American Jewish Historical Society

PLEASE NOTE: The Lillian Goldman Reading Room and Ackman and Ziff Genealogy Institute is closed for renovations and will re-open on Thursday, May 8. For more information, please email inquiries@cjh.org.

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Current Exhibits


By Dawn's Early Light: Jewish Contributions to American Culture from the Nation’s Founding
to the Civil War

An exhibition of works from the Princeton University Library's Leonard L. Milberg '53 Jewish American Writers Collection with additional materials from The Library Company of Philadelphia and American Jewish Historical Society.

This exhibition was made possible through the generosity of Leonard L. Milberg with additional support from the Center for Jewish History.

On view: March 16 — August 16, 2014

Location: Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Great Hall, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NY


Contributors to the Cause: A History of Jewish Philanthropy in America

Contributors to the Cause, an exhibition at the Center for Jewish History at 15 West 16th Street in New York City, is an overview of the history of Jewish philanthropy in the United States on view from October 2, 2013 - February 28, 2014. The exhibition presents a historical narrative and a compelling collection of more than 200 on-screen images of archival material including letters, documents, photographs, organizational papers, and government records dating from the 1700s through the late 20th century. The archival material comes from the collections of the American Jewish Historical Society and the exhibition is made possible by The David Berg Foundation.

On view through: February 28, 2014

Location: Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Great Hall, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NY


New York Places/Jewish Spaces: Life in the City, 1700-2012

Over their centuries-long relationship with New York City, Jews have carved out a multitude of public and private spaces as their own, including neighborhood streets, businesses, synagogues and tenement apartments, as well as the temporarily-Jewish stadiums, squares and concert halls that served as venues for special events.

Come discover the various identities of New York Jews (from the years 1700-2012) by exploring the spaces that they have created for themselves. Learn how Jews have shaped New York, how the largest city in the U.S. has molded the Jews, and what Jewish spaces in the city can teach us about the many varieties of "New York Jews" who have lived here.

This exhibition, presented in partnership with the American Jewish Historical Society, incorporates historical artifacts and interactive media. It is part of the Center's Documenting America Initiative and has been made possible by The David Berg Foundation with additional support from The Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, The Kumble Cultural Fund and The Selz Family Cultural Fund.

On view through: August 2012

Location: Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Great Hall, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NY


Heroes from Abroad: The Machal and/Aliyah Bet Legacy

This exhibition tells the little-known story of "Machal," Hebrew for the "volunteers from abroad" who fought in Israel‘s War of Independence in 1947-1947. Close to 1500 North American men and women (among volunteers from other countries) participated in this effort. At the time of their participation, many of these individuals had been only recently decommissioned from service in World War II. They chose again to risk their lives, not to mention their citizenship, by piloting the ships that illegally transported thousands of Holocaust survivors to Palestine in the face of a determined British naval blockade. Subsequently, the "Machalniks" joined all branches of the military that fought to make Israel a living reality. It was principally Machalniks who created the future Israeli navy and air force; principally Machalniks who transported vital arms and hardware to the fledgling and embattled state; and principally Machalniks who provided crucial air support to fend off the invading armies engulfing Israel.

Machal‘s achievements remain largely unheralded even to this day. The Machal veterans themselves long hesitated to tell their stories for fear of endangering their legal status in their home countries, while the government of Israel was more eager to tout the deeds of its own native and adopted sons. Because of the advanced age of most of these veterans, few opportunities still remain to give them a just recognition. This is why AJHS, which recently became the permanent home of the Machal archives (including letters, diaries, official documents, photographs, and objects), has seized this moment to tell their story. This beautiful new exhibition, based on a design created by a Machal veteran, offers a fascinating introduction to this important but neglected topic.

Opens: January 19, 2011

Location: Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Great Hall, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NY


Letters of Conscience: Raphael Lemkin and the Quest to End Genocide

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Raphael Lemkin devoted most of his life to studying and writing about genocide, a term he coined to draw international attention to a crime that had no name. He also actively campaigned for international laws that would protect ethnic, racial, religious and national groups. His most intensive efforts focused on the drafting, adoption, and ratification of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention.

When Lemkin died in 1959, he left an extensive trove of correspondence and papers documenting his work, as well as treatises on the meaning and impact of genocide. Today, many of those papers are held in the archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, from which most of the artifacts used in this exhibition are drawn. Additional collections are located at the New York Public Library and the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati.

Together, they provide an important resource and source of inspiration for new generations of scholars, human rights advocates, diplomats, and activists who continue to wrestle with the crime of genocide, which, sadly, continues to occur in the world today.

On view through: April 18, 2010

Location: Selz Foundation Gallery, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NY


Pages from a Performing Life: The Scrapbooks of Molly Picon

Press Release

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Small in stature but larger than life, Molly Picon commanded a global audience.  Born to immigrant parents in New York, Picon spoke English from childhood, yet she rose to fame performing in Yiddish for audiences from Argentina to Zagreb.  She entertained American troops in Korea and played to Jewish survivors in post-Holocaust Warsaw.  She dressed as a yeshiva boy to play Yidl and an old woman to play Yente and in doing so won the hearts of audiences even if they did not speak Yiddish. 

A combination showstopper and public servant, character actress and superstar, Molly Picon embodied the spirit of Yiddish theater and culture for the 20th century.

The American Jewish Historical Society presents a personal account of Molly Picon's life on and off the Yiddish theater stage in this exhibit of scrapbooks kept by the legendary performer and her husband and collaborator, Jacob Kalich.

Opens: January 26, 2009

Location: Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Great Hall, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NY


The Jewish Historical Society of Michigan in cooperation with the American Jewish Historical Society presents:

From Haven to Home: Three Hundred and Fifty Years of Jewish Life in America

Organized by AJHS/Boston, From Haven to Home has traveled to cities across the U.S. since it first appeared in 2004 in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Jewish presence in America. It is available for travel in 2010 and 2011. If interested, or for more information, click here: http://ajhsboston.org/from-haven-to-home-three-hundred-and-fifty-years-of-jewish-life-in-america/


Opening October 26, 2008, the American Jewish Historical Society presents:

Voices of Change: Jewish Youth in America

Young Jews in America have been prominent in the ranks of Jewish political and social movements from anarchism to the counterculture and feminism. They have played a key role in developing a Jewish press, pioneering new Jewish institutions, and creating alternatives to those institutions. They have also been the object of communal disapproval, anxiety and policy.

The exhibit includes leaflets, newsletters and reviews from World War I into the twenty-first century that contain expressions of their desire to “do something Jewish”  to implement change, oppose oppression and war, assure the survival of Yiddish, find their own Jewish identity and new forms of religious observance.

Location: Center for Jewish History, mezzanine, 15 West 16th Street, New York


American Jewish Chaplains and the Survivors, 1945-1953

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American Jewish Army chaplains were among the first to encounter Jewish survivors of the Nazi‘s extermination campaign. One thousand American rabbis, half the rabbis in the United States, volunteered to serve in the war. Three hundred and eleven Jewish chaplains served on active duty. Of those, approximately 60 had the opportunity to help the survivors in Europe and elsewhere. AJHS organized this stirring exhibition on these chaplains drawn from its extensive holdings, including the records of the Jewish Welfare Board.

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This section was last updated on April 24, 2014
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