The Forward 50

Richard Morgenstern

Richard Morgenstern

Culture

By all accounts, Richard Morgenstern is the keeper of George Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I., but he has shown no interest in sharing it with the world. The letter — in which the first president of the United States vowed that the fledgling nation would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” — has assumed mythic proportions since it was written 231 years ago.

But ever since the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum in Washington, where the letter was displayed, moved to smaller quarters in 2002, this vital historical document has been locked away in an art storage facility in Maryland.

Officially, the letter is owned by the Morris Morgenstern Foundation, which is run by Richard’s nonagenarian father, Frank. But museum officials who have negotiated with the family say that Richard, an enigmatic and secretive figure, controls where the artifact is kept. Current and former leaders of B’nai B’rith say they have urged the younger Morgenstern to lend the letter to other institutions, such as the Library of Congress and the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, but he has turned down all requests.

The Morgenstern Foundation’s accountant, Paul Goodnough, says the family is very private. Richard Morgenstern, who has homes in Los Angeles and Boca Raton, Fla., has declined all interview requests. When contacted by telephone, his father would only say, “I don’t care to comment,” and then he hung up the phone.

Plus One

The 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 Forward requires 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, the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


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.