Private Owner of Washington's Letter

Richard Morgenstern Keeps Historic Jewish Document Hidden

gilbert stuart

By Paul Berger

Published December 27, 2011, issue of December 30, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Richard Morgenstern just wants to be left alone.

But when you are the multimillionaire owner of one of the most important documents in American Jewish history — George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, R.I. — avoiding the limelight is not easy. Especially when that document disappeared from public view 10 years ago and you are the only man in the world with the power to bring it back.

In a series of articles and opinion columns this year, the Forward has highlighted the importance of the letter not just to the American Jewish community, but also to the American nation. “It’s the most eloquent statement, perhaps in our history, of religious tolerance,” Washington biographer Ron Chernow told this paper.

In recent years, the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Library of Congress, among others, have tried to persuade Morgenstern to return the letter to public display so that Americans can see the original document in which their first president lauded his government, “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

The Forward believes that the Library of Congress is still negotiating with Morgenstern over the letter, a suspicion that only intensified when the Forward requested clarification from the library.

“As a matter of policy, the Library of Congress does not discuss negotiations we may or may not be having regarding acquisitions,” Audrey Fischer, a Library of Congress spokeswoman, said in a November 30 email. “These matters are confidential until such time as all parties agree to publicly announce a gift, donation or purchase.”

She added, “Hope this clarifies the matter,” as if to underline the fact that it did not.

Morgenstern, meanwhile, continues to maintain as low a profile as possible. Reached by phone at one of his homes, in Boca Raton, Fla., Morgenstern said he did not wish to comment.

Very little has been written about Richard Morgenstern. But how can a man who controls the fate of such an important document, and whose family foundation, the Morris Morgenstern Foundation, donates about $500,000 each year to mostly Jewish causes, remain such an enigma?

Here’s what we know about him:

Richard Morgenstern owns a 12,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom home in the leafy Beverly Glen neighborhood of Los Angeles. He is a real estate investor and a congregant at Temple Sinai on Wilshire Boulevard. (The Morris Morgenstern Foundation donated $35,000 to the synagogue in 2007.)

A few years ago, Morgenstern bought a 5,000-square-foot condominium at the palatial Boca Raton Resort & Club. The resort, which is owned and operated by Waldorf Astoria, boasts elegant public spaces, a marina, a golf course, a croquet lawn and a private beach.

Officially, since Morris Morgenstern died, in 1969, his namesake foundation has been run by his son, Frank. But in practice, those who have had dealings with the Morgenstern family say, day-to-day decisions are made by Richard, Frank’s eldest son.

According to legal papers filed during the mid 1980s, Richard Morgenstern is “an experienced and successful investor” with a net worth of more than $2 million.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.