Passages Through The Fire: Jews and the Civil War

Passages Through The Fire: Jews and the Civil War


Oct 13 2013 - Feb 28 2014
, 8AM- 5PM

Organized by the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum
On view at JMM October 13, 2013 – February 27, 2014

There are many dividing lines in this nation’s most bitter struggle – at Gettysburg, Manassas, Antietam… and Baltimore Street?  The Jewish Museum of Maryland presents a sesquicentennial exhibition and tour marking the war that not only divided the nation but split our community.

A Groundbreaking Exhibit

Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War invites visitors to come explore a Civil War they never knew.  It tells the story of events of national importance, through the lens of one small group in the American populous.  It looks at the ways in which the Civil War was a crucible for American Jewish identity, and how it laid the groundwork for their integration and Americanization on a large scale. It focuses not only on the battlefield, but on the difficult choices made by non-combatants throughout the struggle.  The exhibition also looks at the role the conflict played in establishing a framework for the full participation of Jews in American life – militarily, politically, economically and socially – and how it set the stage for massive Jewish immigration decades later.

Passages through the Fire was conceived and organized by the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum. The Jewish Museum of Maryland has augmented the exhibition with stories and objects reflecting the special challenges faced by the Maryland Jewish community. This groundbreaking exhibition, curated by Ken Yellis, includes the largest and most comprehensive collection of materials relating to Jews and the Civil War assembled in the last 50 years. The core of the exhibition is the unmatched collection of Robert D. Marcus of Fairfax, VA, generally regarded as the world’s most significant collection of Civil War Judaica, which has never been exhibited on this scale, including an incompletely printed Confederate $500 note on whose blank side the Jewish Major Sidney Alroy Jonas handwrote the poem that became the basis for the Southern myth of the “Lost Cause.”

Baltimore will be the ONLY venue outside New York where this full exhibit will appear.

The exhibit spotlights little‐known events that have shaped our history. Passages through the Fire includes an unvarnished look at the debate on slavery within the Jewish community (see tour below).  It illustrates the consequences of an order by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant expelling Jews “as a class” from the massive Tennessee Territory after accusations of disloyalty. Another part of the exhibition reveals how the role of military chaplains had been reserved for Christians until President Lincoln engineered the law’s reversal during the Civil War – a landmark moment.

The exhibit features three short films created exclusively for Passages through the Fire by award‐winning filmmaker Oren Rudavsky. The mini‐documentaries – on Jews and slavery, Grant’s expulsion of the Jews and anti‐Semitism, and the legacy of the Civil War for Jews – will feature interviews by leading historians, including Jonathan Sarna, Harold Holtzer, and Hasia Diner.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland has also added four activity stations to the exhibit: one on photography (connecting to photo pioneers Daniel and David Bendann), one on sewing (linked to “needle picket” Annie Jonas Wells), one on Civil War supplies (attached to sutler Lazarus Goldheim) and one on commemorations and memorials (connected to monument-maker Moses Ezekiel).  These hands-on opportunities bring to life the stories illustrated through pictures and letters.

“This exhibit has appeal for the Civil War novice and the avid re-enactor alike,” said Museum Director, Marvin Pinkert.  “It tells stories that are not well-known, even within the Jewish community.  But more importantly it will be a spark for discussion as people are sure to find surprising connections between our times and the seemingly distant past.  I am particularly pleased that we have used this exhibit as an impetus to reveal a new and frankly challenging side of the history of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.”

Photos of Exhibit (By Will Kirk)

An Original Tour

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Jewish Museum of Maryland is presenting a special “1861 Tour” of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.  The tour looks at what it would have been like to be a member of the synagogue, then occupied by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, at the start of the Civil War.  The presentation looks at the synagogue structure and content for clues about the concerns and lifestyles of its congregants. 

The tour includes a re-creation of the arguments, both for and against abolition, which took place between Rabbi Bernard Illoway of Baltimore Hebrew and Rabbi David Einhorn of Har Sinai.  Tours will take place at 11 and 3pm on opening day October 13 and at 1pm on most subsequent days the exhibition is open.  Visitors should call the museum to confirm tour times.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland presentation of Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the American Civil War is made possible through generous support from the following donors:

Willard Hackerman/Whiting Turner  
Middendorf Foundation 
Morton K. and Jane Blaustein Foundation
Richard and Rosalee C. Davison Foundation
The Eliasberg Family Foundation
The Gottesman Fund
Morris Schapiro and Family Foundation, Barbara Katz
Lois and Irving Blum Foundation
Stiles Colwill
The Miller Family Gift Fund
Joseph Smelkinson Foundation
Media Partners:

Passages Through the Fire was originally organized by The American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum.

The New York presentation was made possible in part through the generous support of the Leon Levy Foundation, lead sponsor.

Additional generous support was provided by The David Berg Foundation; Bloomberg Philanthropies; The Brenner Family Foundation; The Garfunkel and Gottesman Descendants of Louis Trager; The Center for Jewish History; Susan and Roger Hertog; Bryna and Joshua Landes and Family; The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; Righteous Persons Foundation; Shapell Manuscript Collection; The Smart Family Foundation; William and Jean Soman; and Tawani Foundation.

Help support exhibits, programs, and projects like this at the Jewish Museum of Maryland by making a gift online today!

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