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Washington's Iconic Letter To Be Displayed
The Jewish Daily Forward ^ | May 09, 2012 | Paul Berger

Posted on 05/14/2012 5:03:56 PM PDT by Pharmboy

After Decade, Message of Tolerance Comes to Jewish Museum

After a decade hidden from view, one of the most important documents in American history is set to burst back onto public display, the Forward has learned. George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, in which the first president vowed that America would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” will form the centerpiece of a special show at the National Museum of American Jewish History, opening on June 29.

Ivy Barsky, the NMAJH’s director and chief operating officer, said she was “absolutely thrilled” to have acquired the letter, widely regarded as Washington’s most eloquent statement on religious liberty, on a three-year loan. Barsky said her museum’s location in Philadelphia, opposite the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, meant that one of the founding documents of the nation “is really and truly where it belongs.”

As the Forward reported in a series of articles and editorials last year, Washington’s letter spent decades on display in the Klutznick Museum at B’nai B’rith International’s flagship headquarters in Washington. In 2002, when financial pressures forced B’nai B’rith to relocate to smaller offices, the majority of its collection, including the letter, was put into storage.

Many scholars did not know where the letter was until the Forward revealed it to be housed in an art storage facility in suburban Maryland.

Several institutions, including the NMAJH and the Library of Congress, have tried for years to pry the letter away. But B’nai B’rith claimed that its hands were tied by the letter’s legal owner, the Morris Morgenstern Foundation, which would not allow the letter to be moved.

B’nai B’rith’s former president Moishe Smith told the Forward last December that he tried to convince the foundation to loan the letter to the NMAJH for its official opening in 2010 but was turned down. Barsky, who met with the Forward at a hotel in lower Manhattan on May 7, said she did not know what prompted the Morgenstern foundation’s representative, Richard Morgenstern, to change his mind. He first called the museum towards the end of last year, initiating several months of conversation that resulted in the loan agreement.

Josh Perelman, the NMAJH’s chief curator, said he found Morgenstern to be a person who “cares deeply” for the letter and who understands its “critical importance for American Jewish and American history.”

Perelman described the loan as a “remarkable opportunity” for the museum.

Read the remarkable story of how the Forward untangled the mystery of Washington’s letter and led the fight for it to be returned to public display.

He said Washington’s letter was in “magnificent condition,” though it had been laminated. Perelman said lamination was “standard practice” in conservation about 60 years ago and that many institutions, including the National Archives, hold documents that have been laminated. He hopes the letter will be delaminated in the future.

Since Perelman learned of the acquisition he has secured other important religious freedom documents on loan to form the basis of the museum’s first special exhibition: “To Bigotry No Sanction: George Washington and Religious Freedom.”

The documents include originals of Washington’s letters to Quakers, Lutherans and Catholics; Thomas Jefferson’s draft of “An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom,” and one of the first public printings of the U.S. Constitution.

Perelman said the exhibition will illustrate the “intensive discussion about the role of religion in public life” which took place during America’s early years. Of all the documents the museum has brought together, Perelman said that nothing quite compares with Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport. “It is deeply eloquent, and it is so meaningful,” said Perelman, who was so moved by the imminent arrival of the letter that he read the text to his children, ages 5 and 9. “I get chills every time I read it, because its prose and its promises are immensely significant.”

Washington drafted his letter following an official reception in Newport in August 1790. His immortal eight-word phrase was inspired by an almost identical line in a letter he received from the Newport congregation’s president, Moses Seixas, who heralded the advent of an American government “which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

The Forward revealed last year that Morris Morgenstern bought the Washington letter from Howard Milkman Jr., a direct descendant of Seixas, around 1950. Morgenstern bought a copy of the Seixas letter, from Seixas’s letter book, at the same time.

Since Morgenstern’s death, in 1969, the letters have been controlled by his son, Frank Morgenstern, the sole trustee of the Morris Morgenstern Foundation, and by Frank’s son, Richard Morgenstern.

Under the terms of Morgenstern’s loan to the NMAJH, both documents can be displayed for only three months each year because of conservation concerns.

Barsky would not disclose the amount for which the Washington letter has been insured, but she said the museum had to raise $1 million to cover costs. The museum also plans to adjust the configuration of its fourth floor gallery to create a permanent space for the letter after the special exhibition closes on September 30. Jonathan Sarna, the museum’s chief historian, said he was thrilled that the NMAJH was “bringing back to life something that has not been seen for a very long time.”

“My hope is that the Jewish community will appreciate the deep, deep significance of this and will turn out in large numbers to really see one of the great documents of modern Jewish history,” said Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. Sarna, who was speaking from a car traveling across Indiana, rattled off a line from Washington’s letter almost verbatim — “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.…” — before underlining the importance of the letter not just as a piece of paper, but also as a statement about an integral part of America’s character.

“You’re not just seeing the Mona Lisa,” Sarna said. “Really this is an opportunity to educate Jews and non-Jews about one of the great texts of early America that… talked about religious liberty in the United States.”

Read more:

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Extended News; US: Pennsylvania; US: Rhode Island
KEYWORDS: bestcountryeverwas; generalwashington; godsgravesglyphs; religiousfreedom
I visited the National Museum of American Jewish History last week for the first time. I was I am even more impressed.

This is not just a Jewish thing...after the RevWar, many (who were neither Anglicans nor Presbyterians) were concerned about their religious freedom under the new government. The Jews--like the Anabaptists in Georgia--wrote to the General. And here was an example of his magnificent response.

God Bless America, and thank God we had General Washington to lead us.

1 posted on 05/14/2012 5:04:06 PM PDT by Pharmboy
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To: indcons; Chani; thefactor; blam; aculeus; ELS; Doctor Raoul; mainepatsfan; timpad; ...

Forward Montage

"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
"Light Horse" Harry Lee, on Washington at his death. Lee, a Virginian, was a Princeton graduate and a brave and excellent officer during the RevWar.

Oh...he was also the father of another great American: General Robert E. Lee. Some pretty good genes there, eh?

The RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington ping list...

2 posted on 05/14/2012 5:14:02 PM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: Pharmboy

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Pharmboy.

Just adding to the catalog, not sending a general distribution.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.

3 posted on 05/14/2012 5:14:18 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (FReepathon 2Q time --
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To: SunkenCiv
Quick story about my visit to the National Museum of Jewish American History: I spent a fair amount of time in the colonial/RevWar room (big surprise, I know), and while there, a docent was leading a group through on a tour. As she entered the room, in her large voice, she pointed out the musket in a case and said, haughtily: "THIS is what the Second Amendment was written about; not the AK-47s that are available today."

Well, I collected myself, and walked around a bit; as she was leading the group into the next room, I calmly approached her and said: "You know, of course, that one of the first things Hitler did--in 1938--was to disarm the Jews. Please--before you disparage our magnificent Second Amendment again, you should consider that fact."

4 posted on 05/14/2012 5:24:52 PM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: Pharmboy
How it would sadden this great man to see what foolish people have done to the
country that he and others sacrificed so much to create and build.

To think that once we were led by such a man and now a clownish buffoon sits in his place.

5 posted on 05/14/2012 5:34:40 PM PDT by Iron Munro (If Repubbies paid as much attention to Rush as the 'Rats we wouldn't be in this mess)
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To: Pharmboy
Check out this letter from Revolutionary War militiaman and Philly merchant, Jonas Phillips to General Washington at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Mr. Phillips was a Jew, who asked General Washington and the Federal Convention to secure the people’s unalienable right to religious freedom.

State Religious requirements for office were common. Our Constitution prohibits any religious test for federal office. But, every state has the right to them.

6 posted on 05/14/2012 5:38:35 PM PDT by Jacquerie (No court will save us from ourselves.)
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To: Iron Munro
At dinner tonight, my wonderful wife asked me what I thought about local police departments using drones to monitor citizens. I said, I don't think General Washington--were he alive now--would approve of that. She looked at me and nodded.

What would George do? That's what our leaders should ask...he always seemed to make the right decision. Amazing.

7 posted on 05/14/2012 5:45:27 PM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: Pharmboy

I often wonder how the Founding Fathers would react if they could see what our politicians and SCOTUS have done re abortion, muzzling of (white) clergymen in the pulpit, wide open borders, the welfare state, separation of church and state, etc.

8 posted on 05/14/2012 6:10:16 PM PDT by Tucker39 ( Psa 68:19Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits; even the God of our salvation.KJV)
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To: Pharmboy

“Light Horse” Harry Lee,. . .he was also the father of another great American: General Robert E. Lee.”

And Robert E. Lee married Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter, Mary Custis Lee. She was the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, Martha’s grandson, who was raised by George and Martha. And it was “Washy” aka G.W.P. Custis, was the one who built Arlington House which became the national cemetery.
My favorite George Washington trivia is George Washington courted and wed Martha Custis at the White House Plantation, a property that belonged to her late husband.

9 posted on 05/14/2012 7:57:13 PM PDT by This I Wonder32460
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To: Pharmboy

You bet!

10 posted on 05/14/2012 10:57:13 PM PDT by sheik yerbouty ( Make America and the world a jihad free zone!)
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To: Pharmboy

Thank you for posting this.

11 posted on 05/15/2012 4:04:57 AM PDT by darrellmaurina
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