When the American Revolution erupted in 1775, the overwhelming majority of the colonies’ Jewish inhabitants heartily supported its cause.
In it, Jewish patriots of the time like Haym Solomon, David Solebury Franks, Solomon Bush and Phillip Moses Russel, saw the opportunity to finally obtain and secure the dream of countless Jewish generations of the rights of first class citizenship and equality under the law.
The Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 — that we honor this holiday weekend — offered them, as it does all of us today, unparalleled human freedoms and the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In 1790, George Washington, then the first President of the United States, arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, on Aug. 17, where Moses Seixas, the leader of the Jewish congregation there, delivered an address to the president on behalf of a very grateful and adoring American Jewish community.
These were Seixas’ exact words in full:
“Sir: Permit the children of the stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person and merit, and join with our fellow citizens in welcoming you to Newport.
“With pleasure, we reflect on those days of difficulty and danger when the God of Israel, who delivered David from the peril of the sword, shielded your head in the day of battle; and we rejoice to think that the same spirit which rested in the bosom of the greatly beloved Daniel, enabling him to preside over the provinces of the Babylonian Empire, rests and ever will rest upon you, enabling you to discharge the arduous duties of the chief magistrate of these states.
“Deprived as we hitherto have been of the invaluable rights of free citizens, we now — with deep gratitude to the Almighty Disposer of all events — behold a government erected by the majesty of the people, a government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance, but generally affording to all liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship, deeming everyone of whatever nation, tongue or language, equal parts of the great governmental machine.
“This so ample and extensive Federal Union, whose base is philosophy, mutual confidence and public virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the great God, who rules in the armies of the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth, doing whatever seemeth to him good.
“For all the blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal and benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days, the great Preserver of men, beseeching him that the angels who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness into the promised land may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life; and when, like Joshua, full of days and full of honors, you are gathered to your fathers, may you be admitted into the heavenly paradise to partake of the water of life and the tree of immortality.”
Some 225 years later, let us not forget that our common observance of Independence Day this weekend is really intended to deepen our love for our country and our desire to serve it.
It is also our time to express our gratitude to “the Ancient of Days, the great Preserver of men” for our rather unique form of government that in its finest moments gives to bigotry “no sanction, and to persecution no assistance,” just as the “Mighty Disposer of all events,” whom Moses Seixas describes, intends it to be.
Rabbi Larry Schlesinger serves Temple Beth Israel in Macon.