Life is great. They tell you to be nice. They tell you to be kind. They tell you to help as much as you can. Yet being nice only leads to people screwing you over. They think they can knock you down. A helping hand to get someone up is only used to pull you down. So why? What is the point of being nice. When all you get is a stab in the back.
As i was sitting down to start writing my last blog, I couldn’t really come up with what to do. So I started thinking…
There were 13 colonies.. what else has 13? And then it hit me. MONTHS!!!
this year is a Jewish leap year. which means we get a whole extra month, so instead of 12 there are 13. So I googled Jews in the colonies and it gave me this site
This site gives me 13 names (one for each colony) of people who are commemorated in patriots park for their achievements in american and Jewish history.
I decided to try and find 13 interesting facts/pieces of information about Jews in America Colonial TImes.
Here is what I found….
#1- the First permanent Jewish community in America was established in 1654 in New Amsterdam (now known as New York)
#2- This same community built the first Synagogue (Shul in Hebrew) in 1730.
#3- The name of the first Shul was called Shearith Israel which translates to remnant of Israel.
#4- The majority of the Jews that came to America were Sephardi- which means they were mainly from Spain, Portugal, or North African descent.
#5- The oldest standing Synagogue in America is Touro Synagogue, which was built in 1763 and is still standing in Newport, Rhode Island
#6- In 1790 President George Washington guaranteed the Jewish community that they had the right to practice their religion without losing out on other rights given to American citizens.
#7- In 1801 Thomas Jefferson appointed Reuben Etting as the U.S. Marshall for Maryland- he was the first Jew to hold a Major Federal Post.
#8- In 1826 the first Jews were elected to office in Maryland.
#9- In 1877 New Hampshire changed its constitution and got rid of the law that said that in order for someone to hold a position in state office they need to be protestant. This led to
#10.- In 1877 Jews gained full legal equality in all states.
#11- From 1820-1880 the Jewish Population grew almost ten-fold because approximately a quarter of a million Jews immigrated to America.
#12- The major Ethnicity of the Jews also changed during this huge immigration from Sephardi (Spain, Portugal, and North African Descent) to Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern Europe descent)
#13- Levi Strauss in 1853 opened a dry-goods store in San Francisco, he noticed a demand for more durable material than the cloth that miners wore. So he manufactured denim overalls and became the first blue jeans company in the world and remains popular to this day!
For more interesting facts or information about American Jewish History check out this website-
Gershom Mendes Seixas was born in New York City in January of 1745. He was born to Issac Mendes Seixas and Rachel Levy. He was one of seven children.
So what makes him special?
Gershom was the first Jewish American born minister (what the Rabbi’s were called at that time).
Although he was never an officially ordained Rabbi (there were no official ordained rabbi’s in America until the mid-19th century) at the age of 23 in 1768 he was appointed as the Chazzan/cantor (the person who leads the services) of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue, of New York City.
This Synagogue (Shul in Hebrew) was the only one in America at this time.
It was a place where the Jewish community could gather together for holidays, weddings, funerals, and any other life events.
As the only religious official in the congregation, he performed all marriages, funerals, circumcision, and anything else an ordained rabbi would do today.
Besides for his leadership with the Jewish community he was also beneficial during the Revolutionary war.
He didn’t fight during the war! he didn’t help fund the war! So what did he do?
In 1775 Gershom persuaded a majority of his congregation that they should close the synagogue, rather than operate while British was occupying New York. He packed up the books and moved to his father-in-law in Stanford, Connecticut.
In 1780 he moved again to Philadelphia and became the Chazzan at Mickve Yisroel.
Even though Gershom hated war, he considered the war a just war, and that the independence that america was fighting for would be a huge blessing for American Jewry.
At the end of the war in 1784 the Congregation of the New York Shul asked Gershom to come back.
He was a chazzan there till he died in 1816.
Gershom was the center of the Jewish community and very influential in keeping the Faith while being among others who were not religious.
I spoke about the revolutionary war in an earlier blog. I mentioned that many Jews fought in the war and even gave some names. One of those names was Mordecai Sheftall.
Who was he?
He was born on December 2, 1735 in Savannah Georgia. His parents had come to America in 1733. He was only able to go to school till he was 11 due to a lack of schooling. by the time he reached 17 years of age he started his career as a merchant. by the age of 18 he had acquired enough money to purchase 50 acres of land. in 1761 he married Frances Hart, and together they had 6 children.
According to all accounts he was an orthodox Jew and donated an acre and a half of land to be used as the first Jewish cemetery in Georgia.
But what role did he play during the Revolutionary War?
Mordecai was the highest-ranking Jewish officer on the American side.
In 1777 he was appointed deputy commissary general to the Continental troops in Georgia and South Carolina as well as commissary general of Georgia troops. Major General Robert Howe authorized Mordecai to be a colonel which is what gave him the status of being the highest-ranking Jewish officer.
Mordecai then appointed his Son Sheftall Sheftall as his assistant.
Besides for being a colonel he also provided the funds (out of pocket) to supply his men with food, horses, uniforms and anything else they would need when the Continental Congress and Georgia did not have the necessary funds to do so.
In December of 1778 Mordecai and his son were captured by the British during the fight to prevent Savannah from falling into the hands of the British. Many soldiers escaped by swimming across the Savannah river, but Mordecai son could not swim and he refused to leave him alone!
The British interrogated the Sheftall’s but they would not break. At one point the only meat they would offer him to eat was pork, which he refused since it was not Kosher. eventually they were both paroled to the town of Sunbury, Georgia where they were kept under close British surveillance.
While trying to escape local Tories they were once again captured by the British and sent to Antigua, where they remained prisoners till the Spring of 1780. In June they were paroled once more and they headed to Philadelphia.
Mordecai’s loans were never repaid, which left him in financial ruin.
In 1782 he returned to Savannah and was elected to the board of directors for the cities synagogue, Congregation Mickve Israel. In 1791 he was elected as president of the congregation which he kept for 5 years.
He died on July 6th, 1797 and is buried in the Jewish Cemetery that he helped create!
Here is a link to watch a video about his life. http://bcove.me/xtediws8
The Civil war was started for one reason or another. But if you ask anyone what the Civil War was about they would most likely say……Slavery!!!
We know the North fought against the South. We know that Jews lived in the North and the South.
So what stance did they take on slavery? Did they care? What does our religion have to say about slavery?
When I actually sat down to think about it I thought that there is no way Jews would approve/have slaves. We were enslaved for hundreds of years in Egypt. Jews came to America to have freedom, to get away from the oppression of having to do what someone else tells us to do.
I was Wrong but also correct!
Jews follow the rule of “the law of the land is the law of the Jews” which means that during the time period of the civil war the Jews that lived in the states that allowed slavery owned slaves. the Jews that lived in states that didn’t allow it didn’t have. This means that the Jews were split.
Whats really happening?
The Torah (bible) says that you never have complete ownership over anything. and the definition of a slave is a person owned by another person. Therefor the “slaves” that the Jews “owned” were not really slaves- more indentured servants!!!
The Torah also tells us that you can work a “slave” harshly,
but also “And you shall go in His ways!” (Deuteronomy 28:9)
“Is it possible to say such a thing? Rather, it means that since He is compassionate, you too must be compassionate. Since He is kind, you must also be kind. Since He dresses the naked and feeds the hungry, so must you…..” (Midrash Sifri; Talmud, Sotah 14a)
Think to yourself; How can the Torah say 2 completely different things? Why doesn’t it just tell us to be kind and compassionate???
This is cause the Torah teaches us a lesson. How to nurture!
If you want someone to follow the rules you force them, but if you want them to grow, and learn the rules and eventually be able to teach them to others, you have to involve them in creating the rules.
What happened in the South is that they were forced to abolish slavery because of war, hatred, and bloodshed. But had we just placed restrictions on slavery such as how you have to treat them and what rights they could and couldn’t have eventually things would change without all the bloodshed and slavery would become obsolete and have no place in society!!!
To see a list of Jews who served in the civil war check out this link: http://www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/
Throughout all of Jewish History we have been persecuted. We’ve been exiled, killed, and enslaved because people didn’t like us, they are jealous of what we have, or because we wouldn’t conform to their ways.
No matter how much we have been persecuted/exiled we have always persevered!
During the Civil War it was no different.
Since the Civil War was fought about slavery, The North (against slavery) couldn’t very well go and buy cotton from those in the South who used slaves to make cotton available for purchase. Not only cause its wrong to buy something that was produced in a way you don’t agree with, but also buying cotton from the South gave them more money for the war efforts!
Due to this, smuggling was rampant, especially throughout Grants territory, even his father Jesse Grant was smuggling cotton with his partners Harman, Henry, and Simon Mack (who were Jewish)
General Grant wanted to control the illegal yet highly profitable trade of contraband cotton and had no interest in sharing it with the Jews!!! So he ordered every Jew in his military ranks to leave!
General Grant wrote out an order on Decemeber 17th, 1862**. Order No 11. which says
“1. The Jews, as a class, violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department, and also Department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department. 2. Within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order by Post Commanders, they will see that all of this class of people are furnished with passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification, will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners unless furnished with permits from these Head Quarters. 3. No permits will be given these people to visit Head Quarters for the purpose of making personal application for trade permits. BY ORDER OF MAJ. GEN. U.S. GRANT”
Its hard to say how many Jews were directly affected by this, but the entire city of Paducah, Kentucky (at least 30 households) were exiled.
This scared them!!! because we had come to America to seek freedom, to stop being persecuted for our religion. And now? we were being chased from are homes, and being denied are freedom!
We gathered our courage and together as one fought for our freedom.
They went together to President Lincoln to ask for his protection! Lincoln agreed and the order was rescinded.
Grant quickly regretted order No. 11 and after his election made it up to the Jews tenfold.
Historian Jonathan D. Sarna refers to his presidency as the “Golden Age for Jews in the Country.”
It was the Golden age for many reasons:
- More Jews were appointed to public office than any previous president had done!
- He firmly urged separation between church and state (which no other president did till the 20th century)
- He Made a huge effort to encourage freedom of religion!
Grant became so popular among the Jews that he was the first president to be invited to attend Jewish services at the dedication of a new synagogue in Washington DC.
As Sarna writes,
“Now, the man who had once expelled ‘Jews as a class’ from his war zone personally came to honor Jews for upholding and renewing their faith.”
We not only persevered, But came out stronger for upholding our traditions!
** The First Night Of Chanukkah- The Festival of Lights- (when we celebrate our perseverance over the Greeks)
There is so much known about early American History, We know about the wars, the presidents, the colonies, the Indians, and even the Christians. But what do we know about the Jews?
We know they exist, they most likely played some part in the american revolution, the civil war and even the colonies! BUT WHAT????
During the Revolutionary War we were split. some were for the Americans and some for the British! But considering the size of the Jewish population in the colonies at that time (less then 3%) . We played a great role in the war!
Many Jews fought in the war including Francis Salvador (the first Jew to die for american independence), Mordecai Sheftall and many more.
But the most famous one is Haym Salomon- the Jewish financier of the american revolution.
(West Wilshire Recreation Center)
Haym was born in 1740 in Poland and immigrated to New York! Haym was a clever merchant and managed to make a great fortune which he dedicated to the American Government!
In 1776 he was arrested by the British for being a spy. He was eventually pardoned and the British used him as an interrupter for their German troops. Haym used this to his advantage and interpreted messages “wrong” encouraging German soldiers to desert.
He was arrested again and sentenced to death, but managed to escape to Philadelphia. were he once again became a broker and dealer in securities. He also became paymaster to French soldiers in America and broker to the French consul.
He worked largely with Robert Morris (superintendent of finances). In the summer of 1781 Washington and his army decided to march from the Hudson Highlands to Yorktown and deliver the final blow, But he had no money (neither did congress). Washington came to the conclusion that he needed $20,000 to move on. When Morris informed him that there were no funds Washington told him “send for Haym Salomon.” Salomon came through and Washington had the money to continue on.
When Washington asked Haym what he wanted as a reward for his service he said “he wanted nothing for himself but that he would like something for his people.” Which is why the stars on the back of a dollar bill are in the shape of the star of David!
Salomon’s contributions to the success of the Revolution have been frequently acknowledged, including the issuance of a US postage stamp in 1975. The Congressional Record of March 25, 1975 reads,
“When [Robert] Morris was appointed Superintendent of Finance, he turned to Salomon for help in raising the money needed to carry on the war and later to save the emerging nation from financial collapse. Salomon advanced direct loans to the government and also gave generously of his own resources to pay the salaries of government officials and army officers. With frequent entries of ‘I sent for Haym Salomon,’ Morris’ diary for the years 1781–84 records some 75 transactions between the two men.”
Besides for his help in the Revolutionary war Haym was also involved in the Jewish community affairs. In 1782 he made a huge donation to the main building of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia. In 1784 his response to antisemitism was “I am a Jew; it is my own nation; I do not despair that we shall obtain every other privilege that we aspire to enjoy along with our fellow-citizens.”
Haym Salomon died penniless in 1785 due to his helping the U.S. government. He left behind a wife and 4 children.
Chicago, Illinois, the only other statue of Haym Solomon, standing to the left of George Washington, and Robert Morris on the right. Under the image of Solomon it says “Haym Solomon- Gentleman, Scholar, Patriot. A banker whose only interest was the interest of his country.”