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Presidential Collection by Morris Katz  Reintroduced for Jewish American Heritage Month

(Courtesy of OJCC) The month of May has been officially designated as “Jewish American Heritage Month,” which serves as a tribute to the contributions that Jewish immigrants and their descendants have made to this nation, their patriotism and appreciation for American values.

In honor of this occasion, the Wall Street-based Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce has reintroduced the legendary Presidential Collection, which consists of portraits of U.S. presidents on display for the general public. The full private collection is now available online for the first time in history, so that it can be viewed and appreciated by Americans far and wide under coronavirus lockdown.

The Presidential Collection was the apple of the eye of legendary artist Morris Katz, a Holocaust survivor who painted it to perfection as a show of appreciation to the nation that provided him refuge and protected his religious freedoms. Nearly a decade since his passing, the Chamber is committed to preserving Katz’s legacy and highlighting this historic collection in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month.

Earlier this month, Congress passed, with overwhelming bipartisan support, the “Never Again Education Act,” which provides funding for Holocaust education in U.S. schools.

In his official proclamation of Jewish American Heritage Month for this year, President Donald Trump stated, “Throughout history, the Jewish people have demonstrated an unbreakable spirit, overcoming suffering, cruel oppression, violence and bigotry.”

Katz’s legacy is particularly crucial at this juncture in history, as anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence are seeing a frightening rise both at home and abroad.

Born in Galicia in 1932, Katz’s once-in-a-generation artistic talent was evident at a young age. During the Holocaust, Katz suffered unspeakable horrors in Nazi concentration camps and lost most of his family. After arriving in New York as a refugee, Katz began working as a carpenter; however, after struggling to find a job where he was able to keep Shabbat, he began painting.

Katz’s art career in the U.S. would earn him global acclaim and nicknames such as “the world’s fastest artist” and “the Albert Einstein of art.” Katz was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as both the fastest and most prolific artist in the world. Katz was also prominently featured in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.” Katz taught his unique “instant art” painting method at art schools, where it is being taught today.

Fame and all, Katz maintained an approachable, good natured persona. He remained at heart a persecuted Jew hailing from one of the world’s poorest regions. He prized his ability to use Judaic art to transmit his heritage to the next generation. Similarly, Katz’s gratitude toward the U.S. for providing him sanctuary and his reverence for the American value of religious liberty knew no bounds.

Within minutes of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Katz began his longest and dearest project ever: The Presidential Collection. Katz spent years painting meticulous masterful portraits of each president, from George Washington through George H. W. Bush. The artist famous for completing beautiful portraits within minutes spent an average of 200 hours on each portrait. These were the first presidential portraits in which the flags featured a precise number of stars that were equal to the number of states or colonies in the union at the time.

These portraits became world famous. Millions of postcards featuring them were sold, each one featuring a tribute from the artist to the presidents and the great nation they led.

“Katz is an incredible larger-than-life inspiration to every American Jew, (and) indeed every American,” said Duvi Honig, founder and CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce. “He took enormous pride in both being a Jew and an American patriot. He selflessly dedicated himself to thank and contribute to America and the liberties it stands for. It is an honor to perpetuate Katz’s legacy during this important occasion and recognize all those who are supporting the American Jewish community today.”

“Katz’s contributions to American culture and his deep seated patriotism cannot be overstated,” said Ezra Friedlander, vice president of public policy for the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce. He has hosted numerous Jewish American Heritage Month events over the years. “There is no more worthy representative of this honor and I am humbled to participate in this effort.”

In his honor, the Chamber founded the Morris Katz Foundation as well as a special website, http://morriskatz.org/, featuring his private Presidential Collection.

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