How Jews saved the American Revolution
Notable jewish contributions
The United States was the first country to be created, from its inception, as a democracy. And the Bible played a major role in the process.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Jewish people have been involved as early as the discovery of America. As many as seven Jewish men sailed with Columbus; and one important sailor, Rodrigo De Triana, is famed for sighting land first. Jewish men accompanied LaSalle as he explored Iowa and surveyed the Northwest Territories. In 1654, the first Jewish families arrived at New Amsterdam (New York City) stripped of most of their belongings and unable to pay for their passage to the New World. Thirty years later they established the first North American synagogue, called Shearith Israel.
Jewish population grew with a great flood of immigration from Eastern Europe. Some went west and made fortunes. Many joined with other Americans in civic activities and public causes. They celebrated holidays like Thanksgiving and July 4th and became good Americans and good Jews at once. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise founded The Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873. Jewish Americans became more accepted in the USA, with more freedoms, than any other Jews in the world.
American Jews dominated the film industry from its inception. Frequently, they were held back by anti-Semitism in other work arenas, so they wholeheartedly gave themselves to film making. Harry Cohn built Columbia Pictures in 1924, and we have him to thank for many things. The crazy antics of three Jews: Moses (Moe) and Jerome (Curly) Horowitz, and their friend, Larry Feinburg in “The Three Stooges” have stolen the hearts of every American generation since the birth of television.
One of the most significant contributions of Jews to America is the Judeo-Christian values that stand as the foundation of American society, whose roots connect to the Ten Commandments and the teaching of the Torah. Dennis Prager, Jewish author and speaker writes in an article, “What Does Judeo-Christian Mean?” for Jewish World Review:
350 Years of Jews in America OverviewThe year 2004 marked the 350th anniversary of the first Jewish community in North America. This series, "350 years of Jews in America," is a celebration of the vital contribution the Jews have made to our remarkable country and the unique place America will forever hold in the history of the Jewish people. From the unexpected arrival of 23 Sephardi Jews at the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam to today's achievement of a Jew running for Vice President of the United States, Jews have made important and vital contributions to every facet of American life. These first Sephardi Jews who came to America after escaping from Recife, Brazil, began the fight for equality and the acceptance of diversity in the New World. For the next 350 years, the Jews were a driving force in creating an American society where every citizen could lead a life of freedom — free from discrimination and bigotry.
Never before had the contributions of a Jewish society been so instrumental in advancing and preserving the country they lived in. During their 1,600 years of Diaspora, Jews had never before achieved religious freedom and total civil equality. But now for the first time in history, a new country, America, was founded upon the belief in religious freedom and human liberty.
Jews and the American IdealFrom the beginning, Jews, like many of their neighbors were deeply involved in supporting the Revolution. They fought in the battles, helped finance the army, and secured the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity. In many ways, the Hebrew Bible became an important foundation upon which the new American nation was built. It was the Bible that first proclaimed that liberty should be proclaimed throughout the land, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
For 350 years, the Jews made important contributions to American science, education, labor, arts, entertainment, sports, politics, law, the military and the economy. Jews helped shape popular culture and championed the causes of equal rights, separation of church and state, and freedom of religion. They supported the abolitionist movement, fought for civil rights, and spearheaded massive refugee relief efforts. The American Jews' ideas, energy and genius have been instrumental in creating the United States we know today.
Sephardi Heritage in AmericaObscured by modern Jewish history is the fact that North America's oldest Jewish community originated in 1654 when twenty-three Dutch Jews, mostly of Spanish and Portuguese (Sephardi) descent, immigrated to New Amsterdam and to preserve their traditions, founded Congregation Shearith Israel.
Before the Spanish Inquisition, Jews had been involved in many aspects of Spanish secular society, such as medicine, politics and business. Spanish Jews were cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Subject to religious persecution, many left Spain and Portugal for the Netherlands, where they could enjoy religious freedom. Some Jews made their way to America as free individuals. Sophisticated and Western in their philosophy and expectations, they came seeking better economic and religious opportunities.
In America, the Jews created an existence they had never experienced elsewhere, one of citizenship and total equality, where involvement in civil community life did not require amending the traditions of Judaism. These first Jewish arrivals pioneered a unique synthesis: Jews proud of their heritage and devoted American patriots, with an unwavering commitment to the creation of the world's first democracy.
Shearith Israel, still an active and thriving congregation, generated the establishment of many American synagogues such as the famous Touro synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. Both of these pioneering synagogues preserved the Sephardi tradition in America and passed their special legacy, their unique vision of what it meant to be an American Jew to the millions of Jews who would arrive in America over the next 230 years.
German Immigration 1837 — 1865German Jews dominated the second period of American Jewish history. Coming out of an assimilated, emancipated background, German Jews fled the German-speaking countries because of the scarcity of land, rural poverty and government restrictions on marriage, housing and employment. Although some German Jews were in America before the early 1800s, it is only in the mid-1800s that German Jews became the predominant Jewish cultural group. Arriving in America during a period of rapid geographic expansion, the German Jews became part of the developing Midwest. They spread westward, following the route of the Erie Canal, establishing communities in Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and St. Paul. Wherever they settled, they formed new congregations to preserve their Judaism in the New World.
The first Jews to emigrate from Germany were mostly young men. Their lives centered around communities which also contained relatives and neighbors from the same European areas. A second group of immigrants came to America after the failed German revolution of 1848. The new immigrants were older than the first and more educated. These German Jews often went into peddling and petty trade, work that needed only small outlays of capital. From these small starts, many German Jews went on to found major American business enterprises. They were soon absorbed into America's fast-growing middle class.
These German immigrants came to America in search of freedom, democracy and a better life. This was reflected in their particular concern for Jewish communal conditions. During this period, they founded many religious, philanthropic and fraternal organizations. Many of the new immigrants had taken part in the German Reform Movement and they had great influence on the future religious life of American Jews. American Reform Judaism set its sights on winning civic equality and social acceptance in the modern world.
The Miraculous ExodusBetween 1880 and 1914, one of the greatest migrations in history took place as two million Jews and one million others fled Eastern Europe. This third wave of Jewish immigrants into the United States was the largest wave. In 34 brief years, the Jewish population of America multiplied 10 times — from 250,000 to 2,500,000 people. Jews fleeing restrictions and extreme persecutions (pogroms) came from Poland and Russia. These Jews were both urban and rural. They included all levels of social and economic accomplishment. The immigrants came from cities, towns and villages (shtetls) including Warsaw, Lodz, Vilna, Krakov — names later to be eradicated by the Holocaust.
The pogroms in Russia (1881-84 and 1903-06) increased the already heavy Jewish emigration to Western Europe and the United States. Because of the widespread persecution, the character of the Russian/Polish Jewish immigrant differed greatly from that of the German Jews who had mostly immigrated as single men; the Eastern European Jews came with their entire families. Among the Russian Jewish masses that came to America were the first groups of Hasidic Jews. Most Hasidim who immigrated to the United States observed a strict, orthodox way of life.
Most of the Russian and Polish Jews who came to America were forced to live in abject poverty, crowded into the lower east side of Manhattan. After a prolonged struggle for survival, many moved to other cities, mostly industrial centers, where they found work, saved money and went into business for themselves. These immigrants brought with them a rich Yiddish culture expressing itself through study, journalism, literature, poetry and the theater. As the Sephardim had once regarded the middle class German Jews as "upstarts," the German Jews now saw the newly arriving Jews as "upstarts." The new Jews formed unified Jewish communities. Sustaining a sense of religious observance and institutions, which sustained their way of life and offended some of their more "Americanized" brethren. Their continued religiosity and commitment to their old ways of dress and speech also served to promote their cultural differences. While the pressures on the new immigrants were crushing, they quickly learned English, stressed education for their children, survived in a foreign culture, got used to living in large cities, and separated themselves from a growing resentment and prejudice against all foreigners — particularly Jews. Viewers will experience the astounding rise of these poorly educated, largely unskilled Jewish immigrants as they establish themselves and send their children upward from the ghettos and slums to take a distinguished place in 20st Century America.
World War II was a difficult time for U.S. Jewry as the realization of the Nazi holocaust dawned on a shocked public. But, the genius of the Jewish scientists fleeing the Nazis to America helped win the war for the Allies and save millions of Allied lives. 550,000 Jews fought for the U.S. military in World War II, many rising to the rank of General. In 1948, the pressure and influence of American Jews was instrumental in the founding of the State of Israel and ensuring all-important American support. In Israel's War of Independence, many American Jews volunteered to fight, while others smuggled arms from the United States and around the world to support Israel's successful struggle against the invading Arab armies. After the tragic events of the Second World War, thousands of homeless European Jews were allowed to enter the United States. Since then, American Jewish communities have also been enriched by the diversity of this new wave of European Jews and particularly the immigration of Jews from Iraq, Iran and Syria. In recent times, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a new influx of Russian Jews. Unlike the earlier Russian immigrants, these Soviet Jews have had scant opportunity to maintain Jewish rituals and customs, or to study Hebrew.