Read the Walls!
When you visit us, be sure to enjoy these exhibits on the walls:
The Original Charter
Today, the original Pledge Book and the congregation's Charter are preserved at the American Jewish Historical Society. A copy of the Charter is on display on the western wall of the sanctuary, in the original Charter's frame.
This portrait of George Washington – a reproduction of a painting by Gilbert Stuart – hangs on the east wall of the Elmer Lippin Social Hall, which was once our cheder (Hebrew School). It has hung there since our earliest days, and is probably similar to what the immigrants saw hanging in their children's schoolrooms.
In addition to symbolizing our founders' love for their new country, it reflects the special place Washington holds in the hearts of American Jews.
Jews had been among the very earliest arrivals to the New World — the first few arriving with Columbus while fleeing the Spanish Expulsion. Jews settled here in small numbers throughout the long period of European colonization. Some Jews played an important role in supporting the American Revolution.
But George Washington is not just a national symbol; he is a personal hero to Jews, because his bold correspondence with the Jewish community of the Truro Synagogue in Rhode Island was an important step in the establishment of religious freedom.
Washington assured the Jews that they would be welcome as citizens in the new nation. At that time, Holland was the only country on earth that permitted Jews to become citizens. In 1783, The United States of America became the second.
But citizenship did not imply voting rights. Qualifications for federal voting rights were controlled by the individual states, and included race, religion, property ownership, tax payment, criminal history, and other considerations. The last state to allow its Jews to vote in federal elections was Maryland, in 1828. And in some states, Jews were not given the right to vote in state elections until the 1870's.
The Old Sign
This old sign has hung in the shul longer than anyone can remember. The sign is written in the colorful street language of our immigrant founders, a flexible mishmash of Old World Yiddish, American English, and pure Hebrew. (See especially the second rule: ...redden ayn tzu smoken b'eit ha-tefilah...) Here is a translation:The Rules
It is not allowed to go up
to the prayer platform without the
permission of the President.
It is forbidden to converse or
to smoke during the time of prayer.
Every Yahrzeit must give to the
shul not less than 50 cent [sic].
--- per order President
The founders placed their sign in an oversized frame that already contained a print of a civil war memorial statue. Parts of the monument remained visible outside the borders of the sign. (This photo shows the sign after the recent removal of the underlying print for preservation.)
At some point a card was inserted in the lower right corner, adding a fourth rule:
One should know that
every Cantor and every
Master Preacher must more
not receive from the
shul [than] only 1 dollar.
One wonders who did what to necessitate this new legislation!
Property Rights in a Seat at Shul
On the west wall of the Elmer Lippin Social Hall you'll find a framed property deed. It was registered in secular governmental records, granting rights in a seat at the Adams Street Shul.
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