Tag Archives: Religion

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: “The Levittown Problem”

On August 13, 1957, William and Daisy Myers and their three children, an African American family, moved into the all-white community of Levittown, Pennsylvania, and shortly thereafter found themselves confronted by angry residents displeased with their arrival. Large crowds gathered during the day and hurled insults towards the home, while at night, cars drove by flashing their lights and honking their horns. The situation escalated over the course of eight days, with rocks being thrown through the windows of the Myers’ home and another stone knocking a local police officer unconscious. In response, the Pennsylvania State Police were sent to Levittown to restore order, where they would remain for nearly two months before a semblance of calm returned.

Crowd protests, August 1957
Crowd protests first black family moving into Levittown, August 17, 1957, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection

 

The events in Levittown attracted the attention of the national press and a wide range of civic and religious organizations that shared a common mission to combat prejudice and discrimination. One of these organizations was Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which frequently worked to promote fairness and equal opportunity in housing for African Americans throughout Philadelphia. The JCRC would not take a direct role in events taking place in Levittown, but correspondence between JCRC executive director Maurice Fagan, and several other regional Jewish organizations, demonstrates the level of interest they shared. On October 18, Stephen Remsen, the director of the Philadelphia based Jewish Labor Committee, wrote to Fagan saying, “The pressures of time and the fact that my Levittown file is at home preparing itself for some more speeches to everybody and his brother make it difficult for me to do justice to your request.”

The apparent request was for an account of the role of Levittown’s Jews in response to the unrest. The letter praises the activities of the local Jewish Community Council, which worked in cooperation with Protestant and Quaker groups to actively support the rights of the Myers.  Remsen notes that there were some “individual” Jews who were either neutral or opposed to the racial integration of their community, yet also stresses that he could find no evidence that any Jew took part in any of the protests or acts of mob violence. Perhaps the most interesting comments in the letter come when Remsen expresses concern to Fagan about the way Jews are sometimes perceived and how this could influence events in Levittown.

Remsen writes: “If there was any problem, it was the identification of the Myers move-in as a Negro-Jewish-Quaker movement and cause. While the Rabbi and all the others of Jewish faith who were in this fight tried to remain in the background, it was impossible to do this. I am convinced that the enemy – smelling one Jew in the community – would have played the anti-Semitic game even if that one Jew did nothing but study the Torah.”

Letter to Fagan, 1957
Letter to JCRC executive director Maurice Fagan, October 18, 1957

Fred Grossman, director of the regional Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, also wrote to Fagan on October 18 about his assessment of events in Levittown. Grossman describes some of the harassment endured by the Myers family and their supporters over the previous weeks and similarly lauds the work of Jewish groups, despite, “reports of anti-Semitic comments and instances of hostility from non-Jewish neighbors previously friendly or at least indifferent.”   Grossman also makes it clear that Jewish support for racial integration was not universal, and, in terms that are a bit more stark than Remsen’s, says that, “Although there are many Jews who are strongly opposed to integration and who resent the Myers, few if any of these agree with the violence or the attrition techniques aimed at driving the Myers out.”

Following these letters, Fagan submitted a report on October 23, 1957, to the JCRC board of directors that outlined what he saw as four key reasons why Jews had a stake in Levittown: “(1) the family which sold the home [to Myers] is Jewish; (2) the friendly family next door is Jewish; (3) organized Jewish groups and synagogues were called upon to make a public stand; and (4) Levitt of Levittown is Jewish.”

Levittown Problem report, 195
“The Levittown Problem and the Jewish Community” report, October 23, 1957

A local group, the Levittown Citizens Committee, took the lead in organizing support for the Myers and appealing for peace in their community. Comprised of Levittown residents, as well as local rabbis, Protestant ministers, and members of the Society of Friends, the group lent direct support to the embattled Myers and campaigned against the racism on their streets. Before it was over, the Myers and their friends would endure numerous forms of intimidation, including the burning of several crosses and the painting of “KKK” on the home of Myers’ Jewish neighbor. For several weeks, a vacant house situated next to the Myers’ home was occupied by members of the Levittown Betterment Committee–a hastily organized group that wanted to preserve Levittown’s whiteness. This vacant house was used as a rallying point for the demonstrators, which featured a Confederate flag flying above and the loud broadcast of songs, such as “Old Man River” and “Dixie.”

Eventually, William and Daisy Myers appealed to the Pennsylvania State Attorney General and charges were filed against members of the Levittown Betterment Committee, followed by a court ordered injunction issued on October 23, 1957–the same day as Fagan’s report. Records show that the JCRC was ready to lend aid if called upon, but no such request came from Levittown’s Jewish community, which had no formal relationship with their organization. The JCRC’s board of directors issued formal resolutions of commendation to both the Levittown Citizens Committee and the Levittown Jewish Community Council on December 20, 1957. Their commendation to the Levittown Jewish Community Council read, in part:

“The Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council notes with pride and gratification the courage, dignity and integrity with which the Jewish Community of Levittown, in the main under the leadership of the Levittown Jewish Community Council, expressed its regard for human dignity and democracy when the Myers family was threatened by mob harassment and violence.”

Letter to Levittown community, 1957
Letter to Levittown Jewish Community Council, December 20, 195

The events that took place in Levittown, Pennsylvania, are a small chapter in the larger story of American’s struggle over civil rights, but in many ways it represents themes that would reverberate in numerous communities across the country. While not all Jews took up the fight against segregation, in many cases American Jews could be found either on the front lines or working to support the efforts of those who were.

Additional photographs of crowds protesting the Meyers’ family move to Levittown, PA, can be found in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin photograph collection.

To learn more about the Levittown communities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, see Suzanne Lashner Dadyanim’s essay on The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia’s website.

–Kenneth Cleary, Project Archivist, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Collection, SCRC

This is the first post of an occasional series highlighting the work of Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The records of the JCRC, housed in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, are currently being processed and will be available for research in early 2018.

Philip Nordell, Collector

Matthew Hopkins ,Witchfinder General
From An Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft….
London: Printed for R. Knaplock and D. Midwinter, 1718
This illustration is “Matthew Hopkins Witchfinder general,” a 1793 reproduction of a well-known 1647 woodcut. The image was inserted as a frontispiece in the book after its publication.

Philip Gardiner Nordell (1894-1976), graduated from Dartmouth College in 1916, where he was an All-American in the running broad jump. He claimed to have invented the predecessor to boxed cake mixes in the 1920s—founding a business that combined the dry ingredients for muffins, allowing the baker to simply add water. Nordell’s primary research interest was early American lotteries, which he studied for over thirty years. His personal collection of early lottery tickets and related newspaper announcements, brochures, and broadsides, is now at Princeton University.

Nordell also assembled an extraordinary collection of books documenting religion, politics, and science in Britain and New England in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Temple Special Collections acquired this collection from Nordell in 1965. It contains more than 250 books, including a significant number of rare British  and American imprints on religion from the 17th and 18th centuries. The collection documents the predominant and often conflicting ideas during this period, particularly related to religion, religious liberty, and rationalism in England and the New England colonies. Included in the collection are many books on “fringe” groups, such as Anabaptists, Levellers, Ranters, and atheists, as well as many works on witchcraft. Authors represented include Francis Bacon, John Cotton, Thomas Edwards, Joseph Glanvill, Thomas Hobbes, John Lilburne, Cotton Mather, and William Prynne.

Of particular interest are the books on witchcraft which represent a very comprehensive view of the topic.  Originating on both sides of the Atlantic, they document the conversation that old and new worlds were having about sources, causes, and cures for witchcraft–and the eventual repudiation of  the belief that witches exist.

In a 1965 letter, Nordell said: “My central aim in gathering the collection has been to furnish important source material helpful in appraising the comparative mental patterns in old and New England.… In different words, the collection furnishes much of the basic source material to form a sound judgment as to the truth of an observation made in the 1640′s, that while New England was becoming old, old England was becoming new.”

–Margery Sly, Director of Special Collections, and Katy Rawdon, Coordinator of Technical Services, Special Collections Research Center

The Photography of Philip Taylor

Walt Whitman Bridge construction, 1955
Walt Whitman Bridge construction, 1955

Since the late 1940s, Philadelphian Philip Taylor has been taking photographs of his environment—Philadelphia as it was in the intervening decades. His painstakingly-processed silver gelatin prints illuminate Walt Whitman Bridge construction, the homeless, pre-gentrification Society Hill, the Camac baths, the Philadelphia neighborhoods of South Philadelphia, Northeast Philadelphia, and East Poplar, Atlantic City, and Philadelphia residents—both anonymous and famous—as well as his travels to Israel, the Canary Islands, and Cuba.

Philip Taylor attended local public schools in South Philadelphia. In 1943, during his junior year in high school, he dropped out to help support his family after his father died suddenly while working at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Taylor worked as a civilian in the Navy Department in Center City Philadelphia—in the mail room located next to the photography department. Drafted into the United States Army in 1944, Taylor served until 1946 at various stateside bases.

Homeless man, c. 1955
Homeless man on Philadelphia Skid Row, c. 1955

After the war, Taylor apprenticed as a union tradesman in the lithographic printing industry in Philadelphia. For the next twenty-five years, he worked the night shift as a master lithographic cameraman making half-tone negatives and color separations for the print medium at Mid-City Press, one of the largest commercial printers in Philadelphia.  Taylor also taught at the Philadelphia Lithographic Institute and holds two United States Government patents, one in the medical field and another in the lithographic field. He also invented two devices related to the lithographic printing industry.   Working full time, Taylor photographed his environment using a Rolleiflex 3.5F TLR camera and a Leica 35mm camera, and frequently stayed up until dawn developing negatives into photographic prints.

Old City Jerusalem. c. 1973
Old City Jerusalem, c. 1973

Temple University Libraries are grateful to Mr. Taylor for his donation of his life’s work. It will serve as a resource in the Special Collections Research Center for study and research. Please join us for a reception celebrating his work, February 26, 4:00  – 7:00, Paley Library Lecture Hall.   The exhibit is on view on the ground and first floors and mezzanine of Paley  through August 2016.

–Margery Sly, Director of Special Collections

 

 

Franklin H. Littell Papers open for research

Littell with papers

The Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at Temple University Libraries is pleased to announce that the Franklin H. Littell collection is open and available for research.

View the finding aid on the Libraries’ website, along with portions of the papers which have been digitized.  Dr. Littell’s extensive library is cataloged and is available for use along with the papers in the SCRC reading room on the Ground Floor of Paley Library.

Franklin Littell (1917-2009), emeritus professor of religion at Temple University, led a distinguished career that spanned more than seventy years. He was a pacifist and activist, proponent of the Christian Laity and an advocate for new religious movements, an historian, political commentator and supporter of the State of Israel. He devoted ten years to work with the Protestant Churches and Laity in US-occupied Germany and more than fifty years to the study and remembrance of the Holocaust and German Church Struggle. He career is marked by strong beliefs in interfaith understanding and religious liberty.

The Littell and Sachs families donated Dr. Littell’s papers and library to Temple in 2010, where they were the focus of a three-year cataloging and processing project. Processing of the collection was funded through a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc., and generous support from Norman Braman.

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: the Leo L. Honor Papers

A program on Jewish education brochure, November 23The Leo L. Honor Papers, a recently processed collection now open for research, is one of a few collections in the SCRC that document the growth of Jewish education in Philadelphia in the twentieth century. Dr. Leo Lazarus Honor was an educator who for much of his career taught Jewish teachers how to teach, and, in the process, mentored a generation of Jewish educators. Dr. Honor was an advocate for religious education and believed that an engaging curriculum of Jewish studies would encourage young people to identify with their heritage from an early age. Honor was well known for emphasizing religious education based on unity, rather than uniformity. His dedication to the Jewish teaching profession and his inclusive approach to religious education made Honor a leading and well-respected Jewish educator.

For more information about the Leo L. Honor Papers, view the online finding aid 

-Jenna Marrone Olszak, Project Archivist and Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, Special Collections Research Center

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: Pinchos J. Chazin Papers

Rabbi Pinchos J. Chazin (1914-2006) was a well-known and much admired spiritual leader in Philadelphia’s Jewish community.  For forty-three years, he inspired and engaged the congregation of Temple Sholom with sermons and weekly lectures that connected scripture with contemporary culture in a way that was both meaningful and motivational.  Rabbi Chazin’s sermons were invariably positive, encouraging congregants to explore their spirituality and delve deeper into Jewish tradition.  He also displayed compassion for the foibles of human nature, an ability that impressed many people who heard Rabbi Chazin speak. 

“Your work as the spiritual guide of Temple Sholom must be a taxing one,” wrote one correspondent in 1950, “but one can’t help feeling your sincerity of purpose….It did a lot to create and instill the desire to delve deeper into the beauties of Judaism, and what it stands for.”  In 1970, another correspondent noted, “You are unquestionably the finest rabbi in terms of learning and expression and humanity that I have ever known, and one of the finest human beings I have ever known, as well.”  And in 1979, a congregant succinctly wrote, “For the many years that you have acted as Rabbi in Temple Sholom you have opened the doors to ourselves and our children to the true meaning of Judaism and warm friendship.”

Chazin’s personal papers including his weekly sermons, book review lectures, eulogies, cantatas and related materials are now open for research in the Special Collections Research Center. To learn more about this collection, review the online finding aid http://library.temple.edu/scrc/pinchos-j-chazin-papers

Jenna Marrone, Project Archivist

 

Collecting the Puritans…and Their Contemporaries

Fans of the Special Collections Research Center likely know that letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other archival materials usually come to us in collections – large and small groups of materials either created or collected by a person or organization. Often, the histories behind the gathering together of these primary source materials, and the long road from creation to their final home in SCRC, is as interesting as the content of the materials themselves.

Less well known is that we also frequently receive our rare books in the form of a collection, as well. While books tend to be rather individual in nature, as collections they have personalities and histories as unique as any archival collection.

Books from Nordell Collection

One of SCRC’s book collections is the Philip Gardiner Nordell Collection, which consists of over 250 books, primarily rare British imprints on religion from the 17th and 18th centuries. The collection documents the different predominant and often conflicting ideas during this period, particularly related to religion, religious liberty, and rationalism in England and the New England colonies. Included in the collection are many books on “fringe” groups such as Anabaptists, Ranters, and atheists, as well as many works on witchcraft. Authors represented include Francis Bacon, John Cotton, Thomas Hobbes, and Cotton Mather.

Frontispiece from Hobbes' Leviathan
Frontispiece from a first edition of Leviathan; Or, The Matter, Forme, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civill, by Thomas Hobbes (London: Printed for Andrew Crooke, 1651).

Philip Gardiner Nordell (1894-1976) was a man of many talents and interests. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1916, and was an All American in the running broad jump. He claimed to have invented the predecessor to boxed cake mixes in the 1920s, founding a business that combined the dry ingredients for muffins, allowing the baker to simply add water. Nordell’s primary research interest was early American lotteries, which he studied for over 30 years. His personal collection of early lottery tickets and related newspaper announcements, brochures, and broadsides, is now at Princeton University.

Swinden map
Map from Tobias Swinden’s An Enquiry into the Nature and Place of Hell (London: Printed by W. Bowyer, for W. Taylor [etc.], 1714).

Nordell also assembled his extraordinary collection of books documenting religion in Britain and New England in the 17th and 18th centuries. In a 1965 letter, he said: “My central aim in gathering the collection has been to furnish important source material helpful in appraising the comparative mental patterns in old and New England.… In different words, the collection furnishes much of the basic source material to form a sound judgment as to the truth of an observation made in the 1640’s, that while New England was becoming old, old England was becoming new.”

Katy Rawdon, Coordinator of Technical Services, SCRC

 

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: Shana Tova, Happy Jewish New Year

Boy blowing Shofar

Scott Ellencrig, four years old, demonstrates traditional blowing of the ram’s horn, September 21, 1960
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection

The ritual blasts of the shofar marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah, a time of personal reflection and examination of the events of the previous year. A shofar is an instrument made from the naturally hollow horn of a ram or other kosher animal such as an antelope, gazelle, or goat. These horns are not solid bone, but contain cartilage which can be removed. The ram’s horn is traditionally used because it acts as a reminder of the Binding of Isaac in the Book of Genesis in which Abraham sacrifices a ram in place of his son. The shofar is sounded up to 100 times during synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah. The ten days of Rosh Hashanah culminate in the celebration of Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance. To mark the end of the fast on Yom Kippur, the shofar is sounded once more.
The sounding of the shofar is not limited to Jewish religious services. Secular, humanist observance of the Jewish High Holidays often time includes the blowing of the shofar to signify bringing the community together and a reaffirmation of Jewish cultural values.

Cover of Sholom Aleichem club newsletterSholom Aleichem Club News & Comment, September 1988
Sholom Aleichem Club Records

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Jewish Catalog, a do-it yourself guide to Jewish life first published by the Jewish Publication Society in 1973, offers step-by-step instructions for making your own shofar:
Step 1: Boil the shofar in water for 2-5 hours. The cartilage can be pulled out with the aid of a pick. If the horn is small, this should only take half an hour.
Step 2: After the horn is completely dry, measure the length of the hollow of the shofar, cutting 1 inch further with a coping saw or hacksaw
Step 3: Drill a 1/8” hole with an electric drill from the sawed-off end until it reaches the hollow of the horn.
Step 4: With an electric modeling tool, carve a bell shaped mouthpiece similar to that of a standard trumpet. The modeling tool may also be used to carve designs on the outer edge or the body of the shofar.

Cartoon of man blowing rams horn still attached to ram

Illustration by Stu Copans in The First Jewish Catalog: a Do-It-Yourself Kit
Jewish Publication Society Records

Jessica Lydon
Associate Archivist

LGBT History

The Libraries have acquired on microfilm The Lesbian Herstory Archives, part 7 of the Gay Rights Movement. This collection consists of a full 150 reels of primary-source material along with a 73-page printed collection guide. Media types represented include “clippings, flyers, brochures, conference materials, reports, correspondence, and other printed ephemera”. The earliest documents date to the 1950s and the era of the Daughters of Bilitis organization. Additional information about the nature of the collection is available from the LHA website. The Lesbian Herstory Archives complements existing primary-source printed and digital collections such as the Gerritsen Collection and Women and Social Movements. It also complements GenderWatch and the new-to-Temple LGBT Life, two databases that index journal articles and other secondary sources. LGBT Life in particular contains indexing and abstracts for more than 130 LGBT-specific core periodicals and over 290 LGBT-specific core books and reference works. It also includes comprehensive, full-text coverage of The Advocate (1996 to date) and other important LGBT publications. —David C. Murray

Historic Philadelphia Photographs

A partnership between the Philadelphia City Archives and the for-profit Avencia, Inc. has resulted in the creation of Phillyhistory.org, a website that provides users with an extensive online photo archive, historic streets index, and index to print photographs held in the Archives. According to Avencia, the site now provides access to “more than 20,000 scanned historic images” of Philadelphia (Avencia.com). —David C. Murray