When Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, he left behind a mountain of personal debt, which forced his heirs to sell his beloved Monticello home and all of its possessions. The Jews of Monticello is a documentary film that tells the little-known story of the Levy family, which owned and carefully preserved Monticello for nearly a century – far longer than Jefferson or his descendants. The remarkable story of the Levy family also intersects with the rise of antisemitism that runs throughout the course of American history.
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Summary: The Jews of Monticello
Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the nation’s most iconic symbols of America’s lofty ideals of democracy and freedom. Designed by Jefferson himself, Monticello became his favorite retreat during his presidency and throughout the years of his retirement. It is also the place where he died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which he had written all those decades earlier.
But Jefferson also died heavily in debt, leaving his heirs no choice but to auction off many of his possessions and, ultimately, to sell Monticello itself. The first owner abandoned the property after only a few years. And in 1834, it was purchased by Uriah Levy, a career U.S. naval officer who fiercely admired Jefferson for his views on religious liberty. Levy, along with his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy, ultimately would own Monticello for nearly a century – far longer than Jefferson and his own descendants. The Levy family is also responsible for saving Monticello from dilapidation and ruin during an era in which the concept of historic preservation was all but non-existent in the United States.
Along with its focus on the Levy family’s role in restoring and preserving Monticello, the film will also take a broader look at the strains of antisemitism that have existed in the United States from its earliest days right up to the present.
About the Filmmaker
The Jews of Monticello is Steven Pressman’s third feature-length documentary. His first film, 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, premiered on HBO in 2013 and was nominated for a News and Documentary Emmy in the category of Outstanding Historical Programming. His next film, Holy Silence, has been shown at numerous film festivals and premiered on PBS in November 2020.
Steve was born and raised in Los Angeles and received an undergraduate degree in political science at the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to his filmmaking career, he worked for many years as a newspaper and magazine journalist in Los Angeles, Washington, DC., and San Francisco.
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