By Dawn's Early Light: Introduction by the Curators
Living in an age when Jews are fully integrated into so much of America’s public and popular culture, it is difficult to imagine a time before they shone on the stage and printed page. Such a future for Jews was scarcely imaginable in the crucible years after the birth of the United States. In the colonial period, there was little precedent for Jews speaking for themselves vocally and volubly in the public arena. At the dawn of the Republic, they were new to American public life. Yet as the United States started its grand experiment with liberty, and began to invent a culture of its own, Jews, too, began a grand experiment of living as equals. In a society that promised exceptional freedom, this was both liberating and confounding. As individuals, they were free to participate as full citizens in the hurly-burly of the new nation’s political and social life. But as members of a group that sought to remain distinctive, freedom was daunting. In response to the challenges of liberty, Jews adopted and adapted American and Jewish artistic idioms to express themselves in new ways as Americans and as Jews. In the process, they invented American Jewish culture, and contributed to the flowering of American culture during the earliest days of the Republic.