Exploring American Jewish History through 50 Historic Treasures offers students and general readers new perspectives on the rich complexity of Jewish experiences in America. As one of America's most fascinating and enduring minorities, American Jews have played key roles in every era of American history and every region of the country.
The 50 treasures are depicted in full color and range from a family cookbook to a college campus and include items that are iconic, ordinary, and whimsical. Each of the treasures is described in historical, material, and visual contexts, offering readers new, unexpected insights into the meanings of Jewish life, history, and culture.
Avi Decter is the author of Interpreting American Jewish History at Museums and Historic Sites (2016), co-author of Ten Years: Remembrance, Education, Hope [Holocaust Museum Houston] (2006), editor or co-editor of ten books and book-length catalogs on American Jewish history, and author of numerous exhibition and book reviews, articles, and blogs on public history and interpretation. He has served as director of the Museum of American Jewish History and the Jewish Museum of Maryland, as head of education at the H.F. DuPont Museum and Gardens, and as special assistant to the director of the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution).
As managing partner of History Now, Decter has consulted widely with local and national history organizations ranging from the National Civil War Museum to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Visitor Center. He served as interpretive planner for the core exhibitions at both The Jewish Museum in New York and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and for 25 years as a senior advisor and program developer for the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
Mr. Decter has overseen development of major exhibitions on various aspects of American Jewish life including projects on Jewish agricultural colonies, dress and fashion, tchotchkes (Jewish knicknacks), foodways, vacationing, refugees from Nazism, a Jewish neighborhood (East Baltimore), small town Jewish life, and the history of the landmark Lloyd Street Synagogue (1841). His exhibitions and programs at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (2000-2012) were supported by major grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Humanities. During his tenure, the JMM received four awards of merit from the American Association for
Decter’s (Interpreting American Jewish History at Museums and Historic Sites) latest assembles 50 objects—some iconic, some ordinary—to represent the Jewish experience in the United States. The book is divided into six chronological parts, beginning with Jewish life in the United States before the 1820s and continuing through the present. Among the objects pictured in the book (all in full color) are postcards, a ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract), a letter from George Washington, photographs of synagogues’ interiors and exteriors, a cookbook, a peddler’s wagon, the Maxwell House Passover Haggadah, and the linotype used at the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish-language socialist newspaper founded in 1897. Although these objects come from all parts of the country, there is some emphasis on the New York and Baltimore areas. Decter writes that it was difficult to select only 50 objects, but readers will find that they all appropriately reflect the lives of Jewish Americans as well as the history of the United States. An intriguing, illustrated volume that showcases the link between Jewish artifacts and U.S. history.
Avi Decter’s exploration of the American Jewish experience is imaginative and ingenious. His engaging book merits the highest praise for making the legacy of the past into something that is fresh and vivid.
Avi Decter has chosen his treasures of American Jewish history wisely. He has interpreted these 'treasures' clearly and concisely without compromising the complexity of his subject, the more than three and half centuries that Jews have spent on American shores. This book offers a general understanding of American Jewish history and an in depth look into some of its material and documentary treasures, each illustrative of its era. Well done indeed!
Over 50 color photos.