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I Am My Brother’s Keeper: The Rothschilds and Their Commitment to Jewish Causes

On view now in the 2nd Floor Mezzanine Gallery

From the end of the 18th century and into the 19th, the Rothschild family emerged from the obscurity of the Frankfurt ghetto to become the preeminent financiers of Europe. Over time, through their philanthropic activities and skillful use of influence in the powerful elites, they greatly contributed to Jewish causes, intervening on behalf of Jewish communities in times of trouble—from the accusation of ritual murder in the Damascus Affair, arousing the world’s conscience during pogroms in the Russian empire, to rebuilding the Jewish people in Europe after World War II.

Of the five sons of the dynasty founder, Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), the eldest, remained in Frankfurt, while the four other sons established themselves in London, Paris, Vienna, and Naples. They were soon able to establish friendly terms with powerful members of a number of European governments, providing loans for their various—mostly military—endeavors. Throughout the generations, the Rothschilds have remained solidly rooted in the Jewish community, continuously upholding their commitment to Jewish causes.

The Rothschild family became a legend, a kind of Jewish royalty, as their wealth and power caught the imagination of the Jewish masses. They were immortalized in fictional stories, songs, even films, most famously in Sholem Aleichem’s story entitled “If I Were Rothschild,” which figures in the Broadway play and the Hollywood film, “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Niall Ferguson aptly summarizes the Rothschilds’ long-lasting commitment to Jewish causes, writing in The House of Rothschild: “The Rothschilds’ most important reservation about social assimilation was religious. Unlike many other wealthy European Jews, who opted to convert to Christianity in the 1820s, the Rothschilds remained firmly attached to the religion of their forefathers. Though the extent of their individual religiosity varied, the brothers shared the view that their worldly success was intimately bound up with their Judaism.”

Hours: Mon and Wed 9:30am-8pm, Tue and Thu 9:30am-5pm, Fri 9:30am-3pm, Sun 11am-5pm

The exhibition is on view in the 2nd Floor Mezzanine Gallery
YIVO Institute at the Center for Jewish History 
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