Colonial Williamsburg Foundation acquires first Judaica objects

April 5, 2019

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The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation recently added several objects of Judaica to its collections: a sterling silver and gold Kiddush cup and a silver and gold yad (Torah pointer). These mark the first such objects in the Foundation’s holdings and reflect the curators’ efforts to acquire objects and address the stories of all early Americans. Other objects representing the early Anglo-American experience also were acquired, including an alphabet sampler created by a Jewish schoolgirl and Chinese porcelain pieces that were owned by prominent London Jewish families.

“Because we use these objects to tell the compelling stories of early Americans, we seek to acquire things that speak to the full range of their experiences, whatever their race, religion, gender, age, or cultural ethnicity may have been,” says Ronald L. Hurst, the Foundation’s Carlisle Humelsine, chief curator and vice president for Collections, Conservation, and Museums.

The silver objects indicate that Judaism was more prevalent in early America than most people realize. They also span the realms of public and private worship, as Kiddush cups are used both at home and as part of congregational worship, while the yad is primarily used in a synagogue.

The Kiddush cup, probably made by Willia m Harrison I (active ca. 1758-1781) in London about 1775, was the first piece of silver Judaica to be added to the Colonial Williamsburg collection. It is engraved with three lines of Hebrew, “Remember the Sabbath day, and sanctify it,” within a shield suspended from a bow-knot and flanked by slender foliate sprays.

The yad, which literally means “hand,” can be interpreted as a representation of the hand of God and is used as a pointer during Torah readings, which allows the rabbi to follow the text without physically touching the sacred scrolls. Made in Birmingham, England, between 1843-1844, the yad is made of silver with gold gilding, which was the predominant material used to make yads since the early 1600s.

The significance of the alphabet sampler by Rachel Cole (1854-1922) is the story of its maker. Born in Chicago, the daughter of one of the city’s earliest Jewish families, Cole’s mother, Sarah Frank, was an immigrant from Germany, and her father, Samuel Cole, was an immigrant from Austria and a co-founder of the Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv (K.A.M.) congregation, which became Chicago’s first Jewish synagogue.

The prominent Sephardic Jewish D’Aguilar family were London merchants and sugar planters in the 18th century. This hard-paste porcelain stand, made in Jingdezhen, China, around 1795, is decorated with the family’s crest.

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Information about the Art Museums and Colonial Williamsburg, as well as tickets are available at colonialwilliamsburg.com, by calling 855-296-6627 and by following Colonial Williamsburg on Facebook and @colonialwmsburg on Twitter and Instagram.

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