Jewish HistorySociety

‘May Each Man Sit in Safety Under his Fig Tree and Under His Grapevine’

Yesterday America celebrated its 241st independence day with the world’s second greatest Jewish population living there. But the community wasn’t always that big. In 1776 when Washington and the founding fathers of the country signed the Declaration of Independence there were only 2,000 Jews in America. Despite their small numbers at the time, they were still very involved in the beginnings of this great country. Many served as soldiers in the revolution against the British. In Georgia the first soldier that fell in the revolutionary war was a Jew named Francis Salvador.

Many Jews also helped the revolution financially. Haym Salomon risked his life twice and was sentenced to death by the British but he managed to escape to become one of the main financiers of the revolutionary war.

George Washington had deep admiration and love for the Bible and the ‘People of the book’. When the sextant of the Touro Synagogue and the Newport Jewish Community sent George Washington a letter with warm congratulations upon becoming president in the name of the community in 1790 Washington sent back a warm letter in reply saying that he sees a bright future in America for members of every religion and he declared his commitment to freedom of religion.

He signed the letter with a blessing based on words from the Scriptures: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island functions as an orthodox synagogue until today and is considered the oldest synagogue in America. The synagogue is also proud to have received a letter from George Washington which became one of America’s most famous historical documents.
 

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