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JEWISH LIFE IN AMERICA

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Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2012 12:30 am

CALDWELL — “God Bless America,” was Irving Berlin’s way to express his love to the country that opened its arms and welcomed him and other Jews so warmly. The patriotic song he penned after emigrating from his hometown in Russia that was burned to the ground is one of the most widely performed and recognized in American musical history.

Berlin’s contribution to American music is part of the legacy of Jewish Americans celebrated in “From Haven to Home: 350 years of Jewish Life in America,” an exhibition open daily now through March 19 inside the Langroise Center for the Performing and Fine Arts at The College of Idaho.

“It’s such an incredible story of how Jews came to the United States, grew and flourished in every way possible,” Howard Berger, professor of history at The C of I, said. “This country, unlike any other country in the world allowed Jews to come here without any reservations. They could come with no restrictions on Jewish life, no restrictions on what occupations they could enter. That was unheard of in every other place in the world except the United States of America.

“Jews did accomplish and continue to accomplish so much and have contributed so much to American life in music, the arts, motion pictures, publications and law. They have served on the Supreme Court with dignity.” 

“They have produced some of our most popular movies and music from Irving Berlin to Steven Sondheim, Barbra Streisand, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and Harold Arlen and ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”

Sports legends such as Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg are among thousands of historic and modern figures who have starred on diamonds, fields and in arenas.

About the exhibit

“From Haven to Home” is a newly-designed version of the original Library of Congress exhibition of the same name. It consists of large, portable display panels that show art, photography, literature, news articles and other artifacts that showcase how America, from its origins as a safe haven for Jews, blossomed into a home where Jewish culture, religion, business and tradition thrive.

Dustin Wunderlich, director of marketing and communications at The C of I, said the exhibition is a continuation of the college’s ongoing efforts to promote Jewish studies. “Professor Berger has been a teacher here for nearly three decades and during that time his classes on the Jewish experience in American and Jewish studies in general have been very, very popular with our students. He’s affected hundreds of lives,” he said.

Wunderlich said that groundswell of interest in Jewish studies has prompted the college to pursue an endowed chair in Judaic studies that would promote the study of Jewish history and culture in the classroom and throughout the Treasure Valley, Idaho and the Intermountain West.

“It’s an opportunity to make more people aware of just how important role Jews have played in this country and improve interfaith dialogue within the community,” Wunderlich said. “This exhibit is one of those ways we can continue to do that.”

“The College of Idaho strives to welcome and celebrate many different cultures and beliefs,” C of I President Marv Henberg said. He said the exhibition commemorates “the successful integration of Jewish culture into the American fabric.”

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