In the New World
On his voyages of discovery, Christopher Columbus used astronomical
charts prepared by Abraham Zacuto -- documents that symbolize
the early beginning of the special relationship of Jews with the
New World. Indeed, perhaps the first biographical note about Columbus
appears in a polyglot Psalter -- a multilingual version of the
Psalms -- published in Genoa in 1516.
The first "map" of the New World in a Hebrew book appears in
Abraham Farissol's Iggeret Orhot Olam, published in Venice
in 1586. The author informs the reader of "the three areas of
habitation, Asia, Africa, and Europe . . . also of the far-off
islands recently discovered by the Portuguese . . . of the River
Sambatyon, and of unknown places where Jews reside, the borders
of the Land of Israel and Paradise on earth," and of the discovery
of a New World, a fourth area of habitation. In this pioneer work
on geography, a shieldlike shape is labeled in Hebrew, "The New
Psalter (Genoa, 1516). The
lower part of the Latin commentary on the right-hand side
of this page of the Genoa Psalter provides the first description
of Christopher Columbus and his discoveries in a Hebrew
book. What occasioned this digressive comment were the words
"the ends of the earth" in verse 4 of chapter 19 of the
Psalms. The learned commentator was eager to inform the
reader of the intrepid Genoese who had discovered "the ends
of the earth."
Judah Monis, Dikduk Leshon
Gnebreet: A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue (Boston,
1735). The first Hebrew grammar published in America, its
title page shown here, was issued in 1735 specifically for
"the . . . use of the students at Harvard- College at Cambridge,
in New-England," for whom Hebrew was a required subject.
One thousand copies were printed, a large edition for an
early eighteenth-century American publication.
Jewish settlement in North America dates back to 1654 with the
arrival in New Amsterdam of twenty-three Jews from Recife, Brazil.
The first book printed in the colonies was an English translation
of the Psalms, published in Cambridge, New England, in 1640. The
preface by Richard Mather includes five words in Hebrew -- the
first appearance of Hebrew in a North American imprint.
Biblia Hebraica, 2
volumes (Philadelphia, 1814). Here we see the first page
of Beresheet (Genesis) in the first American Hebrew
Published in 1735 for "the . . . use of the students at Harvard-College
at Cambridge, in New England," by the instructor in Hebrew, Judah
Monis, with the approval and aid of the school, Dikdook Leshon
Gnebreet: A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue served a generation
of Harvard students as their textbook for the study of Hebrew.
The author, Judah Monis, arrived in the Americas from Italy before
1715. Little is known about his early years in America, though
he may have served as a rabbi first in Jamaica and then in New
York. Monis converted to Christianity in March 1722, and in April
of that year was appointed instructor in Hebrew at Harvard, a
post he held until 1760.
This first American Bible published in Hebrew was produced in
Philadelphia in 1814. It was based on the second edition of the
Athias Bible but, unlike that edition, it was printed without
vowel marks. It was not until 1849 that a vocalized Hebrew Bible
was published in America.
During the nation's first century, 1780-1880, American Jews grew
in number from 1,500 to 250,000, in large part because of immigration
to the United States from the German states. From 1880 until the
beginning of the twentieth century, there was a great migration
of Jews from Eastern Europe to the United States. More than two
million Jews arrived in the United States between 1880 and 1925,
when free immigration ceased.
Der Idisher froyen zshurnal
(The Jewish Woman's Home
Journal), New York, August 1922. An editorial in the
April, inaugural issue of this monthly illustrated magazine
stated that the journal's focus would be on the "Americanization
of the immigrant as well as the Americanization of the parent."
Through the journal's retention of the Yiddish language
to interpret the modern culture, the editors hoped to acquaint
young Eastern European Jewish women and their mothers with
their newly adopted land and with the spirit of its institutions.
"The Jewish Immigrant" (Journal
of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), New York, January,
1909. On this periodical cover, America, symbolized by a
woman, opens the gates to the waiting immigrant. Two verses
from the Hebrew Scriptures flank the open gate. On the right,
the verse reads: "Open the gates of righteousness for me"
(Psalms 118:19) and on the left, "Open the gates and let
a righteous nation enter" (Isaiah 26:2).
The cover of a 1909 issue of The Jewish Immigrant features
"Lady America" opening her gates to a bearded Jewish immigrant.
The immigrant petitions America, "Open for me the gates of righteousness"
(Psalm 118:19), to which America responds, "Open ye gates that
the righteous nation may enter." The masthead bears American and
Jewish flags intertwined and above them, the American eagle holds
a banner, inscribed, "shelter us in the shadow of thy wings" (Psalm
The first American Yiddish cookbook, A Textbook on How to
Cook and Bake, appeared in 1901 and was penned by Hinde Amchanitzki,
a longtime cook and restaurant owner. Written in the language
understood by the majority of newly arriving Jewish immigrants,
this cookbook served as an introduction to American as well as
traditional Jewish cuisine. The recipes, which are based on the
author's forty-five years of experience in European and American
kitchens, include traditional Jewish dishes as well as American
fare. In her introduction, the author promises that using her
recipes will prevent stomach aches and other food-related maladies
Leo Rosenberg and M. Rubinstein, Leben
Zol Amerika (Long live
America) (New York, n.d.). Featured on the title page
of the sheet music of Leben Zol Amerika are the
three favored icons of the American Jewish immigrant sensibility:
George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the Statue of Liberty.
Hinde Amchanitzki, Lehrbukh
Vi Azoy Tsu Kokhen un Baken (Textbook
on how to cook and bake) (New York, 1901). The first
American Yiddish cookbook pictures the author on the cover.
Dovid Hofstein, Troyer (Sorrow),
with illustrations by Marc Chagall (Kiev, 1922). Composed
by poet Dovid Hofstein, this elegy mourns the Jewish communities
of Ukraine that were devastated in the pogroms that followed
the Russian Revolution. The illustrations are by Marc Chagall.
Together with many other Russian Jewish writers, Hofstein
was murdered by Stalin's henchmen on August 12, 1952 --
a night that came to be known as "The Night of the Murdered
Samuel B. Grossman, Di
Flikhten fun a froy in geburt kontrol (A
woman's duty in birth control) ([Chicago], 1916). This
drama in four acts was submitted for copyright deposit at
the Library of Congress. It was written in the same year
that Margaret Sanger and others opened America's first birth
control clinic in Brooklyn, New York. Women were alerted
to the clinic's opening through the distribution of five
thousand leaflets printed in English, Italian, and Yiddish.
Police closed the clinic within ten days.
A remarkable collection of more than 1,100 Yiddish playscripts
that were submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office is available
to researchers in the Hebraic Section. Written between 1890 and
1950 and intended for the Yiddish stage, they document the hopes,
the fears, and the aspirations of several generations of immigrants
The rich collections of the Library of Congress, which include
more than 120 million items, are eloquent testimony to the hospitality
of America to the civilizations and cultures of all who came to
her shores in search of freedom and opportunity.
Thalia Theatre: "King
Solomon at the Thaila Theatre,"(1897). Yiddish theatrical
productions were enormously popular among the over 2.5 million
Jewish immigrants who arrived in America between 1880 and
1925. This elaborate poster from 1897 heralds a series of
"star-studded" productions at the Thalia Theatre, located
in New York City's Bowery district on the Lower East Side.
(Prints and Photographs
L. Gilrod and D. Meyrowitz, A
Boychik Up-to-Date (An
up-to-date dandy) (New York, n.d.). The garish colors
of the sheet music's title page match the look of the pudgy,
faddish, bejeweled "hero." The song is critical of this
up-to-date dandy and, through him, the American scene that
created such an image.