Center for Jewish History
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Center for Jewish History

Building a Jewish Union and the ILGWU

In 1900, eleven delegates representing seven major local unions in the Northeast convened to form the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. All eleven of these delegates were Jewish men (the “ladies” in the organization’s name refers to the garments, not the constituency) who represented unions composed of primarily Jewish immigrants in major industrial cities such as New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The ILGWU…

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Selling Chanukah in America

As Chanukah transformed in 20th century America from a smaller, home-based festival to a popular public holiday, businesses saw an opportunity to manufacture and market decorations and gifts to Jewish consumers. In the mid-19th century, new waves of German Jewish immigrants focused on Christmas as a winter holiday, in order to feel and appear more American in a country where it was celebrated as a…

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“Yours very respectaly, M. Blum”: Correspondence between a New Jersey Jewish Farmer and the Industrial Removal Office, 1902-1905

In response to the massive waves of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe around the turn of the 20th century, leaders of the German-Jewish community in New York City founded the rather forbiddingly named Industrial Removal Office (IRO) to relocate new arrivals from teeming cities on the East Coast to Jewish communities in smaller cities and towns. Hoping to meet the industrial demands of an…

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Death Masks at the Center for Jewish History

Death masks, molded from plaster in the first hours after death before the features have stiffened or atrophied, were used for centuries to preserve the appearance of nobility and other eminent persons as models for posthumous sculptures or painted portraits. In the 19th century, these unnervingly accurate impressions came to be prized in their own right, and the practice of creating death masks as…

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L’Shana Tova! Turn-of-the-Century New Year’s Cards from the Collection of Yeshiva University Museum

The commercial greeting card industry grew rapidly around the turn of the last century in Europe after the introduction of the picture postcard along with technical innovations that permitted cheaper mass production of color prints. Pre-printed cards became commonplace for holidays like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and New Year’s. This holiday custom was quickly adapted by German Jews, who began sending cards bearing good wishes…

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Campfire Magic: Pluralism of Jewish Summer Camping

Today, many think of summer camp as a uniquely Jewish phenomenon. In reality, Jewish educational camps developed as a branch of American organized camping. At the turn of the 20th century, camping was a major tenet of American Progressivism and the Fresh Air Movement, which sought to provide relief for poor immigrants in overcrowded cities during the summer, while also assimilating them into American…

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“A Very Ticklish Problem”: The AJC Response to the Rosenberg Trial & Execution

Convicted of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed 70 years ago on June 19, 1953, the first and only American civilians to face the death penalty for espionage. At the time, many believed the Rosenbergs to be innocent victims of antisemitism and Cold War hysteria, or at the very least that they had received an overly harsh…

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Kosher Food Production in the United States and the Manischewitz Empire

The Jewish population in the U.S. currently makes up just under 2.5% of the total population, with an even lower percentage keeping kosher. Yet, over 40% of the packaged food produced in the U.S. is labeled as kosher, and American food production companies dominate the global kosher market. Many of the brands that we see on the shelves, such as Coca Cola, Kraft, and…

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Sermons of Thanksgiving

It is widely believed that the Pilgrims modeled their Thanksgiving feast after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. In its modern incarnation as a secular festival focusing on gratitude, an appropriately Jewish concept, Thanksgiving has been observed by American Jews from its earliest days. When George Washington declared a non-denominational National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789, American Jews eagerly joined the celebration. Gershom Mendes Seixas…

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The Jews of Harlem

When thinking about the historically Jewish neighborhoods in New York, the Lower East Side or Williamsburg are likely the first to come to mind. What many do not know is that Harlem was at one point the home of the second largest Jewish population in the country. From the 1870s into the 1900s, there was a migration of Jews into Harlem from the Lower…

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