When Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, he was deeply in debt. His heirs chose to sell Monticello, the house Jefferson designed and the plantation assets, including land and enslaved people, to help reconcile those debts. The mansion itself fell into disrepair immediately following Jefferson’s death, and the gardens and landscape grew wild.
Monticello was saved for future generations by a Jewish family from New York.
Uriah Phillips Levy, the first Jewish commodore in the United States Navy, admired Jefferson for his views on the freedom of religion. Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a bill outlining the separation of church and state, a forerunner to the religious freedoms guaranteed in the US Constitution.
Uriah Levy lived an extraordinary life. A veteran who continuously fought against antisemitism throughout his naval career, Levy passionately advocated for the preservation of Monticello and the exaltation of Jefferson’s ideas. His nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, inherited his uncle’s campaign and continued preservation efforts into the 20th century — in spite of antisemitic vitriol and a campaign to wrest Monticello from his family’s care.
This little-known story is revealed in the extraordinary new documentary film The Levys of Monticello, one that engages viewers with a complex story of trial and triumph and commemorates the successes of one family in preserving an architectural masterpiece and an icon of American history.
The Temple Emanu-El Streicker Cultural Center is proud to present this new film, followed by a discussion with:
Steven Pressman, filmmaker, The Levys of Monticello documentary
Dr. Jonathan Sarna, University Professor and the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History and Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. He is also past president of the Association for Jewish Studies and Chief Historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia
Susan Stein, Senior Curator and Vice-President of Museum Programs at Monticello. Stein has been involved in the creation of the presentation of exhibitions for Jefferson’s historic home for almost forty years.
Thursday, May 23, 2024 | 6:30 PM Eastern