Scatter Light, Not Darkness
September 1 - December 31, 2017
Our exhibition is inspired by one of America’s sacred texts, the revolutionary letter penned by President George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790. His letter was in reply to a beautifully and powerfully worded message of welcome from the Jewish community to America's new President, in which they also expressed concern for their civil and religious liberties.
Fourteen years a fter the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Washington's letter served as a radical affirmation of the religious freedom granted under our new republic. He famously wrote, "the Government of the United States, gives to bigotry no sanction, and to persecution no assistance." This statement of support for the rights of religious minorities by the leader of a nation was, until that time, unprecedented in the history of the world.
However, it is his closing words: “May the Father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths” that seem to hold most resonance today. What our world needs are people prepared to scatter light, to accept the call to action in the work of tikkun olam.
This exhibit looks to the story of the early days of our nation as it shaped the American Jewish experience of the next three centuries. It reminds us our democratic ideals, and casts lights on the bigotry and religious persecution that is surging under this new Administration. For those of us who feel trapped by an overwhelming darkeness, this exhibition offers inspiration to help us navigate our way out of the abyss.
The letters between Washington and the Newport congregation contain four major sub-themes: Citizenship, Public Virtue, Promised Land, Vine and Fig Tree. We have paired contemporary artwork with each theme and created interactive areas to explore them further. We are asking what is the role of a synagogue, Jewish organization, and educator in exploring these towering ideals? How do we ask the right questions of a divided nation to help steer our Jewish communities towards the answers/actions we are seeking? We hope you will leave your thoughts, questions, and insights as we search together for a way forward.
As American Jews, we are tasked with safeguarding this sacred call to action by President Washington. May we continue to work to ensure our government upholds its promise to give bigotry no sanction and to scatter light-- not darkness!