The Sassoon Exhibition at the Jewish Museum Joelle Magazine
The Sassoon Exhibition at the Jewish Museum is a must-see event for anyone interested in the fascinating history of Jewish families in the opium trade. The display presents the tale of the Sassoon family, commonly referred to as the “Rothschild’s of the East,” who advanced from modest origins to achieve status as one of the most prosperous and powerful families worldwide. The exhibit highlights their extraordinary triumphs in the opium industry and their extensive influence on the global economy.
As we traverse the initial pair of chambers, adorned in a rich hue of Scarlet, we are presented with a thorough narrative detailing the ascent of the family to eminence in the opium industry. This account includes their diverse commercial attempts, such as their participation in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, and their acquisitions in the realm of property and maritime transportation.
The exhibition’s storyline commences in the early 1830s, as David Sassoon, the patriarch of the family, is compelled to depart his hometown of Baghdad owing to the increasing persecution of the Jewish population there. After settling in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) and initially pursuing trade in cotton, he displays remarkable foresight and leads his family on a journey from Iraq to India, China, and ultimately England, where his descendants gradually establish roots over several decades.
His commercial pursuits soon expand to include the opium trade, which had surged after the decline of the East India Company in the mid-19th century, freeing up the field for private enterprises to profit from this lucrative business. He forms alliances with and profits from British colonial interests, and soon expands his operations to China and England, dispatching his eight sons to oversee fresh branches in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and London. One of the highlights of the exhibition is the story of Sir Albert Sassoon, a philanthropist, member of the British Parliament, and patron of the arts, who expanded the family’s opium trade into new markets, such as Persia and Central Asia.
With more than 120 works from private and public collections, a 19th-century opium pipe that belonged to Sir Edward Sassoon is also on display, providing a tangible link to the family’s involvement in the opium trade and serving as a reminder of the complicated history of this industry.
The exhibition also features several paintings by John Singer Sargent, a renowned artist who was a close friend of the Sassoon family. These paintings provide a glimpse into the family’s lavish lifestyle and their patronage of the arts.
A Jewish marriage contract from the 19th century is also on display at the exhibition, belonging to the Sassoon family and providing a fascinating insight into the family’s religious traditions and customs.
The exhibition also sheds light on the complex history of the opium trade and its impact on society, acknowledging the devastating effects of this trade on the Chinese people, leading to the Opium Wars between China and Britain in the mid-19th century. Despite these complexities, the exhibition celebrates the Sassoon family’s contributions to Jewish and global history.
Marriage contract of Mozelle (Mazal Tov) Sassoon and Elias David Ezra Pune, India, 1870 Print and ink on parchment Benkarin Zucker Family Collection, In addition to the wealth of information about the Sassoon family’s history, the exhibition also features several important artifacts that provide a tangible link to their legacy. Here are five of the most significant artifacts on display:
- The Sassoon Torah is a stunning Torah scroll commissioned by the Sassoon family, featuring intricate calligraphy and illuminations. The “Sassoon Torah” is a highlight of the exhibition and is a testament to the family’s dedication to their Jewish faith.
- The exhibition includes a collection of rare family photographs that offer a glimpse into the private lives of the Sassoon family. Visitors can see images of the family’s homes, their travels, and their personal relationships, providing a unique perspective on this influential family.
In conclusion, the Sassoon Exhibition at the Jewish Museum is a rich and engaging experience that offers an interesting insight into the history of the Sassoon family and their impact on Jewish and global history. With its valuable information, interactive displays, and important artifacts, the Sassoon Exhibition is not to be missed.
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