A Tribute to Emma Lazarus for Lady Liberty’s 125th Birthday

October 20, 2011 at 4:00 am

The Statue of Liberty, a gift to the United States from France, was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886. Since then, the New York icon has survived terrorist attacks, sired a brood (think rows upon rows of miniaturized souvenirs in Times Square gift shops), and, in a famous silver screen moment, carried the “Ghostbusters” to victory against the forces of evil.

But it’s not just the statue’s reputation that has been burnished over the 125 years since the landmark was dedicated. The words inscribed on a plaque in Lady Liberty’s pedestal have become as powerful a beacon of freedom as the statue itself.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” reads the poem “The New Collosus,” written by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish New Yorker of Portuguese descent. The poem, which Lazarus wrote in 1883, was engraved on a plaque and placed in the statue in 1903. Lazarus’ words quickly became emblematic of immigrants striving to find a better life in the land of opportunity.

Now, “Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles,” a new exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, explores the life and roots of Lazarus and her dedication to fighting for Jewish causes.

An accompanying app, “Emma Lazarus’ New York,” takes users on a tour of 19 sites in lower Manhattan and is downloadable for both iPhone and Android. Other web-era homages to the poem include an interactive version from Nextbook Press and an invitation to users to draft an ode to liberty on Twitter.


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A film produced for “Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage explores what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes today. Video courtesy of Andrea Simon.

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