FEATUREOctober 2023

Hadassah Presents the Documentary, The Levys of Monticello


Hadassah San Diego’s Bat Harim Group, in collaboration with Poway’s Temple Adat Shalom and Ner Tamid Synagogue, presents The Levys of Monticello, the astonishing and little-known story about the Jewish life of Monticello. This fascinating 2022 documentary tells the sweeping saga of the Jewish Levy family who saved Thomas Jefferson’s iconic Monticello home from ruin and preserved it from the 1830s to 1920s.

Monticello, the cherished home of Thomas Jefferson, had fallen into serious disrepair by the time of Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826. Jefferson was heavily in debt, thus his heirs had no choice but to sell the property. Uriah Phillips Levy and the Levy family greatly admired Thomas Jefferson, especially the role he played in guaranteeing religious freedom in the newly established United States. Uriah Levy had risen to become the first Jewish Commodore in the United States Navy and had endured persistent anti-Semitism throughout his 50-year career. He felt it was his duty to rescue this important landmark. After Uriah’s death, ownership eventually passed to his nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, a wealthy New York businessman and stock speculator who served two terms in the United States Congress. Jefferson Levy also endured anti-Semitism, particularly when a woman named Maud Littleton mounted a national campaign to wrest ownership of Monticello away from Levy in hopes of turning it into a government-run shrine to Thomas Jefferson.

While focusing on the Levy family’s 89-year ownership and preservation of Monticello, The Levys of Monticello tells the broader story about the anti-Semitism that is present throughout American history. The film also addresses the pivotal role that enslaved people played at Monticello, during both Thomas Jefferson’s and Uriah Levy’s years as owners.

Produced and directed by Steven Pressman, the film received the Building Bridges Jury Prize Award at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Washington DC Jewish Film Festival, and the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2022 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival.


Youth Aliyah

For 100 years, Hadassah’s Youth Aliyah Villages have helped educate, feed, counsel, shelter, and provide emotional and social support services for at-risk Israeli children and immigrants from Russia and other countries where it’s dangerous to be a Jew. Today, Youth Aliyah continues to provide a safe haven and promising start to refugees and is the new home to 40 Ukrainian students. Youth Aliyah sets them on the path to a successful future, providing love, a safe environment, and a feeling of home, family, and belonging.

Youth Aliyah started in Europe during WWII to rescue Jewish children from the Nazis. Hadassah’s founder, Henrietta Szold, was asked to open a branch of Youth Aliyah in what was then Palestine. In 1934, with Hadassah’s support, Henrietta opened the first Youth Aliyah Village, Meir Shfeyah, saving 30,000 children who Henrietta managed to rescue from Nazi hands. In 1948, Hadassah Neurim opened in North Central Israel as a refuge for children fleeing the gunfire from Israel’s War of Independence.

Many Youth Aliyah students are immigrants; they have no knowledge or understanding of their Jewish heritage. Youth Aliyah offers them programs to enhance their knowledge of Judaism, its history, language, culture, and customs, and teaches them to speak Hebrew and English.

Meir Shfeyah has everything from computer and science labs to a gym, synagogue, dairy, chicken farm, computerized greenhouse, organic farm, vineyards, and orchards. The Village operates vocational training with programs in high-tech auto repair, precision toolmaking, and wine making. Music plays an important part in the healing and lives of Youth Aliyah’s children. Students study instrumental music and voice and perform for audiences across Israel and beyond, and Youth Aliyah students have gone on to careers as opera singers and symphony members. The new Meir Shfeyah Technology Center offers training in technology areas such as mechatronics and robotics, providing students with expertise in industries that will define the future.

Hadassah Neurim programs include sound and audio workshops, animal therapy, pre-army preparation, and carpentry, as well as programs for special needs students and athletically gifted youth.

Thanks to the staff, programs, education, and experiences provided through Youth Aliyah, the students complete their Bagrut (graduation) requirements at twice the national average, and 97% of graduates do their army service in the Israel Defense Force. Since the inception of Youth Aliyah, more than 300,000 students from 80 lands have been housed, educated, and graduated from these villages.

This must-see film is being shown at a venue in Poway on Sunday, November 5, from 2-5 p.m. There will be a conversation with producer/director Steven Pressman following the movie. Desserts and beverages will be served.

For more information and to register to attend and/or donate to Youth Aliyah visit events.hadassah.org/LevysofMonticello.


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