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Glimpses Into American Jewish History
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Posted on: February 2nd, 2011

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The first ordained rabbi to settle in America, Abraham Rice did not arrive here until 1840. Before then, few men with anything more than a rudimentary Torah knowledge resided in America. One exception was Mordecai Moses Mordecai.

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Posted on: January 5th, 2011

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The story of Hebrew culture in Massachusetts begins with the very foundation of the Plymouth colony, for the first Hebraists to settle in New England came over in the Mayflower. Governor Bradford, one of the Mayflower Pilgrims, was a man whose ability, character, and comparative culture raised him above his fellow settlers. His knowledge of languages is praised by Cotton Mather in the Magnalia:" he was conversant with Dutch, French, Latin, and Greek, but the Hebrew [tongue] he most of all studied, because he said he would see with his own eyes the ancient oracles of God in their native beauty."

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Posted on: December 1st, 2010

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The name de Sola appears prominently in the annals of Spanish Jewish history. The de Solas may have settled in Andalusia (in southern Spain) as early as the sixth century.

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Posted on: November 3rd, 2010

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Lydia Maria (nee Francis) Child (February 11, 1802-Oct. 20, 1880) was educated at home, at a local "dame school" and at a nearby women's seminary. After her mother died when she was twelve, she went to live with an older sister in Maine for some years. She is little known today, but in her time she was a famous anti-slavery activist. She was also a novelist, editor, journalist and scholar. She is best remembered for her poem "Over the River and Through the Woods," which recalls her Thanksgiving visits as a child to her grandfather's home.

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Posted on: September 28th, 2010

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There were Jews living during the nineteenth century who made substantial contributions to Yiddishkeit but who, unfortunately, are almost completely forgotten today. Their lives are at most a footnote in standard books dealing with American Jewish history. One such man was Dr. Simeon Abrahams, a pillar of the New York Jewish community during his relatively short life.

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Posted on: September 1st, 2010

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From 1654, when the first Jews arrived in North America, until 1840, when the first Orthodox ordained rabbi, Rav Abraham Rice, settled in Baltimore, American Jewry was led by chazzanim and baalei batim (private individuals) who had better than average Torah educations. These men did their best to fill the void in rabbinical leadership that characterized American Jewish life until the last few decades of the nineteenth century.

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Posted on: August 4th, 2010

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Jacob da Silva Solis was born into London's Sephardic community on August 4, 1780. He referred to himself as Jacob S. Silva. Arriving in America on October 25, 1803, Jacob almost immediately affiliated with New York's Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue (Shearith Israel). On April 24, 1811, he married Charity Hays, daughter of a Westchester County farmer. They had seven children, the eldest born in 1813 and the youngest in 1827.

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Posted on: June 30th, 2010

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In 1749 the Jews of Charleston, South Carolina established their first synagogue, Kahal Kodesh Beis Elokim (KKBE). Last month we examined the events that led some members of KKBE to establish The Reformed Society of Israelites.

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Posted on: June 2nd, 2010

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Last month we traced the establishment and development of the Jewish Community in Charleston, South Carolina, and its first synagogue, Kahal Kodesh (Holy Congregation) Beth Elokim (KKBE). From its inception in 1749 the synagogue was Orthodox and followed the Sephardic ritual. (This was the case with all of the synagogues founded during colonial times.)

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Posted on: May 5th, 2010

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The English first settled at Albemarle Point in what is now South Carolina in 1670. In 1680 this settlement was moved to a peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, and became Charles Town (named in honor King Charles II). The new location was more healthful than the original settlement, and, since it was behind the islands of a land-locked harbor, provided safety from attack. The name was changed to Charleston at the end of the War of Independence.

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Posted on: March 29th, 2010

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There is a stereotype that many may have regarding women of the past - namely, that their place was in the home. But this was not necessarily the case for Jewish women during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Indeed, there were some women during this period who were engaged in a variety of commercial endeavors. Things did begin to change at about the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the attitude that a woman's place is in the home became prevalent.

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Posted on: March 3rd, 2010

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The January installment of Glimpses Into American Jewish History discussed the early Jewish settlement of Newport, Rhode Island.Even as the Newport Jewish community developed, its numbers were always small, especially compared to Jewish communities today. Indeed, despite growth during the middle part of the 18th century, there were probably never more than 100 Jews residing in Newport.

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Posted on: February 3rd, 2010

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The Rev. Ezra Stiles was born on November 29, 1727 in Connecticut and graduated from Yale University in 1746. He then studied theology at Yale and was ordained in 1749. After working as a tutor at Yale for a year, he began some mission work among the Indians. In 1752 he was forced to give this up due to ill health. He turned to the study of law and in 1753 took the attorney's oath. He practiced law in New Haven until 1755, whereupon he returned to the ministry, accepting the position of pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Newport, Rhode Island, serving there from 1755 until 1777.

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Posted on: December 30th, 2009

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In 1636 Roger Williams, after having been banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for what were considered radical religious views, settled at the tip of Narragansett Bay. He was joined by twelve other settlers at what he named Providence Plantation, due to his belief that God had sustained him and his followers.

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Posted on: December 2nd, 2009

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Last month we discussed how Rabbi Abraham Joseph Rice came to America in 1840 and became the rav of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (Congregation Nidchei Yisroel). Rav Rice was the first ordained Orthodox rabbi to settle in North America.

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Posted on: November 4th, 2009

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The first Jews arrived in North America in 1654. What is not so well known is that the first qualified rabbi to settle here, Rabbi Abraham Rice, did not arrive until 1840. One might refer to the first 186 years of American Jewish history as the "Reverend and Cantorial Age," since such men, as well as some laymen who possessed better than average Jewish educations, served as the leaders of the various Jewish communities during that period.

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Posted on: September 30th, 2009

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In Savannah, Georgia, there is a memorial to the American Revolution called Battlefield Memorial Park. One of the markers there is for Colonel Mordecai Sheftall.

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Posted on: September 2nd, 2009

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In two earlier articles we traced the life and rabbinical career of Rabbi Simon Glazer until 1918. Rav Glazer was a rare individual in that he was a secularly educated European trained Orthodox Rov who spoke and wrote English fluently.

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Posted on: August 5th, 2009

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The first part of the life of Rabbi Simon Joshua Glazer was sketched in last month's Glimpses column. In his youth Rabbi Glazer received a first class Torah education. At the age of 18 he was ordained by Rabbi Alexander Moshe Lapidus, a lifetime friend of Rav Yisroel Salanter. In 1897 Rabbi Glazer immigrated to America where he devoted himself to mastering the English language and acquiring secular knowledge.

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Posted on: July 1st, 2009

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Virtually all of the rabbonim who came to America during the latter part of the nineteenth century did not speak English. A few did master the language and become proficient at speaking and writing it; one of these was Rabbi Simon Joshua Glazer, who did more than just learn to speak and write in English - he also acquired a substantial secular education.

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