From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jew­ish Life in America

Michael Grun­berg­er, ed.
  • Review
By – August 27, 2012

This com­pan­ion vol­ume to the exhil­a­rat­ing exhi­bi­tion From Haven to Home at the Library of Con­gress, which cel­e­brates 350 years of Jew­ish life in Amer­i­ca, bestows per­ma­nence on the exhi­bi­tion. The edi­tor, Michael Grun­berg­er, head of the Hebra­ic sec­tion of the Library, not only curat­ed the exhi­bi­tion, he con­ceived the book, as an endur­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the doc­u­men­ta­tion of Jew­ish life in North Amer­i­ca. Enti­tled From Haven to Home, the book com­pris­es sev­er­al essays, each by a sub­ject spe­cial­ist, address­ing dif­fer­ent facets of the Amer­i­can Jew­ish expe­ri­ence, the­mat­i­cal­ly pre­sent­ing evi­dence in the select­ed items on dis­play to show that the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence of Amer­i­ca was first as a refuge and lat­er as a ful­ly real­ized home­land. The pro­logue deals with the peri­od from 1654 to 1820, recount­ing the ear­ly his­to­ry of the sev­er­al com­mu­ni­ties that were set­tled by a few Jews look­ing for eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty as well as reli­gious free­dom. A repro­duc­tion of a 1777 map of New­port, Rhode Island, ref­er­enc­ing the hous­es of wor­ship, includes that of the Jews, attest­ing to the ear­ly devel­op­ment of com­mu­ni­ty insti­tu­tions. How the Jews set up their com­mu­nal life in the ear­ly years of set­tle­ment pro­vides insight into lat­er devel­op­ments in Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty affairs. 

Eli Evans con­tributes the essay on the Jews who served on oppos­ing sides in the Civ­il War, The War Between Broth­ers in Amer­i­ca.” Hasia Diner’s essay A Cen­tu­ry of Migra­tion” ana­lyzes the immi­grant expe­ri­ence through an exam­i­na­tion of par­tic­u­lar lives and mun­dane cul­ture. Leonard Din­ner­stein deals with Amer­i­can anti-Semi­tism with a graph­ic depic­tion of the infa­mous lynch­ing of Leo Frank. The grow­ing Jew­ish involve­ment in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is fas­ci­nat­ing­ly doc­u­ment­ed by Stephen Whit­field, includ­ing the Jew­ish role in advanc­ing the Zion­ist cause. There is ample evi­dence of the vital­i­ty of the var­i­ous Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties as they adapt­ed to their host envi­ron­ment— pho­tographs of stock inven­to­ries, the­ater play­bills, Yid­dish musi­cal scores, posters pro­mot­ing ral­lies and oth­er com­mem­o­ra­tive events and rit­u­al objects that incor­po­rate Amer­i­can themes, such as the Chanukah meno­rah whose arms are fash­ioned as stat­ues of liberty. 

Essays by schol­ars Deb­o­rah Dash Moore, Jack Wertheimer, Jonathan D. Sar­na and Pamela S. Nadell deal with women’s roles, Amer­i­can Jews’ reli­gious prac­tices and specif­i­cal­ly the post- World War II peri­od of enor­mous acculturation. 

Exten­sive notes to each chap­ter as well as a bib­li­og­ra­phy of sug­gest­ed read­ings by Peg­gy Pearl­stein, Library of Con­gress Hebra­ic Area spe­cial­ist, make this vol­ume par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for stu­dents of Amer­i­can Jew­ish his­to­ry. Not only is the text superb, the illus­tra­tions are expert­ly repro­duced so as to make this a doc­u­men­tary his­to­ry as well. From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jew­ish Life in Amer­i­ca is much more than an exhi­bi­tion cat­a­logue — it is a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to our under­stand­ing of the com­plex aspects of con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in America.

Esther Nuss­baum, the head librar­i­an of Ramaz Upper School for 30 years, is now edu­ca­tion and spe­cial projects coor­di­na­tor of the Halachic Organ Donor Soci­ety. A past edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World, she con­tin­ues to review for this and oth­er publications.

Discussion Questions