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At Newport

Season 4

Episode 4


At Newport

An actor reads from a poem:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” 1852.

How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!

The trees are white with dust, that o’er their sleep
Wave their broad curtains in the south-wind’s breath,
While underneath these leafy tents they keep
The long, mysterious Exodus of Death.


Host Aaron Henne: Welcome to Episode Four of the fourth season of The Dybbukast. I'm Aaron Henne, artistic director of theatre dybbuk.

In this episode, we will begin by exploring two poems from the second half of the 19th century by prominent American poets. One, "The Jewish Cemetery at Newport," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is generally thought to have been written during a visit to Newport in 1852, and was then published in 1854. The other, a response to that work by Emma Lazarus, called, "In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport,” was likely written in 1867, and then published in 1871.

Rabbi Dan Judson, Provost of Hebrew College, discusses how the poem by Lazarus both builds upon, and deviates from, Longfellow's poem. He then goes on to share about the artistic and ideological journey that Emma Lazarus, as a Jewish American writer, took over the course of her career, using her poem, "The Banner of the Jew," published in 1882, as an entry point to understand this journey. He also touches on the ways in which her evolution speaks to Jewish identity in America and the American experience overall.

And now, Season 4, Episode 4: “At Newport”.


Dan Judson: From the poem, it's clear that Longfellow's in the Newport Cemetery, and it's 1852. The Touro Synagogue, which is in Newport, which Longfellow's visiting, is the oldest physical standing synagogue in America, built in the colonial period. But when Longfellow's there, there's a synagogue, there's a cemetery, but there are actually no living Jews there.

Actor 1: And these sepulchral stones, so old and brown,
That pave with level flags their burial-place,
Seem like the tablets of the Law, thrown down
And broken by Moses at the mountain’s base.

Dan: During the colonial era, during the Revolutionary War, the Jewish community had effectively fled. They'd left. They’d moved to Philadelphia and other places, and moving away from Newport. So Newport declines as a Jewish community in the latter part of the 18th century, well into the 19th century. In fact, almost the entire 19th century, there are no Jews there. There's a summer community that pops up, which Emma Lazarus's parents belonged to, but it's just for the summer.

Actor 1: The very names recorded here are strange,
Of foreign accent, and of different climes;
Alvares and Rivera interchange
With Abraham and Jacob of old times.

Dan: The reason why there's a building in a cemetery that exists even when there are no Jews there is because of two bequests by Touros — Abraham and Judah Touro — brothers whose father was the spiritual leader of the congregation when it existed in Newport during the colonial era.

Actor 1: “Blessed be God! for he created Death!”
The mourners said, “and Death is rest and peace.”
Then added, in the certainty of faith,
“And giveth Life that nevermore shall cease.”

Dan: Abraham Touro bequested money for the upkeep of the cemetery when Judah Touro passed away. His will has in it bequests to all sorts of Jewish organizations across the country, and one of those bequests is for the upkeep of the building and the cemetery.

Actor 1: Closed are the portals of their Synagogue,
No Psalms of David now the silence break,
No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue
In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.

Dan: The Jews actually come back to Newport and repopulate it in about the 1890s, but a different group, a group of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants, as opposed to the kind of wealthier Sephardi Jews who built the building who are there briefly for the summer in the middle part of the 19th century when Emma Lazarus's family was there.

Actor 1: Gone are the living, but the dead remain,
And not neglected; for a hand unseen,
Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,
Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green.

Dan: We should say a word about Longfellow. Longfellow is, of course, the great American poet of the 19th century. “The Song of Hiawatha” —

Actor 1: And he cried, "O Hiawatha!

Bravely have you wrestled with me,

Thrice have wrestled stoutly with me,

And the Master of Life, who sees us,

He will give to you the triumph!”

Dan: “Paul Revere's Ride” —

Actor 1: Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

Dan: Longfellow was — he was a rock star, as it were; the preeminent American poet of the 19th century. If you live in the Boston area, you know, of course, his name, if for nothing else, because we've got an important bridge called the Longfellow Bridge. But Longfellow was a central figure of American life.

Actor 1: For in the background figures vague and vast
Of patriarchs and of prophets rose sublime,
And all the great traditions of the Past
They saw reflected in the coming time.

Dan: If we take a look at some of the layers of the Longfellow poem, I think we see this really interesting movement from beginning to end. Longfellow begins the poem literally in the graves.

Actor 1: These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,

Dan: Newport is on the sea. It's actually anything but a quiet town. If you walk along the shore, there's a constant lapping, lapping against the breakers there. There's all of this energy that I want to say he puts in the New World. He thinks of America with this energy. America is a place of churn. But here the Jews, lying silent and dead within that energy; they're kind of juxtaposed against the energy of the place.

Actor 1: Pride and humiliation hand in hand
Walked with them through the world where’er they went;
Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
And yet unshaken as the continent.

Dan: One of the questions I ask about reading the poem is, is it an antisemitic poem or a philosemitic poem? A few things I want to note at the outset, and then I'll come back to that question. One is Longfellow clearly knows something about Judaism. He mentions the ritual of Passover, and he uses the word marah untranslated, which means bitterness.

Actor 1: All their lives long, with the unleavened bread
And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,
The wasting famine of the heart they fed,
And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.

Dan: We see that he knows the story of Purim because he mentions Mordecai.

Actor 1: Anathema maranatha! was the cry

That rang from town to town, from street to street;

At every gate the accursed Mordecai

Was mocked and jeered, and spurned by Christian feet.

Dan: So Longfellow is playing with the biblical imagery here, turning things around. Who is Haman? In Longfellow's retelling, the Christians are Haman in this story, which is surprising because in the Bible, of course, they're not. But in his retelling, with great pathos for Mordecai, representing the Jewish people, it's Christians who are imaged as Haman.

So it's 1852 in Boston when he writes this poem, and he's met Jews; the first synagogues of Boston are in the process of being created. And he's summering in Newport, it seems clear when he's there, which is not unusual. To this day, people go to Newport on vacation. He knows Hebrew, which is not unusual. Harvard had a requirement of Hebrew. And to be a cultured American meant to know some Hebrew and really to know Bible. All the great 19th century novels in America and poems in America touched on the Bible in significant ways.

So if you were an intellectual in the 19th century, you knew some Bible. So that Longfellow's knowledge of this shouldn't surprise us, and his knowledge of some Hebrew shouldn't surprise us. And so I want to return to the question of whether the poem is antisemitic or not. On the one hand, when I have students read this with me, they say, “Yeah, obviously it's antisemitic. He says at the end, we're a dead nation that's never going to rise again. That's the dramatic conclusion to the poem.”

Actor 1: And the dead nations never rise again.

Dan: So he has some sympathy for the Jews, which is clear, but it seems like he's also saying that the Jewish people are done for this world. Judaism is not coming back. And maybe he's saying something about how Judaism is incompatible with America. We're not going to fit into this new nation, which has come to take the place of the Old World. Judaism represents the Old World, and in the New World, potentially, we don't have a place. So from that perspective, the poem feels antisemitic. There's another perspective though. The sympathy which Longfellow shows towards the Jewish community goes well beyond what one might expect. He says —

Actor 1: How came they here? What burst of Christian hate,
What persecution, merciless and blind,
Drove o’er the sea — that desert desolate —
These Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind?

Dan: Longfellow's saying, with great sympathy here, that Jews are persecuted because of Christian hate. We're the victims of Christian hate without anything that we've done. Christian dislike of Judaism has no basis in Jewish actions. It's just a reflection of negative Christian attitudes. And again, you have the sea imagery — “drove o’er the sea, that desert desolate, these Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind.” Note that readers of Christian writing will not be surprised that we, the Jewish people, are seen as Ishmael and Hagar, even though you might have thought that, wait, aren't we Isaac in that story? But in a Christian retelling of this story, we're the Ishmaels who are cast out.

Actor 1: They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;
Taught in the school of patience to endure
The life of anguish and the death of fire.

Dan: Now we're presented as people who are jostled, burdened, harried, victims of violence, anything but silent. So there's a philosemitism here, I think, at work, a sympathy that Longfellow has for the Jewish community, which makes it impossible to say that the poem is antisemitic. I think the poem is neither antisemitic nor philosemitic, but probably its own thing.

Actor 1: And thus forever with reverted look
The mystic volume of the world they read,
Spelling it backward, like a Hebrew book,
Till life became a Legend of the Dead.

But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again.

Dan: This last stanza is so interesting because it's a birthing image. Are the cemeteries somehow going to birth us? Is the New World going to birth us? He begins with us as lifeless and static. He then moves the reader through images of Jewish history as victim, about victims and movement and energy, and then comes back through the end to our stillness and our lifelessness. And raises the possibility: are we going to be birds into the world again? And the answer for Longfellow is no. Presumably it's no because it's Christianity, of course. That's the rebirth in his world. And he takes us then from our stillness, our end; takes us on this journey through Jewish history of travail to bring us back to the sense of ending and quiet, and the absence of rebirth. And again, I sort of mentioned this earlier, but I think there has to be for Longfellow something about America here; America, the land itself, the earth is in travail and pain to give birth to a new people. But that new people in Longfellow's imagination is not us. It's not the Jewish people.

Actor 2: Emma Lazarus, “In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport,” 1867.

Here, where the noises of the busy town,

The ocean's plunge and roar can enter not,

We stand and gaze around with tearful awe,

And muse upon the consecrated spot.

No signs of life are here: the very prayers

Inscribed around are in a language dead;

The light of the "perpetual lamp" is spent

That an undying radiance was to shed.

Dan: Emma Lazarus writes this poem in 1867. It's clearly a response to Longfellow. We get that from the title. She's read Longfellow's poem. She knows from Newport. And now she wants to respond. And Emma Lazarus is a really interesting figure and vastly understudied, I would say. There's a degree of reason for that, which is that one of her sisters, who was executor of her will, had converted out of Judaism and consciously, explicitly hid much of Emma Lazarus's Jewish poetry from the world. And only upon her sister's passing did that poetry really come back into the public domain. Emma Lazarus comes from — and you can hear it in the name — a Sephardi family. Her grandfather was a member of the Spanish Portuguese synagogue, but her father had already assimilated and had left the synagogue. It wasn't totally unusual for somebody in the 1840s and ‘50s to not be part of a synagogue, but unusual enough at the time, and a reflection of wealth and status that he would have achieved in America to not feel himself the need to be part of the Jewish community. So Emma Lazarus grows up pretty distanced from the Jewish community, knowing that she was Jewish certainly, but a separate and not active part of any synagogue for sure.

Actor 2: What prayers were in this temple offered up,

Wrung from sad hearts that knew no joy on earth,

By these lone exiles of a thousand years,

From the fair sunrise land that gave them birth!

Dan: Emma Lazarus, from a very young age, has the sense that she wants to be a poet. She's in an epistolary relationship with Emerson; that is, they're writing letters back and forth to each other. She's involved in the literary debates of the day, in the literary societies. Emma Lazarus is a well-to-do Jewish woman who has immersed herself and cares deeply and seriously about poetry and her place in that world, and is marginal to the Jewish community. So I think you really see that in the poem.

Actor 2: How as we gaze, in this new world of light,

Upon this relic of the days of old,

The present vanishes, and tropic bloom

And Eastern towns and temples we behold.

Dan: The poem, I would say, is not a full throated defense of Judaism in light of what Longfellow has said 17 years earlier. She's reflecting, as Longfellow does on the cemetery, on the way in which the Jewish community has suffered.

Actor 2: Alas! we wake: one scene alone remains, —

The exiles by the streams of Babylon.

Dan: She sees those same gravestones, which are there, but recognizes also that there's life there. And that's part of the mystery of the circularity of existence. And she wants to show Longfellow that the Jewish community is not entirely gone.

Actor 2: The weary ones, the sad, the suffering,

All found their comfort in the holy place,

And children's gladness and men's gratitude

Took voice and mingled in the chant of praise.

Dan: Where Longfellow focuses solely on mourning and death, here, Lazarus pushes us to remember that there was life here. There was a funeral, yes, but there was also marriage.

Actor 2: The funeral and the marriage, now, alas!

We know not which is sadder to recall;

For youth and happiness have followed age,

And green grass lieth gently over all.

Dan: You could imagine a poem saying, “Longfellow, what are you talking about? We not only are here, we survived, we're proud, we are engaged, we have a thickness to our culture and our religion.” Instead, we get this very, I would say, very gentle rejoinder to Longfellow. I see that at the end, Emma Lazarus doesn't believe that the Jewish nation is never going to rise again.

Actor 2: Nathless the sacred shrine is holy yet,

With its lone floors where reverent feet once trod.

Take off your shoes as by the burning bush,

Before the mystery of death and God.

Dan: I love the imagery that Lazarus gives us at the end of her poem. You have to take off your shoes, meaning the place is holy and you're in the presence of Hashem. You're in the presence of God. It's obviously an ode to Moshe and being at the burning bush, but take off your shoes before the mystery of death and God is not exactly a full throated rejoinder to Longfellow's sense that we are no longer going to rise again. She doesn't say, yes, we'll come again. She says, it's part of the mystery of existence. And you see, it's a subtle way — she subtly differentiated her poem from Longfellow, but she basically hews to a large extent to Longfellow's basic themes. And I think you see in this poem a sense of Emma Lazarus's own ambiguous relationship with the Jewish community. She's existed on the margins of Jewry, she has a Jewish identity, but that Jewish identity has yet to be fully articulated.

Actor 2: Again we see the patriarch with his flocks,

The purple seas, the hot blue sky o'erhead,

The slaves of Egypt,—omens, mysteries,—

Dark fleeing hosts by flaming angels led.

A wondrous light upon a sky-kissed mount,

A man who reads Jehovah's written law,

'Midst blinding glory and effulgence rare,

Unto a people prone with reverent awe

Dan: One of the questions Longfellow doesn't need to ask is, how does America see me? That is, how do I fit into an American milieu? Longfellow is the American milieu. Longfellow is defining America. Longfellow is part of the defining class of people of what America means, and at the center of what we might call a kind of aristocratic power of Boston — Harvard. Does it get more central than a white, Harvard, famous professor of poetry in America? It's basically the heart of America. Yet here's Emma Lazarus, a woman and a Jew who's trying to figure out how to fit in to this American culture and this milieu. She sees in poetry a way of joining the culture. Art has always been, I think, an avenue for outsiders to express themselves and make their way into American culture. And I think we see a classic example of that here. Other Jews were doing it through business at the time. You know, for people listening to this podcast, you might've seen The Lehman Trilogy, the play about the Lehman brothers. And you saw people living at that exact same time who made their way from the marginal Southern Jewish life to the center of New York City, through finance and manufacturing, which is, I think, the more typical Jewish way at the time in the 19th century to make your way to America's center. We have much less degree of artists, which would all the more so make Emma Lazarus a fascinating figure, and, again, I think an understudied one. It's so interesting that Emma Lazarus is the one who comes to define America every bit as much as Longfellow at the end of the day. It's Emma Lazarus, of course, who's on the Statue of Liberty.

Actor 2: Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Dan: When Emma Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus,” it initially was actually inside the Statue of Liberty. It was only put on the outside of the Statue of Liberty on the pedestal in a later period, after she'd already passed away. The people who put it on the outside were making a statement. It was in the midst of anti-immigrationist laws that were being passed in America. That was a movement that started in the 1890s as a result of eugenics thinking. The move to restrict immigration would, of course, have devastating consequences for the Jewish community in the 1930s when we were desperate to come to America. Pro-immigrationists put that poem on the pedestal as a sign of what they thought America should be — that America was a home for immigrants, was open to immigrants. Emma Lazarus, I think, will always have resonance because she becomes the symbol of that open home. She becomes the symbol of a country that has opened its doors to immigration. And so I think it's fascinating that you've got both of these poets, Lazarus and Longfellow, both at the center of America in different ways, having a kind of poet-off, having a debate on the grounds of the Newport Synagogue. And you might say coming into this, well, Longfellow is America, but Lazarus becomes America too, as an outsider, as a woman who writes from that worldview. And at this moment, she's beginning to find her feet as to what it means to be an outsider, and to use poetry as a way of finding her Americanness. And for her, that sense of America clearly encompasses the Jewish community, but it encompasses it in a subtle, in a nuanced, in a poetic way. It encompasses difference. It encompasses the other.

Actor 2: Our softened voices send us back again

But mournful echoes through the empty hall:

Our footsteps have a strange unnatural sound,

And with unwonted gentleness they fall.

Dan: “The Banner of the Jew,” which is the last of the trilogy of poems we're going to look at, was written by Emma Lazarus as part of a collection of works called Songs of the Semite in 1882. And to read “The Banner of the Jew,” you would not think it's the same person in terms of their Jewish identity.

Actor 2: Wake, Israel, wake! Recall to-day

The glorious Maccabean rage,

The sire heroic, hoary-gray,

His five-fold lion-lineage:

The Wise, the Elect, the Help-of-God,

The Burst-of-Spring, the Avenging Rod.

Dan: “The Banner of the Jew” is a full throated martial call for the Jewish community that uses rhetoric and imagery which would become even more popular a decade and a half later as a central part of Zionist iconography. I want to say the poem is militaristic. The Jewish nation should rise up with arms.

Actor 2: From Mizpeh’s mountain-ridge they saw

Jerusalem’s empty streets, her shrine

Laid waste where Greeks profaned the Law

With idol and with pagan sign.

Mourners in tattered black were there,

With ashes sprinkled on their hair.

Dan: It's not 100 percent clear what Emma Lazarus is saying here. Is she calling for political Zionism? The year is 1882. Herzl has not yet sat in the courtroom when Dreyfus is being put on trial and hasn't written The Jewish State. And none of that has happened yet.

Actor 3: “But we shall give a home to our people. And we shall give it, not by dragging them ruthlessly out of their sustaining soil, but rather by transplanting them carefully to a better ground. Just as we wish to create new political and economic relations, so we shall preserve as sacred all of the past that is dear to our people's hearts.” 

From The Jewish State, by Theodor Herzl, 1896.

Dan: But here's Emma Lazarus seemingly calling for a Jewish nationalism. She utilizes Maccabean imagery quite substantially in this poem. It is exactly what, of course, the Zionists are going to do, which is to utilize Maccabean imagery for obvious reasons as the last military heroes that Jewish people had known prior to that period.

Actor 2: Then from the stony peak there rang

A blast to ope the graves; down poured

The Maccabean clan, who sang

Their battle-anthem to the Lord.

Five heroes lead, and following, see,

Ten thousand rush to victory!

Dan: That’s the real rejoinder to Longfellow's line from the Newport Cemetery, that the dead nation shall never rise again. Emma Lazarus here says a blast to open the graves and down pour the Maccabean clan. Literally, she is saying the Jewish nation is rising again from its death. She reaches back deep into Jewish history to pull out the Maccabees as the model Jewish identity. She's doing this even before it becomes a kind of de rigueur way that Zionists are going to understand Jewish history. Some of her biographers say that she read George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. There's a character in that book who's a Zionist, and there's whole conversations in that book about the nature of Zionism and what it means.

Actor 3: “Revive the organic centre: let the unity of Israel which has made the growth and form of its religion be an outward reality. Looking towards a land and a polity, our dispersed people in all the ends of the earth may share the dignity of a national life which has a voice among the peoples of the East and the West—which will plant the wisdom and skill of our race so that it may be, as of old, a medium of transmission and understanding”. 

Stated by the character Mordecai in Daniel Deronda, by Mary Ann Evans, writing under the pen name George Eliot, 1876.

Dan: But there was something romantic in the 19th century about Zionism. You see it in lots of places. Melville and Mark Twain actually go to Israel and write about their voyages there. In 19th century America as well as England, there is a romantic sense about what Zionism could be. So it's not a total shock that Emma Lazarus is writing about this from a place of Zionism or Zionist thought, even before Zionism has really come into its own. You see in this poem a call for Jews to stand up, to take pride, to think of themselves as a collectivity.

Actor 2: Oh for Jerusalem’s trumpet now,

To blow a blast of shattering power,

To wake the sleepers high and low,

And rouse them to the urgent hour!

No hand for vengeance—but to save,

A million naked swords should wave.

Dan: “The Banner of the Jew” was written in 1882, but in 1881 is when Jews start coming to America in large number. Escaping violence from Eastern European pogroms, they come to New York City, and Emma Lazarus is part of a group of well-to-do Jews, often women, who meet these immigrants and are anxious to ameliorate the difficult conditions from which they've come and try and provide a better life in the New World. But what we see again and again over the next three decades is when well-to-do Jews trying to help what will become known as the downtown Jews — that has been the uptown Jews from well-to-do backgrounds help the downtown Jews, help them Americanize, help them get jobs, help them learn English, help them become part of the new country — what we see is not just a transfer of services from uptown to downtown. We also see often — and here we see it very much in the case of Emma Lazarus — that some of what it means to be Jewish; some of what — who we are, what we're about rubs off, as it were, on the uptown Jew. She's helping these Jews who've just come from violence and pogroms to live a better life in America. But she, Emma Lazarus, reevaluates who she is as a Jewish soul. And the outcome of that, then, is this pouring out of poetry.

Actor 2: Oh deem not dead that martial fire,

Say not the mystic flame is spent!

With Moses’ law and David’s lyre,

Your ancient strength remains unbent.

Let but an Ezra rise anew

To lift the Banner of the Jew!

Dan: Emma Lazarus ends up dying young. She never marries. She chooses not to marry outside the Jewish faith. You can imagine as a very cultured woman who has been involved in poetry for much of her life that she doesn't have a lot of choices — matches for her. And she ends up never marrying anybody and becomes a symbol, to a certain extent, of Jewish identity. And you can see she's gone from that ambiguous Jewish identity we saw in the first poem to a much more striking Jewish identity later in her life.

Actor 2: A rag, a mock at first—erelong,

When men have bled and women wept

To guard its precious folds from wrong,

Even they who shrunk, even they who slept,

Shall leap to bless it, and to save.

Strike! for the brave revere the brave!

Dan: So at a deep level, I teach these poems first so that they can know that Henry Longfellow wrote about Jews, and they can see who Emma Lazarus is and hear from Emma Lazarus. And that's important in and of itself to understand that there is Jewish history in the 19th century. But there's another way that I teach these poems. My teacher, Jonathan Sarna — it's his fundamental thesis in his book, American Judaism, that American Jewish history is cyclical. Meaning, we think — we have it in our minds that somehow our grandparents, when they came to this country — or our great grandparents, or our great great grandparents — they were all from Yidden, meaning they were Orthodox Jews who observed in every single way, and that each generation of Jews has been on the decline, less observance, less caring about Judaism. Everybody in the old country was 100 percent Jewish, and we got to this country, and it's just been a slow and steady decline until there's schleppers like you and me. And that's what's left of Judaism. And that whole narrative is just simply not true, meaning, and here I want to be clear, this is me and not Professor Sarna, so don't blame him if I don't get this in exactly the way he would want it said, but there are cycles. There's cycles where the Jewish community is more or less involved, and you can measure those cycles — activity in synagogue life, activity in philanthropic causes, commitment to Jewish organizations, membership, et cetera. You can see there are nadirs, and we're at low points, and then there are apexes where we're at higher points. And what Professor Sarna says is that there are moments where the Jewish community is caused to reinvent itself, to go from a low point to a high point. And you can find those periods again and again throughout Jewish history. And most of the challenges, although they come in new forms, we've seen before.

I want to say, right now, obviously the American Jewish community is very roiled up about what we do about Israel. And I, by coincidence — I'm writing a book about 1922 and the first time the American government went on record as being supportive of Israel; at that time, of course, supportive of the rights of the Jewish people to settle in Palestine as a national home. And in 1922, a hundred years ago, you find arguments between Jews that you could just pick up wholly and place down today in terms of what it means to be Jewish, in terms of what it means to support the land of Israel. What about the Arab community that's living in Israel at the time? What does it say about Jewish identity? All these issues were on the table in 1922 in the same way that they're on the table now. It's in a different form and different scope but they were all there. Professor Sarna says that so many of the issues we face have been on the table before, and so much of Jewish life is cyclical.

So here's Emma Lazarus. Her father had left the Jewish community. He wasn't even, as I previously said — he wasn't a member of the shul to which his father was deeply a part of. And yet Emma Lazarus becomes the preeminent writer of Jewish poetry; probably our only, I hate to say — our only well known poet of the late 19th century writing in an explicitly Jewish milieu. And if you looked at the Emma Lazarus who wrote “In the Jewish Synagogue in Newport,” you would not have said, in 15 years this person is going to write something called Songs of the Semite, which is going to have a proto-Zionist, robust sense of Jewish identity at its core. American Jewish history teaches something deep about the cyclicality of events in Jewish life, which teaches us something as well about America. It doesn't mean I'm not worried about where we are right now because, like everybody else, I'm worried, but just to say there's something deep about the nature of cycles here.


Aaron: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Dybbukast, “At Newport.” Actors featured in this episode were Joe Jordan, Rebecca Rasmussen, and Mark McClain Wilson. Thank you to Rabbi Dan Judson for sharing his insights. Story editing was led by Julie Lockhart with support from me, Aaron Henne. This episode was edited by Mark McClain Wilson. Our theme music is composed by Michael Skloff and produced by Sam K.S.

Please visit us at, where you will find links to a wide variety of materials which expand upon the episode’s explorations. And if you want to know more about theatre dybbuk’s work in general, please sign up for our mailing list on that same website.

This episode was presented in collaboration with Hebrew College. This season of The Dybbukast is generously supported by a grant from Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah. Support for this episode was also provided by A More Perfect Union, a project of the Tides Center. The Dybbukast is produced by theatre dybbuk.


Actor 2: Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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