29, 2013, 7:00 pm

In the days following Lincoln’s assassination, Jews in many synagogues uttered the traditional kaddish prayer of mourning – a remarkable tribute to a non‐Jewish leader. Renowned Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer explores the 16th president’s relations with Jews during the war and Jews’ enduring fascination with Lincoln.

SISTERS IN ARMS: JEWISH WOMEN AND THE CIVIL WAR

Monday, May 6, 2013, 7:00 pm

Whether as volunteers in hospitals, resisters of military occupation, or even spies, Jewish women played a prominent role in nearly all aspects of the war – some were also important memoirists of the conflict. Historians Pamela Nadell, Dale Rosengarten, and Nina Silber discuss this intriguing but little‐known aspect of the war.

JEWISH SOLDIERS IN THE CIVIL WAR/ JEWS AND THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG

Monday, June 3, 2013, 6:00 pm

Civil War scholar John Sellers details a major new research project to identify the thousands of Jews who fought in America’s deadliest conflict, with response by historian J. David Hacker (6‐6:30pm). Followed by a panel discussion at 6:30pm on Jewish participation in the war’s most famous battle, with collector Robert D. Marcus, historian Lance Sussman and Gettysburg tour guide extraordinaire Gary Kross; also featuring Gettysburg artist Mort Künstler.

CURATOR’S TOURS

Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 6:00 pm

Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 6:00 pm

RESERVATIONS

Tickets for the April 14, April 29, May 6 and June 3 programs are: $15 general; $10 CJH, AJHS and YUM members; seniors; and students. For reservations, go to: www.smarttix.com or call 212‐868‐4444.

Reservations for the April 10 and June 12 Curator’s Tours are required by email to programs@yum.cjh.org. Tours are free; space limited.

All programs will be held at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NYC.

SOME OF THE OBJECTS IN THE EXHIBITION… 

Captain Jacob Jacobs, 83rd NY Infantry, wounded at Gettysburg, Collection of Robert Marcus

Self portrait by Solomon Nunes Carvalho, Baltimore, ca 1849-1856, Collection of the Yeshiva University Museum

Letter from a Georgia officer describing the first Jewish funeral he had ever attended, Savannah, 30 August, 1863, Collection of Robert Marcus.

“Judge DeLyon has yielded to the ultimate Law of Life and was buried this morning. I attended the funeral services at his house and witnessed for the first time the ceremonies constituting a Jewish burial. As you may suppose, not a word was said of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Author of all salvation and the hope of our resurrection. The emotions suggested by the occasion were sad to the extreme.”

Col. Abraham C. Meyers, Quartermaster General, Confederate States Army, Collection of Robert Marcus 

Sabato Morais Acrostic spelling the name of Abraham Lincoln in Hebrew. Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Isachar Zacharie, 1827 - 1900, Physician to Abraham Lincoln, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Rabbi David Einhorn. When the Civil war broke out in 1861, he denounced the defenders of slavery so unsparingly that to stay in his then adopted city Baltimore became dangerous. The mob threatened his life, and he fled on the night of April 22, 1861, guarded by friends, to Philadelphia, where he became rabbi of the Congregation Keneseth Israel. In August, 1866, Einhorn became rabbi of the Adath Yeshurun congregation in New York. Collection of Robert Marcus.

1890 letter from father of Leopold Karpeles describing his son’s military service and the circumstances of his winning the Medal of Honor in the Battle of the Wilderness, written on stationery of Medal of Honor Legion. Karpeles was a Union Color bearer and won the Medal of Honor for his heroism. Sgt. Emil Karpeles, his brother, fought for the Confederacy. Collection of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.

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Visit YU Museum’s exhibitions and programs! They open the eyes of audiences to new perspectives on Jewish culture, historic events and cultural phenomena. They reveal the vitality and resonance of present-day art on Jewish themes, and reflect and re-interpret millennia of Jewish experiences for the present. Visit: @15 w16th st, NYC

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