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In surveys of American history, the presence of Jewish people is usually not mentioned more than twice. The first time is with the late 19th-century’s major wave of Jewish immigration, and the second is with the onset of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Although discussing the history of Jewish immigration and anti-semitism in the United States is important, these stories are not the only ones that comprise Jewish American history. Little attention is paid to the Jewish population in America during the antebellum era, yet it is clear that Jewish people were here, and their presence was only growing. What occupied their lives, thoughts, and writings during this time? What can we learn from their experiences in this era as both a significant religious minority and members of the largest population of Jewish people in America until that point? One element that was stressed in the writings of Jewish Americans during the antebellum era was their interactions with Christians. Jewish people throughout this period devoted significant space to writing about relationships with Christians, attempting not only to create those connections but to define the favorability of their terms, offering critiques when they were harmful to Jewish people and welcoming those that benefitted them. By analyzing debates between Jewish and Christian people over the validity of each’s religion, attempts by Jewish people to protect the future of Judaism in America from proselytization, and newspaper clippings that offer a glimpse into interactions between Richmond’s Jewish and Christian communities, this essay will argue that in using relationships with Christians as a means to foment respect for their faith, Jewish people made a space for themselves within a Christian majority and tested the notion of national Christian homogeneity in antebellum America.


Undergraduate Research Awards - 2022 Finalist, Junior/Senior category