“First Jewish Americans” Were Anxious About Intermarriage, Assimilation — Just Like Us

November 2, 2016
In 1742 Phila Levy-Franks, the daughter of a well-off family in New York’s growing Jewish community, secretly married the Huguenot Oliver de Lancey. Her mother, Abigail, who had immigrated to the United States from England in 1695, went into mourning and never spoke to her again. It might be harder, now, to find Jewish parents who’d so thoroughly cut off relationships with their children after they married outside the faith. Still, to many contemporary American Jews, Abigail’s anxiety over her daughter’s assimilation will sound familiar. Adam Mendelsohn, a scholar of modern Jewish history at the University of Cape Town, told that story at an October 26th press preview for the New York Historical Society’s exhibit The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World, which he helped organize. The exhibit prominently features portraits of the Levy-Franks family, which, through the preserved letters of Abigail to her oldest son, Naphtali, in London, has become a focal point for historians trying to understanding the pressures and complications of the lives of early American Jews. Read more…
Creative: Tronvig Group