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Jewish-American Hall of Fame Medal Series 50th Anniversary

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise Medal

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise Medal by Eugene Daub is 50th in the Jewish-American Hall of Fame Series

The Jewish-American Hall of Fame series of medals was launched 50 years ago under the direction of Mel Wacks, who continues to guide what is now the longest continuing series of art medals in the United States, and perhaps the world. These medals have been created by renowned medalists, such as Eugene Daub, designer of a dozen issues including the latest, honoring Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900).

The two-inch diameter Isaac Mayer Wise art medals are limited to no more than 150 bronze, 75 pure silver (3 oz.) and 35 gold-plated pure silver (3 oz.) medals, offered for contributions of $50, $200 and $250 respectively to the non-profit Jewish-American Hall of Fame. To order, call (818) 225-1348 or send payment to JAHF, c/o Mel Wacks, 5189 Jeffdale Ave., Woodland Hills, CA 91364. Mention that you read about it on Facebook and you can take a 20% discount. Each medal is numbered on the edge and comes with a certificate of authenticity.

The high-relief portrait of Wise was based on a plaque made by Boris Schatz; the Torah Breastplate depicted on the reverse was crafted by Andrew Messmer, and presented to Rabbi Wise on his 80th birthday. The plaque and breastplate are both in the collection of the Skirball Museum, Cincinnati. The medals were struck by the Highland Mint.

Isaac Mayer Weiss was born on March 29, 1819, the oldest son of Regina and Leo Weiss, in Steingrub, Bohemia (currently a part of the Czech Republic). He was a brilliant student; by the age of nine, his father, a teacher, had taught him all he knew about the Bible and the Talmud. He then went to study with his grandfather, a physician, who died three years later. Weiss continued his studies in the Talmud and the Bible at various schools. He completed his formal education by attending the University of Prague and the University of Vienna for three years.

At the age of 23, in 1842, he appeared before a Beth Din – or a rabbinical court – of three well-known rabbis: Solomon Judah Rappaport, Samuel Freund, and Ephraim Loeb Teweles, who together conferred on him the title of rabbi. Two years later, he married Therese Bloch, who gave birth to 10 children by him.

Weiss found that being a rabbi in Bohemia brought him problems with the government, because of the restrictions still in force against the Jews. He decided to come to America because of its religious freedom, arriving in New York on July 23, 1846 (and changed the spelling of his name to Wise).

Wise became the rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Albany. He was there four years, initiating new reforms in the religious services. He introduced choral singing, confirmation to replace Bar Mitzvah, and the seating of men and women together in pews for services.

His changes resulted in much disapproval. In 1850, on the morning of the beginning of Rosh Hashanah that evening, Wise was dismissed at a rump meeting of the board of directors. The next day havoc broke loose between his followers and those who opposed him. Soon after, a group broke away from Beth El and, with Rabbi Wise, established a new Reform synagogue called Anshe Emet – “Men of Truth.”

In 1854, Wise went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to become rabbi of Beth K.K. B’nai Yeshurun, a Reform congregation (since 1931, the temple has been known as the Isaac M. Wise Temple). He stayed there for the rest of his life. It was from this base that he tried creating a national organization of congregations. He found this a difficult task, as the Orthodox rabbis were at odds with the Reform movement. Nevertheless, despite his setbacks, Wise continued to advocate a union of congregations, a common prayer book, and a college to educate and train American rabbis.

Parts of his dreams came true when, in 1873, delegates from 34 Reform congregations met in Cincinnati and organized the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Two years later, in July 1875, the Union established the Hebrew Union College, the first Jewish seminary in the United States. Wise became its president and teacher.

Wise was also an organizer and mover in the establishment of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, in 1889. Elected its president, he served until he died. This conference adopted the Union Prayer Book that would be used by all Reform congregations. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise died on March 26, 1900.

Further information about the Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals can be found at www.amuseum.org/jahf.

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Striking Medals: 50 Years of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame on Exhibit at the Skirball Museum in Cincinnati

One of the largest exhibits of medals in recent years will be on display from March 21 through June 2, 2019 at the Skirball Museum on the historic Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion. The Skirball Museum was the first formally established Jewish museum in the United States, founded in 1913 as the Union Museum. The exhibit, titled “Striking Medals: 50 Years of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame”, will mark the first time that a complete collection of this historic series has ever been on public display, according to JAHF founder Mel Wacks.

In addition to showing two sides of each medal issued annually from 1969 through 2019, the exhibition features all 50 medals, produced annually from 1969 through 2019 in duplicate, so that the reverse of each can be viewed, as well as displays that chronicle the history and origin of portrait medals; the process of creating the medals from original sketches to clay and plaster models and dies; and texts and videos about the accomplishments of the inductees.

Visitors will learn about the Spanish Jews who helped finance the voyage of Christopher Columbus, and how Asser Levy fought for and won the right for Jews to bear arms in the local militia of colonial New Amsterdam. Haym Salomon raised funds for the American Revolution but died penniless. Rebecca Gratz was a pioneer in education and Ernestine Rose fought for equal rights for women and the abolition of slavery.

From leaders of nations like Golda Meir to leading entertainers like Barbra Streisand, Jews have made important contributions to the history and culture of America for hundreds of years in all fields of endeavor, and their stories are told in this exhibition. Also featured are several special commemorative medals marking significant anniversaries in the history of American Jewish life.

A number of educational programs will be held at the Museum, in conjunction with the exhibit. All programs are free and open to the public and are held on the campus of the Hebrew Union College, 3101 Clifton Avenue 45220. The exhibit is also free, and can be viewed Tuesdays and Thursdays: 11 AM – 4 PM, Sundays: 1 PM – 5 PM. For further information, reservations, or registration call (513) 487-3098 or email [email protected].

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