What We’re Listening To: Jews and the Civil War


It’s 150 years after the end of the Civil War and we still struggle with our neighbors about what it means to be American. We argue over what it means to act appropriately patriotic, to act as a proud citizen.

We are much closer to the Civil War than we may like to think, with a Presidential candidate threatening that his state will secede – and gaining supporters because of that threat. Now, just as then, Jews are found on all sides of the political spectrum, and as we get closer to the next election, these divisions become deeper.

Did we join the Occupy Judaism part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and put up a sukkah in Zucotti Park? Or did we make sure to get on the mailing list for the Jewish Tea Party?

Faith has long been a reason to get involved in politics – tzedek, tzedek, tirdof (justice, justice shall you pursue) is the rallying cry of many Jewish groups, not just one side. 150 years ago, what did we think was justice, and where did we all end up?

Tonight is the opening night for the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, and the theme is United By Faith, Divided By War: Jews and the Civil War. A series of dramatic readings will recreate the participation of Jews in the Civil War, from statesmen to spies – spies like Eugenia Levy, “a fire-eating secessionist in skirts.”

No, really, there was an incredible amount of Jewish participation; listen to Kojo Nnamdi at 12:30 today on NPR to hear about it, and then see it come to life on stage at the opening tonight.

Because the Civil War’s echoes are still happening all around us.

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