Monday, June 11, 7:30pm, American Jewish Historical Society presents: Filming American Jewish History: A Conversation with Documentary Filmmaker Aviva Kempner

Documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner will discuss her work making films about American Jews in a public conversation with University of Pennsylvania Professor Beth Wenger. Kempner will reflect on her choices of subjects and the ways that she uses historical sources in her films. She will also preview her current film-in-progress on the Rosenwald Schools. This film explores the life and work of Julius Rosenwald, the son of German-Jewish immigrants who became president and chairman of Sears, Roebuck & Co, focusing particularly on his effort to create more than 5,000 schools for poor, rural African-American children in the South.

Aviva Kempner’s films include The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg. Her films investigate non-stereotypical images of Jews in history, focusing on lesser-known stories of Jewish heroes. She founded the Washington Jewish Film Festival in 1989 and writes film criticism and feature articles for numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, The Forward, Washington Jewish Week and The Washington Post.

Admission: $15 general; $10 AJHS, CJH members, seniors, students

Click here to purchase tickets.

The Rosewald Schools work in progress screens at Brandeis Luncheon

Last Wednesday, May 16th, Aviva Kempner spoke at a luncheon for the Brandeis National Committee at the Lakewood Country Club in Rockville, MD. Ms. Kempner showed the work in progress version of The Rosenwald Schools and addressed the audience about making films about Jewish heroes.

Photo credit: Leah Jaffee

To book this film, contact Blair ( at the National Center for Jewish Film. To contact Aviva Kempner about speaking engagements, please email Stay tuned to this blog for updates on future screenings.

Film Screenings at the National Museum of American Jewish History

Join the Museum as it presents diverse and engaging programs illustrating the vast and rich history of American Jews, introducing audiences to cutting-edge Jewish thought and culture, and exploring themes that transcend cultural boundaries.

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

(USA, 1999, 95 minutes)

Wednesday, May 9 – 6:30 p.m.

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg 

(USA, 2009, 92 minutes)

Wednesday, May 16 – 6:30 p.m.

The Rosenwald Schools (Work in Progress)

(Excerpt, Approx 20 minutes)

Wednesday, May 23 – 6:30 p.m.

For more information or to purchase tickets click here.

101 South Independence Mall East  Philadelphia, PA 19106



Rosenwald’s visit to the White House

Last week, in an article about the continuing relevance of the Jewish community in presidential politics, Tablet Magazine brought up some of the history of Jews in the White House:

The Jews broke through in the 20th century, when Theodore Roosevelt named Oscar Straus to be Secretary of Commerce, making Straus the first Jewish Cabinet secretary. William Howard Taft became the first president to invite a Jew—Sears President Julius Rosenwald—to dinner at the White House in 1912. In addition, 1920 GOP candidate Warren G. Harding benefited from a campaign song written and performed by the Jewish entertainer Al Jolson, titled “Harding, You’re the Man for Us.” (Tablet Magazine, April 24, 2012)

Taft invited Julius Rosenwald to lunch on February 28th, 1912, but upon his arrival, he was surprised at the rather more generous invitation to stay overnight at the White House as well. In his biography of Rosenwald, Peter M. Ascoli quotes a letter from Rosenwald to his wife, who was back in Chicago, written while staying in the White House. Rosenwald was enthusiastic about the visit, praising the “genial” manner of Mr. and Mrs. Taft and the “simple food” served at both dinner and breakfast the next day.

President Taft with his wife, Helen
Library of Congress

What Rosenwald and Taft discussed is not fully known, but most likely one of the major topics was Taft’s campaign for reelection. Rosenwald had been a loyal Republican supporter for years, and had been supporting Taft publicly since at least 1910. A rift among progressives and conservatives in the Republican Party was forming due to the interest of Theodore Roosevelt in breaking from the party to mount an independent campaign against Taft. This bothered Rosenwald, and when he returned to Chicago he attended the Republican National Convention and began fundraising for Taft, pledging $10,000 of his own money. Taft eventually won the nomination, but lost the general election to Woodrow Wilson.

Political cartoon from 1912 satirizing infighting in the Republican Party between Taft and Roosevelt
Library of Congress

Rosenwald had visited the White House at least twice before 1912. The first time was at Taft’s request: when Taft heard of Rosenwald’s plan to provide challenge grants to black YMCAs across the country, he hosted Rosenwald in April of 1911 at the White House to convince him to “grandfather” in Washington D.C.’s YMCA that was already under construction. Later that year, Rosenwald used his prior relationship with Taft to get another meeting at the White House, this time on behalf of the American Jewish Committee (of which Rosenwald was a founding member). The AJC had made it its mission to convince the federal government to abrogate the Treaty of 1832 with Russia, for the reason that Russia was not allowing Jews to cross its borders and was strictly circumscribing their actions and movements within its borders. In his biography, Ascoli argues that this visit from Rosenwald played a large part in Taft’s decision to abrogate the treaty. While a diplomatically risky move, this was a vital stand against the state-sponsored persecution of Jews in Russia.

Rosenwald was dismayed at the results of the 1912 election, in which Roosevelt and Taft split the Republican vote, allowing Wilson to win by a large margin. During the following years, he remained involved with the Republican Party in a time when his fellow progressives were abandoning it. As years went by, Taft and Rosenwald continued to correspond intermittently.

By Michael Rose