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YU Receives Rare Collection of Newspapers from 18-19th Century America

Collection Donated by Dr. Ronald and Miriam Rubin Provides Insight on the American Jewish Experience

For over a decade, Dr. Ronald and Miriam Rubin have been generous partners and benefactors of the YU Libraries contributing over 100 rare items to the library catalog. Recently the Rubin’s added to this legacy by donating 350 newspaper clippings published in North America between 1734 and 1869, each of which communicates an important insight into the story of Jewish life on this continent. An event celebrating this gift was held on December 11, 2022, in the Mendel Gottesman Library.

The collection of newspapers shines a spotlight on what daily Jewish life looked like in America’s burgeoning population centers during the nation’s founding years, periods of rapid growth, and pivotal moments of social and societal change. These primary sources provide both a micro and macro perspective on the development of Jewish life in the United States, how the American Jewish community interfaced with greater American society, and the impact that current events had on the fabric of Jewish communal life.

Dr. Rubin (YUHSB ’57), generously donated the rare collection, which he amassed while conducting research on American Jewish life. He is a noted collector of antiquarian Americana and was a professor of political science at the City University of New York’s Borough of Manhattan Community College for over fifty years. In 2019, Dr. Rubin authored Strangers & Natives: A Newspaper Narrative of Early Jewish America 1734 –1869, and based his research in the book on the artifacts given to YU.


Strangers & Natives: A Newspaper Narrative of Early Jewish America 1734 –1869, By Dr. Ronald Rubin (KTAV PUBLISHERS)

The earliest newspaper issue in this collection predates by over four decades the American Revolution. Clippings range from an advertisement placed by Haym Salomon – the famed philanthropist who funded George Washington’s war efforts, to an 1854 appeal for the Jewish community impacted by the French-Spanish invasion, a rare 1853 illustration of a synagogue located on Clinton Street in New York’s Lower East Side, and an 1864 New York Times front page feature on a Purim masquerade benefiting orphans.

Perhaps the most treasured and historically significant item in the gifted collection is an issue dated September 15th, 1790, detailing correspondences between George Washington and the Newport Hebrew Congregation. These letters not only highlights President Washington’s unique relationship with the Jewish community but also provides a lens into the founding father’s commitment to ensuring a religiously tolerant society.

Washington wrote in his letter that “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy... For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

The Jewish Synagogue, Clinton Street Illustrated News, May 14, 1853
(Professor Ronald and Miriam Rubin Judaica Americana Collection)

Dr. Rubin shared during the unveiling presentation that “this collection chronicles how the Jews developed from being strangers to becoming acceptable and respected citizens, and how that development took place in the eyes of the Jews, how they maintained their loyalty to their Yiddishkeit while developing the American enterprise, and how the general public considered the Jews of the time.”

New York Herald, December 27, 1859 – Articles Describing the Plight of Moroccan Jews and the Jewish Community of New York. (Professor Ronald and Miriam Rubin Judaica Americana Collection)

He continued, despite the challenges of antisemitism, adaptation, and assimilation these papers highlight that “there was always significant interest in Jewish activities [from the general public] and the point can be easily made that in the development of colonial and republican America, Jews were very devoted to the American ideal.”

Shulamith Berger, Curator of Special Collections at the Mendel Gottesman Library, remarked at the collection’s reception ceremony that “one of the highlights of these primary sources is the immediacy of the information for both researchers and students. Observers will read these documents in the way a contemporary would have read it, and it places the Jewish material directly in the context of American life and the happenings of general society.”

Berger concluded “Professor Rubin is always bringing gifts when he visits, and he's been a partner in building up the libraries, and the library is most grateful to Dr. Rubin for this unique contribution to the University's collections.”…