The battered black leather Bible on display in the county courthouse at 722 21st St. has a story or two to tell. Printed in 1884, it was found on this island’s shore, washed up by the tides after the great 1900 Storm. Its owner, William Levy, did not survive the hurricane, but his father, District Judge Richard B. Levy recovered the weathered tome and made it a family heirloom. After many travels, the Bible was donated by Levy’s descendants to the Galveston County Museum which has posted this exhibit of historic holiday items.
Both Christmas and Hanukkah are included with some featured items several centuries old, Jennifer Wycoff, the museum’s director, said.
“These are exceptionally precious and sacred items as people have prayed with them for so many years,” Wycoff said. “I believe faith is in the DNA of the human animal. We have always found a form of worship through the ages. I am very honored that our museum can exhibit the religious history of the island’s immigrants. We have so many rare and fascinating artifacts for Galveston County because it is so rich with history.”
The exhibit is here rather than at the museum’s original home on Market Street in the old Moody Bank building, since Hurricane Ike damaged that beyond viable occupancy. Its artifacts have been preserved with curators combing over its extensive collection to conserve, digitize and store them.
“After many years of requesting a home for the return of the 50-year-old museum, County Judge Mark Henry gave us this space at the old courthouse consisting of two stories of the annex building, offices and the old jury assembly room.”
Wycoff expects the renovations to be ready for a public opening next spring.
A number of the other family treasures here come from Hanukkah celebrations of long ago, specifically the families of Galveston’s Congregation B’nai Israel, Rabbi Marshal Klaven explained.
“On loan from us are pictures from Rabbi Henry Cohen’s time and, given the season, we loaned one Chanukiah (a special candelabra for Hanukkah.) Also, featured are some special books: Elise Hopkins Stephen’s ‘From Matriarch to Mayor — Eliza Kempner to Lyda Ann Thomas, Four Generations of Galveston’s Kempner Women Make Their Mark’ and ‘Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust’ from Barbara Sasser.”
Cohen was one of Galveston’s special heroes when it came to rebuilding efforts from the 1900 Storm.
“He helped shepherd tens of thousands of immigrants through the Galveston Port onto settled and successful lives in America,” Klaven said. “And, while storms may remind us that the artificial lines we draw between one another are meaningless, it still takes someone to guide us back across that divide. Rabbi Cohen, Bishop Kirwin and others laid out that path.”
Of course, religion has been known to divide, even fracture communities, but that’s not Wycoff’s intent. She notes that the figure of Michael the Archangel is common to Jewish, Christian and Islamic Scriptures. That angel also has a central place in her holiday display.
“Michael was the advocate of the Jews prevalent in spite of the rabbinical prohibition against appealing to intermediaries between God and his people,” she said. “Michael came to occupy a certain place in the Jewish liturgy. Christian sanctuaries to Michael appeared in the fourth century, when he was first seen as a healing angel, and then a protector and leader of the army of God against evil. I think we also need him now.”