Latest update: May 18th, 2014
Pinto, who was originally from Amsterdam, had come in 1759 from London at the age of thirty to serve as Congregation Shearith Israel’s Hazzan. Gershom, who was then fourteen, learned from Pinto how to conduct synagogue services and gained from him a fairly advanced knowledge of Hebrew as well as familiarity with Halacha.
In 1765 Pinto had to return to Europe for financial reasons. From 1766 to 1768 Isaac da Silva served as Hazzan. However, there were many who were dissatisfied with his performance and a replacement was sought. Gershom Seixas applied for the position on July 3, 1768 and the following Sunday afternoon, da Silva was discharged and Gershom was unanimously elected as Hazzan of Congregation Shearith Israel. He served in this position for almost fifty years, until his passing on July 2, 1816.
“The young hazzan took to his job quickly and well. One year after his appointment we encounter records of a trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in fulfillment of his duties, possibly to circumcise a child. Although he was quite happy with the work he was doing, the young man was dissatisfied with his annual salary, a mere eighty pounds. The additional perquisites of office, firewood and the option to live in congregation-owned quarters, did little to assuage his growing needs. In fact, a raise was necessary to facilitate his impending marriage. Hence, in January of 1775, he applied for a raise in pay which set off the first of a long number of haggles over salary. Seixas actually had to quit for a full month before the trustees of the congregation compromised with his demands. On March 29, his salary was raised to 120 pounds plus the usual perquisites of office.”[iv]
On September 6, 1775, at the age of thirty, Gershom married Elkalah (or Elkaley), the daughter of Abraham and Sarah Myers-Cohen, who brought her husband a meager dowry of only 200 pounds. Elkalah was born in 1749, nine years after her father was granted letters of naturalization. Abraham Myers-Cohen was of Ashkenazic origin and eked out a living as a struggling storekeeper. He died before Elkalah’s sixteenth birthday.
“During the ten years of their married life she had to establish for him no less than four homes. The first was their New York home in 1775. Then came their home in exile in Stratford in 1776, and their home in Philadelphia in 1780. Finally she set up their home once more in New York in 1784 before she died a little over a year later [at age 36]. In those ten years she established not only his physical homes but also his family with four children to whom she gave birth, Isaac (born 1776), Sarah Abigail (born 1778), Rebecca (born 1780), and Benjamin (born 1783).”[v]
Isaac died in infancy, so when Elkalah passed away in 1785 Gershom was left to care for three small children. A little more than a year later Gershom married Hannah (Annie/Nancy) Manuel (1766-1856). Hannah gave birth to twelve children, one of whom died in infancy. Since fourteen of Gershom’s children reached adulthood, his home resounded with children’s and grandchildren’s voices.
“Simple, modest, altogether unassuming, Gershom spent his happiest hours with his ever-growing family who were never far from his thoughts.”[vi]
Next month’s column will deal with Reverend Gershom Mendes Seixas’s activities during and after the Revolutionary War.
[i] “Gershom Mendes Seixas: His Religious ‘Calling,’ Outlook and Competence,” Thomas Kessner, American Jewish Historical Quarterly (1961-1978); Sep 1968-Jun 1969; 58, 1-4; AJHS Journal pg. 445.Dr. Yitzchok Levine
About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.
If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.
- Analysis: MK Yehuda Glick Just Keeps On Glicking
on May 31, 2016 4:31 PM
- Hamas Morphing Into ISIS: 3 Gazans Sentenced to Death and Executed Same Day
on May 31, 2016 3:26 PM
- Israel Starts Process to Revoke Citizenship of Arab Terror Suspect
on May 31, 2016 3:09 PM
- Likud MK Benny Begin Tears Into Liberman Supporters, Liberman Himself
on May 31, 2016 2:23 PM
- Gaza Tots Taught to Wage War Against Israel in Realistic School Plays [video]
on May 31, 2016 2:09 PM
- Meet Israel’s New-Old Immigrant Absorption Minister
on May 31, 2016 1:47 PM
- Report: Ambitious Justice Minister Using Polanski Extradition to Pave Own Career
on May 31, 2016 1:24 PM
- Jordan’s New ‘Pro-Israel’ Prime Minister Hani Fawi al-Mulki
on May 31, 2016 11:58 AM
- US House Reps to Knesset: We’ll Continue Aiding Israeli Security
on May 31, 2016 11:30 AM
- Cutting Edge Army: IDF Issues Vegan Combat Rations, Shoes, Berets
on May 31, 2016 10:41 AM
- That Was Just a Drill – No Rockets Were Launched at Israel
on May 31, 2016 10:14 AM
- Report: Israeli Civil Administration Accelerates Mapping of State Lands in Judea and Samaria
on May 31, 2016 8:15 AM
- Rabbi Kahane’s Grandson to Be Released into House Detention, Restrictions
on May 30, 2016 9:29 PM
- IDF Soldier Stabbed in Tel Aviv, Terrorist in Custody [video]
on May 30, 2016 7:43 PM
- 16 International NGOs Condemn Israel’s Refusal to Support BDS Founder’s World Travels
on May 30, 2016 6:14 PM