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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Unsung Hero: Reverend Arnold Fischel


Reverend Arnold Fischel

Reverend Arnold Fischel

“Fischel immediately accepted the invitation – he regarded it as a privilege of inestimable worth to be selected to render such a service in behalf of American Jewry. It was understood that his expenses were to be paid by the Board, but he would receive no salary. To assist him in his task the Board provided him with personal credentials and with letters of introduction to important political figures in Washington.” Fischel met with President Lincoln, who received him cordially and acknowledged the unfairness of the present law that excluded anyone who was not a Christian from serving as a chaplain. He also lobbied congressmen regarding this issue. The net result was that Congress did amend the law on August 3.

“The second task which had been entrusted to Fischel by the Board of Delegates was the fulfillment of the duties of a civilian chaplain in the Potomac area. He undertook this religious phase of his mission with as much enthusiasm and efficiency as he did the political phase, and rendered a service which could not have been more admirable even if he had been in uniform.”

“Fischel’s mission ended abruptly in April. The Board of Delegates had promised Fischel twenty dollars per week, a sum which it was able to allocate only through borrowing from another fund. This was to cover Fischel’s expenses. There had been no talk of remuneration. Fischel soon discovered that he was spending twenty dollars above his allowance, but he did not break the agreement. The Board, however, was in such financial trouble that despite repeated appeals, only four congregations were recorded as having contributed in April. Not even half of the twenty-two member congregations of the Board appropriated funds for Fischel’s two-fold mission. Fischel departed because of the indifference and outright antagonism to the appeal for funds and his mission in general.”

Efforts were made in October 1862 to have the government officially appoint Fischel as a Jewish chaplain to the hospitals in and around Washington, but they were not successful. “Having failed to obtain the appointment, Fischel returned to his homeland, Holland, to live with his mother, sometime at the end of 1862.”

“This is the brief story of a man who came out of nowhere to receive acclaim as a scholar versed in matters ranging from Greek classics to Maimonides to American Jewish history, who devoted his energies and money for the benefit of the American Jewish community, and who in the end returned to that land of historical murkiness: the Rev. Dr. Arnold Fischel.”

* * * * *

[1] An Old Faith in the New World: Portrait of Shearith Israel, 1654-1954 by David and Tamar De Sola Pool, Columbia University Press, 1955.

[1] American Jewry and the Civil War by Bertram W. Korn, Atheneum, 1970.

[1] Ibid, page 75.

 

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 llevine@stevens.edu.

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 llevine@stevens.edu.


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