The War That Changed American Jewry

An important component, said Pinkert, is a walking 1861 tour of the adjacent Lloyd Street Synagogue with a look at the Jewish community at the time and a re-creation of the debate on slavery between Rabbi Illowy and Rabbi Einhorn. The museum will also host weekend presentations on various topics, such as the activities of Jewish women during the war, the Jewish military experience and the controversy over the equal status of Jewish chaplains.

To reach the young, the museum is developing educational materials for students and arranging for talks at schools.

“The heart of what we are going to show is that we Jews were there, participating in all aspects of this seminal event in American history and that Maryland Jews played an extraordinary role,” Pinkert said.

Yet, the presence of Jews was not uniformly appreciated. Union General Ulysses S. Grant, in December 1862, surprisingly issued General Orders No. 11, which expelled Jewish traders “as a class” from doing business in military districts in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. The edict was part of Grant’s effort to stop the growing practice of black-market dealings in cotton, but his orders only specified Jews.

The Jewish community in the North immediately reacted. B’nai B’rith sent a letter (on display in the exhibit) to Lincoln, strongly objecting and asking him to rescind the order. Others also expressed outrage. Cesar Kaskel, one of the Jewish merchants affected, traveled to Washington and secured an audience with Lincoln to ask him to override the directive. Lincoln responded: “to condemn a class is … to wrong the good with the bad,” and instructed Grant to issue a retraction.

General Orders No. 11 has gone down as the only official federal government directive in U.S. history to single out Jews for discriminatory action. Lincoln’s swift response set an important precedent outlawing official anti-Semitism in the United States.

Interestingly, Grant himself showed no prejudice against Jews and later expressed remorse about the order. When he became president, he appointed more Jews to federal office than any previous president.

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