Arriving in ever increasing numbers during the last decades of the nineteenth century, Jewish immigrants to America did not find the Jewish ambience of the shtetl (small town) in the Jewish sections of the larger cities. To compensate, many made their homes as visibly Jewish as possible with religious prints and lithographs.
In 1874, the H. Schile company on New York's Lower East Side published three lithographs for the Jewish trade. A mizrach, an ornamental sacred picture placed on the east wall of a home for daily prayers directed toward Jerusalem, was preserved as issued, a black-on-white lithograph. Two lions which have human faces hold up a star of David in and about which is inscribed in Hebrew the verse most often found on a mizrach, "From the rising [East sun] unto the setting of the sun the Lord's name is to be praised!" (Psalms, 113: 3). At the bottom as the title of the print, the verse is printed in English.
The other two lithographs are of Moses and Aaron. These have come down in their completed state, hand-colored in bright hues. Moses, in rich garb, a prayer shawl draped over his head and shoulders, holds the tablets on which the Ten Commandments are inscribed in Hebrew. Aaron, in ornate priestly vestments, holds a censer. Inscribed in Hebrew is the biblical verse, "And they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and for his sons" (Exodus, 28:4).
In the same year A. M. Bleichrode, also of New York, published , Memory Table in three languages (Hebrew, German, and English), an open book, with lined blank pages awaiting the inscription of the family's vita statistics. Above is a depiction of the Cave of Machpelah in the city of Hebron, burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs (a direct copy from S. Shuster's lithograph in A Descriptive Geography ... of Palestine by Joseph Schwartz, Philadelphia, 1850). Flanking it are candelabra with burning candies, beneath which are inscribed, in Hebrew, "For the mitzvah is a lamp; and the Torah is light" (Proverbs, 6:23), and "the candle of the Lord is the soul of man" (Proverbs, 20:27). A man and a woman clasp hand above the verse, "The beloved and dear in their life were even in their death not divided" (Samuel II, 1:23). Above them, in Hebrew and German, is the rabbinic saying:
Man comes out of the womb, his hands clasped, as if to say: All the world is mine, I will besiege fortified cities, amass the treasures of king without measure.
The Lord hath taken away: Man returns to his eternal home with hands spread open, as if to say: Naked I return there, nothing can I take with me. Neither possession nor great wealth will avail in the day of trouble and reckoning.
At the top, two putti angels aloft hold a banner which, in Hebrew wit] English and German translation, bears the legend, "A good name is better than good oil and the day of death than the day of birth" (Ecclesiastes 7:1).
Two years later, in 1876, S. Eckstein published a beautifully illustrated Independent Order of B'nai B'rith membership certificate, lithographed by the American Oleograph Company of Milwaukee. B'nai B'rith, organized in New York in 1843, was the first Jewish fraternal order in the United States. By the end of the century it had lodges throughout the world, including Jerusalem. it not only served the needs of its members, but increasingly engaged in communal service endeavors. Its orphan asylum in Cleveland, for example, set standards rarely equaled. The Eckstein certificate depicts both the Order's Jewish heritage and its benevolence. At the top, under a crest of an eagle astride an American shield of stars art stripes, flanked by the ladies Liberty and Justice, is the motto: "Benevolence, Brotherly Love and Harmony." Beneath, angels on the altar, a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), and crossed shepherds' crook! Four panels depict Moses with the Tablets of the Commandments and Abraham and Isaac above, and below, a doctor visiting a sick brother, and lodge brothers calling upon a bereaved widow and orphans. At the bottom is the Cleveland Orphan Asylum and, in Hebrew, the priestly benediction: "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; The Lord lift up his countenance toward thee, and give thee peace" (Numbers, 26:24-26).
In Milwaukee, too, The Dying Ben B'rith: An Episode in the Yellow Fever Scourge of 1878, by A. L. Baer, was published in 1883, "Dedicated to the Asylums of the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith." In this account in verse of the Order's benevolence to the family of a brother smitten by the dread plague, what are particularly moving are Robert Schade's illustrations, none more so than a scene at the cemetery.
Origin of the Rites and Worship of the Hebrews, by M. Wolff, New York 1859, is the most crowded with detail of Hebrew prints published in America. So complex is the medley of law and lore, literature and mysticism, that a special 112-page booklet, Explication of An Engraving..., was published with it. The history of its publication, given in the words of its publisher, Max Wolff, "formerly Minister of the Congregation 'Ohabei Shalom,' Boston, Massachusetts," is revealing:
Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).