American Jewish Historical Society

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Lecture Evokes the Pageantry of The Eternal Road

"In 1937", Stephen J. Whitfield has written, "the unimaginable horror of the Shoah still lay ahead. Not even the most apocalyptic of artists could have foreseen the looming catastrophe that would soon befall Jewry. But facets of the destiny of the people of Israel – wrenched between prophecy and persecution, shaken by both faith and terror – had been projected at the Manhattan Opera House."


“Joseph and his brothers,” a scene from the original Eternal Road production, 1937 (Courtesy Michael Wager)

Professor Whitfield was referring to the staging that year of The Eternal Road, the first modern theatrical production to convey fully the tragic grandeur of Jewish history. This magnificent musical drama, with a cast of 245 that included Lotte Lenya, Sam Jaffe and Sidney Lumet, was directed by Max Reinhardt, produced by Meyer Weisgal, written by Franz Werfel, designed by Norman Bel Geddes and had a musical score by Kurt Weill.

In June 1999, for the first time since 1937, a revival of The Eternal Road was presented in Chemnitz, Germany. The production was repeated at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in February and March 2000.

In a lecture co-sponsored by the American Jewish Historical Society and BAM, Stephen J. Whitfield, the Max Richter Professor of American Civilization at Brandeis University, discussed the politics of the pageant in a lecture which coincided with its opening at BAM. The Society also displayed an exhibit of materials related to the play. The exhibit featured eight original Edward Steichen photographs from the 1937 production of The Eternal Road on loan from Michael Wager, son of Meyer Weisgal, as well as an original first draft of the script by Franz Werfel and a graphite drawing of director Max Reinhardt, both from Mr. Wager´s collection.

New Archival Collection Highlights Jewish Presence in Boston Neighborhood

The American Jewish Historical Society has signed an agreement to process and make available to the general public the archival records of the Jewish Memorial Hospital and Rehabilitation Center of Roxbury (please see photo on p.7), a Boston neighborhood which, during the first half of the 20th century, was home to a large east European Jewish immigrant population.

The history of Jewish Memorial Hospital began in the early part of the 20th century, when Boston´s famed Beth Israel Hospital opened as a forty-five bed medical facility in Roxbury in 1916 to cater to the community´s growing Jewish immigrant population.

In the 1920s, Beth Israel moved its medical facility to Brookline and sold the Roxbury building to the Roxbury Ladies Bikkur Cholim Society, an organization of Jewish women devoted to communal health care. That facility eventually became the Jewish Memorial Hospital.

Now approaching the 75th anniversary of its founding, the Jewish Memorial Hospital played a pivotal role in the care of Roxbury´s Jewish population. Even after Roxbury´s Jewish population began moving to the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s, Jewish Memorial Hospital continued its sense of community commitment to Roxbury´s newer residents. Through the efforts of Kivie Kaplan, a president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among others, support for Jewish Memorial Hospital remained a priority of Boston´s Jewish community.

"Jewish Memorial Hospital and Rehabilitation Center is a prime example of a community serving its people," commented Rabbi Alvin Lieberman, the hospital´s chaplain. "In the broadest sense," continued Rabbi Lieberman, "Jewish Memorial Hospital has served all people, and it made no difference that Jews were replaced by other ethnic and racial groups." Joan Krizack, archival consultant to the Society, who is archivist and head of special collections at Northeastern University, will oversee the archival processing. Krizack is the editor of the highly acclaimed Documentation Planning for the U.S. Health Care System (1994)

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