Exhibition Casts a Light on the Long Road
to Civil Rights for European Jews

Sid Lapidus

An exhibition opening on Election Day (November 8th) at the Center for Jewish History tells the complex story of the Jewish people’s path toward citizenship in Europe.

How Jews Became Citizens: Highlights from the Sid Lapidus Collection showcases rare books and historical documents, taking a geographical approach to discussions around European Jewish emancipation—the process through which Jews obtained rights—from the 17th to 19th centuries. 


Sid Lapidus of Harrison, serves on the Board of the Directors at the Center and is the former Chair of the American Antiquarian Society, determinedly collected these rare texts which document the many steps in the evolution of Jewish rights across Europe and donated more than 130 rare pamphlets and manuscripts to the Center in recent years which form the core of the exhibit. The exhibit demonstrates the complexity of negotiations around the economic, political, and social rights of Western and Central European Jews. Rachel Miller, the Center’s Chief of Archive and Library Services explains, “every publication on display helped in some way to move the needle of the legal climate and public perception around Jewish communities and the persecution they faced – and points to how the Jewish citizen came to be amidst that European crucible.”


This exhibit launches at the Center at an ideal moment to reconsider these dialogues surrounding the disputes and challenges faced by ethno-religious minorities in obtaining their rights.  Exhibit curator, Ivy Weingram, stressed this connection, saying, “Even today, in every corner of the globe, these include rights of settlement, political agency and civil service, economic opportunity, and education. All are up for discussion in the printed pages of the Lapidus collection, and they remain anxiety-inducing conversations within minority communities today.”


How Jews Became Citizens makes these documents available to visitors to the Center for the first time, elucidating the debates over Jewish rights that took place at the highest levels of government in England, France, Italy, and in the German States. The collection showcases key conversations about immigration, (re)admission, economic opportunity, and citizenship through the notable thinkers like Moses Mendelssohn and Theodor Herzl, whose writings shaped both law and public opinion on the civil rights of Jews. 


In conjunction with this exhibit, the Center for Jewish History is hosting a series of lectures featuring leading historians on Jewish emancipation, religious liberty, and the relevance of these topics today.


The Center for Jewish History is located at 15 W 16th Street, NYC.  Call (212) 294-8301 for more information.