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Museum Musings

Aaron Lopez meets Aaron Lopez

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A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of meeting Aaron Lopez, publisher of El Hispano weekly newspaper, and his family – wife Sara, daughter Madelyn Madary, her husband Phil and their daughter Sam, for a site visit of the Museum. I’ve been an avid reader of this Aaron Lopez  publication -- which has deep roots in this region-- for over 20 years, and was excited to meet the family behind the long-standing Latino community resource. Introducing Senor Lopez to his namesake in our core exhibition was quite a thrill, not only for me, but for his whole family!

While planning a trip to Newport, Rhode Island, the Lopez Family discovered that another Aaron Lopez preceded their patriarch in coming to America and had made quite a mark on Jewish American history centuries before. After his arrival from Lisbon in 1752 to Newport, RI, The city’s foremost Jewish merchant Aaron Lopez built a successful shipping enterprise, ferrying goods including rum, sugar, oil, dry goods, lumber, and hardware between places such as America, the Caribbean, and Europe.

The more recent immigrant Lopez came from Mexico and settled in New York’s Lower East Side. While touring through our exhibition, Aaron told me that he and his family have always felt comfortable among and connected to the Jewish community. To this day, they continue to have many Jewish friends, some of whom helped them establish themselves in the United States years ago.

In addition, while walking through the galleries, my new friends were quite impressed by the rich Sephardi history of early American Jewry dating to 1654, unknown to them until now. Their excitement was evident as they explored the colorful wall with the large detailed family tree revealing myriad of Latino surnames in the First Communities gallery on the 4th floor. They were also delighted to discover the case highlighting the Gomez house, the oldest Jewish residence still in existence in this country.

As we made our way deeper into the collection, we all agreed that the values common to both our communities--such as family, identity, education, community, and tradition, were all reflected in the compelling and diverse stories of these Jewish American pioneers. Another common theme, the immigrant experience, from generation to generation, can be seen on every floor and strongly resonates for all of us.

It’s interesting to note that El Hispano was founded in 1976, the same year as our Museum! It was the first Latino bilingual newspaper in this region, thus appealing to multigenerational families with varying degrees of Spanish fluency, as well as to the community at large interested in learning about Hispanic culture. This ambitious enterprise is a true family affair, originally published out of their home, involving numerous relatives and friends.

Our conversation, spanning five floors and over 350 years of American Jewish history, was rich and profound. When our journey finally came to an end, at the “ It’s Your Story “ booths, and I inquired if there was one last important question they were eager to ask, without hesitation, and almost in unison, they offered, “Where’s the best deli in Philadelphia?” They were hungry for some spicy pastrami and soothing matzoh ball soup that they became accustomed to during their New York days.

Aaron and his family hope to return to the Museum soon. In the meantime, they plan to spread the word about all the wonderful opportunities the Museum has to offer to their statewide readers and extended family and friends.

We all learned a lot that day. Most of all, we feel more connected through our shared American dreams.

I will always remember the Lopez family visit fondly. Together, through our linked legacies, may we reflect on all for which we should be grateful and go only from strength to strength and inspiration to inspiration…

Contributed by Rob Levin, Community Relations Liasion