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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Congregation Shearith Israel’

New York Jews Rescued Irish in Great Famine

Friday, July 5th, 2013

The Jewish Press readers have grown accustomed to nothing but bad news coming out of Irish sources recently regarding Israel, as Ireland joins with the most fiercely pro-Palestinian forces in the EU in a call to boycott the Jewish state. Which is why it’s been such a surprising pleasure to read notes of gratitude in The Irish Voice recently, regarding a previously unknown act of kindness by the Jewish community in New York, which sent relief for the Irish Famine of 1846.

When former Irish President Mary McAleese visited New York a few years ago, she attended a ceremony at the Congregation Shearith Israel marking the generosity of New York Jews towards the people of Ireland during the Great Hunger.

While people in Ireland were dying by the day because the potato crop failed in 1846, The Irish Voice reported, a Jewish rabbi in New York reached out to his community and raised a substantial sum of money to help the Irish. “The money raised was in the $1,000 range, close to $82,000 in today’s money.”

A newspaper report of the time said New York had contributed as much as $80,000 in total, and claimed that this was “about the same sum that has been contributed at home from all the wealthy classes of Ireland to the Central Relief Committee for all Ireland.”

“Rabbi Jacques Judah Lyons held a meeting in his synagogue in Crosby Street, in lower Manhattan, on March 8, 1847, to gather financial support to help raise funds for Irish Famine relief,” writes the Voice. According to records of the meeting, Lyons told his congregation that its purpose was to “take measures for the relief of the famishing thousands of their fellow mortals in that unfortunate and destitute country, Ireland.”

Rabbi Chaim Angel of the Congregation Shearith Israel, at West 70th Street in Manhattan, told the Irish Voice that Rabbi Lyons “applied the teachings of the Torah when he reached out and helped the people of Ireland during their toughest era.”

Money was also raised by Temple Shaaray Tefila and an individual contribution of $500 was given by banker August Belmont (founder of Belmont Racetrack).

Henry Solomon Hendricks

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from “Necrology: Henry S. Hendricks (1892-1959)” by David de Sola Pool, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893 -1961); Sep 1959-Jun 1960; 49, 1-4 AJHS Journal, available online at http://www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm

The sad fact is that within a few generations virtually all the descendants of the Jews who came to America before the Revolution assimilated. An exception was Henry Solomon Hendricks, whose ancestors arrived in America at the beginning of the 18th century and perhaps even earlier. His great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Abraham Haim de Lucena, is first mentioned in New York City records in 1701.

“Though we have no verifying documentary evidence, it is at least very probable that this Abraham Haim de Lucena was either descended from or was close of kin with Abraham de Lucena who came to New Amsterdam in 1655 and who is regarded as one of the most important founders of the historic Congregation Shearith Israel and the American Jewish community.”

Abraham Haim became a freeman on July 6, 1708. “He was an importer and exporter of such goods as wheat, wine, other varied provisions, and ‘Jewish beef.’ In 1705 he joined with sixty-five other merchants of the city in a petition concerning fair valuation of foreign coins. In 1711, in Queen Anne’s War he was one of those who supplied the American expedition against Canada with flour, bread, butter, and peas…”

Abraham Haim de Lucena served as “minister” (chazzan) of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York from 1703 until his passing on August 4, 1725.

Henry Solomon Hendricks was born in New York on August 25, 1892 to Edgar and Lillian Henry Hendricks.

His father died two years later. With deep religious perception his devoted mother brought him up, though he was an only child, with standards of rare simplicity and selflessness. He graduated from the Collegiate School in New York in 1910, attended Williams College from 1910 to 1912, then transferred to Columbia University from which he graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in February 1914. He then went with his mother on an educational tour of half a year to countries in Europe and to Egypt and Palestine. On returning he re-entered Columbia University, this time in its Department of Law, from which he graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Laws in 1917. He was then admitted to the bar, and he spent his professional life as a lawyer. He was with the firm of Cardozo and Nathan from 1917 to 1926, in his own office to 1938, with the firm of Hendricks, Robbins and Buttenwieser from 1938 to 1947, and thereafter again in his own office. He was a member of the American Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, the Bar Association of the City of New York, and the New York County Lawyers Association.His hobby was sailing to which he had taken as a lad at the age of twelve. He became so skilled in it that on one occasion he joined in a sail boat race from New London to Bermuda. He was a member of the Knickerbocker Yacht Club.

When the United States entered the First World War he enlisted in the Navy and served as an Ensign from 1917 to 1918. Thereafter he was a member of the United States Naval Reserve. In the Second World War he became a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and he gave service as an appeal agent in implementing the Selective Service Act. Throughout his life he was moved by an intense and meaningful American patriotism.

In 1916, he married Rosalie Gomez Nathan, daughter of Edgar Joshua Nathan and Sara Solis. Their strong and beautiful union was blessed with two daughters, Ruth [Mrs. Hyman A. Schulson] and Sally [Mrs. Robert Weber], and five grandchildren.

Henry Hendricks’s love of and service to his country were based on the fact that many of his and his wife’s ancestors had played key roles in America’s history for almost 200 years. The same was true of his outstanding dedication to Congregation Shearith Israel of New York. His family had been involved in the congregation essentially from its inception.

We have records of the congregation for forty-seven years preceding the Revolution. In nineteen of those years no less than seven members of the Gomez family from which he was descended served as President of the congregation. At that time this also meant serving as President of New York’s Jewish community. His great, great, great grandfather, Uriah Hendricks, who was Parnas Presidente of the congregation in 1791, owned one of the synagogue’s scrolls of the Torah that was violated by British soldiers during the Revolution.

His great-great-grandfather had contributed a substantial sum that materially furthered the erection of Shearith Israel’s Second Mill Street Synagogue that was consecrated in 1818. And of course as mentioned above, his ancestor, Abraham Haim de Lucena, had served as chazzan of the congregation.

As a youth he [Henry] was active in Shearith Israel’s Junior League. He became a Trustee of the congregation in 1923, while still a young man, and because of the able service he was always ready to give with tireless devotion he rose to be its President. He served in that capacity from 1927 to 1930, 1934 to 1935, and from 1939 to 1951. He was Honorary President from 1952 to his death.

However, his efforts were not limited to Shearith Israel.

He translated the principle of noblesse oblige into heightened social service. Among his many communal interests, he gave outstanding constructive leadership in the religious and social organization and integration into American life of the Sephardim who came to this country from the Balkans, Turkey and the Levant in the first three decades of this century. At 133 Eldridge Street in the neighborhood where very many of these newcomers first settled, the Sisterhood of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel conducted a settlement house in which Henry S. Hendricks helped organize a synagogue, Berith Shalom. Besides leading a club in that neighborhood house, he showed a special interest in that downtown congregation. Its members elected him President, a remarkable testimony both to the appreciation of him shown by the members of the congregation and to his personal identification with the newcomers. This office he filled for some years. When Smyrna was devastated by fire in 1921, Mr. Hendricks was among those who organized an emergency Jewish relief committee in New York, and from this there developed the first Sephardic Jewish Community of New York. He served as its Treasurer, and his generosity materially helped the congregation to acquire in Harlem the building that became the center of organized Sephardic life in the city. Later when Sephardim were moving away from Harlem, his openhandedness materially furthered the initial development of organized Sephardic religious life in the Bronx.

Henry was actively involved in the Union of Sephardic Congregations from its inception in 1929. In 1936 he sponsored the printing of the Daily and Sabbath Prayer Book which the Union published.

Henry S. Hendricks was tirelessly busy with his religious, communal, social welfare and professional interests, yet he always had time for his family and friends and for acts of personal kindness. His sterling worth, his innate nobility, his constructive generosity, his thoughtful leadership, his selfless dedication and his unswerving loyalty, made him a precious influence in the life of many. He never sought reward or personal recognition. From his childhood he had been steeped in traditional Jewish living, and his loyalty to Jewish traditions, observances and ideals never wavered. He indeflectibly maintained his religious standards. For him Judaism was both a faith and a way of life.

Early Jewish Religious Observance In New York

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

   (All quotes are from “Unwritten History, Reminiscences of N. Taylor Phillips,” The American Jewish Archives, 1954, 6, pages 77-104.)
 

   In 1927 Captain N. Taylor Phillips1 delivered an address before Congregation Shearith Israel in New York in which he recalled some of the history and traditions of early New York American Jewry. His recollections give fascinating insight into Jewish religious life in America when the community was still in its infancy.

 

The Synagogue

 

   The majority of Jews who resided in New York during the 17th and 18th centuries were of Portuguese descent.

 

     The people who were then interested in the congregation were those who had come mostly, mediately [sic] or immediately, from Portugal, and they were Marranos or secret Jews. Nearly all of them were Marranos. In fact, when they came to New York, the early records of the town spoke of them as the “Portuguese nation” whenever they wanted to talk about the Jews. They spoke about the “Portuguese nation” because all the Jews, practically, were Portuguese. As I said a moment ago, most of them were Marranos. There were a few Spanish among them, the Gomez family and a few others, but the majority of them were Portuguese Marranos.

 

   The Gomez family came to America around the year 1700. The family was not just wealthy, but also highly cultured.

 

     [T]he Gomez family from the very first time they came here were people of prominence and influence, and they had commissions [papers of denization] related to England, very important commissions, and they enjoyed a great many rights as freemen and all sorts of things. They were the real thing – there is no doubt about that.
 

     And the Gomez family was the mainstay of the congregation at that time, before the building of the first synagogue in Mill Street in 1728 and 1729, consecrated in 1730. They were very influential in the congregation; what they said went in every way. And, in fact, I have heard it said that they were surrounded with all sorts of affluence and wealth, and when they came to the synagogue – these are the personal touches that I am giving you – when they came to the synagogue on the Sabbath or on a Holy Day, they had their slaves walking behind them through the streets carrying their prayer books and talethim [prayer shawls]. They would walk into the synagogue auditorium with this retinue behind them, and the slaves would deposit their books and talethim on the seats and bow themselves out. That was a regular ceremony every Saturday morning.

 

Religious Observance in the Home

 

   At one point in his speech N. Taylor Phillips described how Judaism was observed in the homes of Jews during colonial times. Religious observance was an integral part the lives of colonial Jews. Maintaining a kosher home fell, of course, primarily to the women.

 

     No matter how well off they were, how rich they were, whether they were Gomez or Machado, or who they were, the women either did the cooking themselves or superintended it. It was not left to the slaves, or to the Negroes. If it was, it was a treifa house, that is, the house that permitted the servants exclusively to run the kitchen. People would not eat there, and, therefore, the woman of the house either had to do it herself or had to be on the job and see that it was properly done. If she had a lot of servants, she directed them or could give the final O.K. that everything was “according to Hoyle,” but she had to be there personally.

 

   The Jewish community of New York was quite small from its inception in 1654 through the first quarter of the 19th century. In 1695 it numbered about 100 souls and increased only to about 500 Jews in 1825.2 The result was that it was close-knit, and there was a good deal of social interchange among Jews. Naturally, food was a key part of this social interaction.

 

     The different families of the congregation got to be known for their specialties in the culinary art. One house would be celebrated for the pound cake that was made there, another for the “stickies,” those masses of dough with sugar stuff over them – my descriptions of the mysteries of the cuisine are not very good, but I am doing the best I can. And still another woman would be famous for her sopes peridoes – which was a sort of French toast with a syrup of sugar, water, etc., poured over it, which they ate at Purim. Some women would be celebrated for the way they made them, and when Purim came everyone rushed to their houses to get the last word in sopes peridoes.

 

Passover Observance

 

   Pesach preparations began right after Purim, just as they do in many homes today. One woman actually died as a result of her efforts to prepare for Pesach. Captain Taylor Phillips related the story:

  

     One of my ancestors, the wife of Samuel Lopez, was vigorously engaged about a hundred years ago in supervising the kashruth of her home. She went up on a stepladder to see that there wasn’t anything wrong with dishes, etc., or something of that sort – that was the way they went at it – when she fell off the stepladder and was killed. She lost her life in an effort to keep her louse strictly according to Jewish law, but, as I say, this is only an illustration of the vigor with which they cleaned up.

 

   No member of the congregation during colonial times used butter on Pesach, but they did use milk. However, they made sure that the milk they used did not come in contact with any chometz.

 

     Before the Revolution, considerably before it, the cow would be brought around to the house and milked into the can of the house owner, and then later on, after the Revolution, when that was no longer possible, the children would be sent up to the farms, up around what is now Greenwich Village. I have heard my father say that in his boyhood, at Passover time, he would walk up Greenwich Street, carrying a can. Then the woman who kept the farm milked the cow into the can [he had brought] and he went back [carrying the milk all the way home]. As I have stated, the reason was that they would not allow anybody’s cans but their own to be used, because the others were not pesachdech [fit for Passover food]. These little things just give you an idea of how they lived.

 

1 For information about the life of N. Taylor Phillips, please see “N. Taylor Phillips: Scion Of One Of America’s First Jewish Families,” The Jewish Press,May 1, 2009, page 23.

2 “The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York” by Hyman B. Grinstein, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1945, page 469.

 

Dr. Yitzchok Levine recently retired after serving for forty years as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

N. Taylor Phillips: Scion Of One Of America’s First Jewish Families

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Naphtali Moses Taylor Phillips, generally known as N. Taylor Phillips, was a descendent of one of America’s first Jewish families. His great-great-great grandfather, Dr. Samuel Nunes (Nunez) Ribeiro and his great-great grandmother, Zipporah were among the first group of Jews to arrive in Savannah, Georgia in 1733. Zipporah married David Mendes Machado, who served as the chazzan of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York from 1737 until his passing in 1747.

Zipporah’s daughter Rebecca married Jonas Phillips in 1762. Jonas was a member of the Philadelphia county militia during the Revolutionary War and at one time was employed by Congregation Shearith Israel of New York as a shochet. Their son Naphtali Phillips was a grandfather of N. Taylor Phillips. (One should not confuse the grandfather, Naphtali Phillips, with the grandson, Naphtali Moses Taylor Phillips.).

In 1796 it was Naphtali Phillips who took the first copy of George Washington’s farewell address that came off the press of the American Advertiser, a leading Philadelphia newspaper. In 1848 this document was placed in the cornerstone of the Washington Monument in our nation’s capital.

On July 5, 1797, Naphtali Phillips married Rachel Hannah, daughter of Moses Mendez Seixas, a prominent Newport, Rhode Island, merchant and banker and a brother of Gershom Mendez Seixas, known as “the patriotic Jewish minister of the American Revolution.”

[Naphtali] Phillips always took a deep interest in the affairs of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel. He was its President as early as the year 1816 and served for fourteen terms in that office. He was also trustee of the congregation for many years; his entire official service covering a period of long over half a century. He was for many years prominent in the affairs of the Democratic party in New York City and served on many political committees.1

On June 16, 1812, Rachel Hannah gave birth to her fifth child, Isaac. Isaac Phillips would go on to serve as president of Congregation Shearith Israel.

He [Isaac Phillips] was one of the founders of Mount Sinai Hospital and was the last surviving member of the charter board. He was, according to the strictest sect, an Orthodox Jew until the day of his death. His first wife dying in 1855, he married in 1856 Miss Miriam Trimble [1839-1882], a Gentile, who became a convert to Judaism before her marriage.2

Miriam Trimble Phillips gave birth to N. Taylor on December 5, 1868.

Naphtali Moses Taylor Phillips attended Columbia Grammar School and then Columbia University, from which he graduated in 1886 at the age of 18 with the degree of LL.B. At 21 he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of NY, and three years later to the bar of the United States Supreme Court. He held various political offices. He was a member of the New York State legislature (1898-1901), serving on the judiciary and other committees and as a member of the Joint Statutory Revision Commission of that body (1900). He served as deputy comptroller of the City of New York from 1902 to 1910. Mr. Phillips was a leader in Democratic politics for many years.

As a result of his distinguished lineage, N. Taylor was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution. On March 9, 1892, he married Rosalie Solomons, daughter of Adolphus S. Solomons and Rachel Mendez Seixas Phillips Solomons. Rosalie was active in Jewish affairs as well as in politics. She served as Tammany co-leader of the Seventh Assembly District, from 1918-1939 and passed away in 1946 at the age of 79.

One of the outstanding characteristics of Naphtali Phillips was a phenomenal memory through which he consistently endeavored to carry on the traditions he inherited from the past. It was this loyalty to his American and Jewish family traditions which stimulated his enduring interest in the American Jewish Historical Society. He was one of its founders, and a director of it since 1893. For many years he was its treasurer, and later its honorary vice-president. In its Publications there are printed no less than ten articles from his pen, several of which characteristically tell the story of families of his American forebears from Colonial times, while others are centered on historical aspects of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel with which ancestors of his had been prominently associated for over two centuries.

This conscious identification with his past made him one of the leading spirits fifty years ago in organizing and making effective the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary celebration of the settlement of the Jews in this country. It was also expressed by his being a life member of the New York Historical Society.

When the United States entered the first World War, N. Taylor Phillips, a Son of the American Revolution, was determined in his generation also to give military service to his country. At the time he was nearly fifty years of age, and he found difficulty in being accepted in the armed forces. But he persisted in his purpose and eventually he was able to enter the army. He became a captain and served in Washington throughout the war.

His loyalty to the past was expressed most penetratingly through his synagogue. He loved it passionately. N. Taylor Phillips served as its president for eight years.

In 1897 when Congregation Shearith Israel dedicated its present synagogue building, it was N. Taylor Phillips who wrote a valuable history of the congregation as his grandfather Naphtali Phillips had done three generations earlier. This was published in the Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society and in the American Hebrew. In the fall of 1954 when he was eighty-five years old he was one of the two men who opened the doors of the synagogue for its solemn service of reconsecration at the beginning of the national tercentenary celebration of the settlement of the Jews in the United States, just as almost a century earlier his grandfather, Naphtali Phillips, then eighty-seven years of age, had formally opened the doors for the dedication of the newly built synagogue of the congregation on Nineteenth Street.

He would chant the Book of Jonah in the afternoon service of the Day of Atonement. He did this with special love because he knew that his great-grandfather, Jonas Phillips, had similarly chanted the Book of Jonah in the synagogue at the time of the Revolution. His seat in the synagogue was in the same position in the present synagogue as that of his father and grandfather in the earlier synagogue of the congregation.

In all such ways he deeply cherished the historic traditions of his fathers. It was this loyalty which made him so constant and so devoted a member of the American Jewish Historical Society for nearly two-thirds of a century from its foundation in 1892.3

N. Taylor Phillips passed away on April 30, 1955 at the age of 87. He was considered the Phillips family’s unofficial historian and published many articles about the history of the Jews of New York during the 17th and 18th centuries.

 

1″Naphtali Phillips,”Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1913; 21, AJHS Journal. page 172 ff. (Available at www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.)

2 Obituary of Isaac Phillips, The New York Times, August 6, 1889.

3″Necrology N. Taylor Phillips 1868-1955″ byD. De Solo Pool, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); Sep 1955-Jun 1956; 45, 1-4; AJHS Journal, pages 64- 66. (Available at www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.)

 

 

Dr. Yitzchok Levine recently retired after serving for forty years as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Naphtali and Josephine Phillips

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
           Editor’s Note: Much of this article is based on “Naphtali Phillips,” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 1913, 21. The article is available at www.ajhs.org/reference/adeje.cfm. All quotes are taken from that article unless otherwise indicated.
Naphtali Phillips, the ninth child of Rebecca Machado and Jonas Phillips, was born in New York on October 19, 1773. His great-grandfather was Dr. Samuel Nunes Ribeiro, an escapee from the Portuguese Inquisition1 who became one of the first Jewish settlers of Savannah, GA.2 His maternal grandparents were Zipporah Nunes and David Mendes Machado.3 David Machado also escaped from the Inquisition in Portugal and served for a number of years as the chazzan and Torah teacher of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York.

His mother, Rebecca Machado Phillips, was a most unusual woman. Not only did she give birth to 21 children but she was also involved in a variety of chesed organizations, something that was pioneering for women at the time.4 Naphtali’s father, Jonas, was a merchant in New York and Philadelphia. He was of Ashkenazic descent and grew up in London, where he must have received a better than average Jewish education, since he was trained as a shochet. The Phillipses were observant Jews.

 

At the age of three, with his mother, brothers and sisters, he was taken to Philadelphia, Pa., by his father, who fled from New York with other patriots after the battle of Washington Heights, November, 1776, into a voluntary exile, during which time New York was in the hands of the British. The older Phillips was an ardent patriot and served as a soldier in the Revolutionary army. The son naturally became a devoted admirer of Washington from earliest youth, and when the latter was inaugurated as first President of the United States in 1789, young Phillip, though only sixteen years of age, was one of those who accompanied the cavalcade which escorted Washington from Philadelphia to New York for that ceremony. After the Revolutionary War he continued to reside in Philadelphia where his father, who was engaged in business, was the President of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Mikve Israel.

Mr. Phillips voted for General Washington on his second election as President and voted also in every presidential election thereafter until that of General Grant in 1868, a period of 76 years.

 

Young Naphtali became interested in journalism, and his first job was with the American Advertiser, a leading Philadelphia newspaper. On July 5, 1797 he married Rachel Seixas, daughter of Moses Mendez Seixas, a prominent merchant and banker in Newport, Rhode Island.

 

Mr. Phillips took up his residence in New York permanently about the year 1801, and shortly thereafter became the proprietor of the National Advocate, the leading New York newspaper of that period, and continued at its head for many years. He then became an attach? of the New York Custom House, where he remained until failing sight overtook him about the middle of the last [19th] century.

 

Rachel and Naphtali Phillips had eleven children together. Rachel died from yellow fever during the plague that afflicted New York in 1822. On October 8, 1823 Naphtali married Rachel’s first cousin, Esther B. Seixas, daughter of Lieutenant Benjamin Mendez Seixas, a Revolutionary War officer and one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange. They had four children together.

 

Mr. Phillips always took a deep interest in the affairs of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Shearith Israel. He was its President as early as the year 1816 and served for fourteen terms in that office. He was also trustee of the congregation for many years; his entire official service covering a period of (long) over half a century. He was for many years prominent in the affairs of the Democratic party in New York City and served on many political committees. At his death, which occurred November 1, 1870, in his ninety-eighth year, he was the oldest member of the Tammany Society, having belonged to it for nearly three-quarters of a century. As a mark of respect to his profound piety and long service to his people, his funeral was held at the vestibule of the synagogue of his congregation, the only person in it history of over two and one-half centuries, other than its ministers, who has ever been thus honored.

 

Reaction to Lincoln’s Assassination

(The following is from “A Personal Tribute to Lincoln by Josephine Phillips” by Phillip Goodman, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, Sep. 1951-Jun. 1952, 41. The article is available online at www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.)

 

Josephine Phillips (1814-1896) was either the 6th or 7th child to be born to Rachel and Naphtali Phillips. (Since she had a twin sister, Jochebed, it is not clear who was born first.) She was deeply affected by Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865, and wrote a moving letter to her brother-in-law, Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) of Washington, D.C. Adolphus was married to her half-sister Rachel Seixas Phillips (1826-1881). Louis Marshall called Solomons “… one of the finest exemplars of a Jew of American birth, being distinguished alike for unswerving loyalty to his faith and his country”
Her letter, written only five days after Lincoln’s death, expresses her profound grief. The significance of the letter quoted below lies not so much in its confirmation of historical data, as in the fact that it was a typical personal outpouring of grief that was shared by untold numbers of other Jews.
New York, April 20th 1865.
Dear Adolphus,
I received your letter last Monday & presume you also got mine containing our mutual sorrow & horror at the sad event that has plunged all in profound grief, never in history has any event in any nation brought forth such real regret, & the loyalty of the people high & low rich & poor is seen mingled with love & veneration for the man “whose heart was warm whose hands were pure whose doctrine & whose life coincident exhibit lucid proof that he was honest in the sacred cause & to such are rendered more than mere respect.” These lines from Cowper5 are forcibly brought to my recollection as illustrating much of the character of our lamented President.
New York is literally clad in black & it is more rare to see a house without it than with it, from the splendid mansion to the smallest Shanty, even the gates of the poorest black or white display their emblem of sorrow; full well I can imagine how badly you feel it was only last week you wrote me about your being at his house & seeing him come out & request the band to play Dixie, & to-day that he appointed to celebrate our victories, his own funeral takes place. I have not yet recovered from the shock of last Saturday. Yesterday we had shool & a very large assemblage, the services were very solemn, the Tabah [Torah reader's desk] was covered with black also the pillars & gallery, to-day we have it again at three o’clock” nothing is thought or talked of to-day no stores are opened & the poorest person will not work. I see by the paper the body will be here on Monday, his poor wife & children what a sad change for them! I am truly glad Mr. Seward & son will recover & also that his assassin is arrested, but it seems strange Booth has yet eluded the vigilance of the police, his Mother I hear resides in 19th St. NY. & is of course in the greatest affliction, what a villain he is!
JOSEPHINE
The morning paper mentions the fact of the synagogues being the first places of Worship that had Prayers for the President.

1Escape From The Inquisition,” The Jewish Press, December 2, 2005.

2The Jewish Settlement of Savannah, Georgia,” The Jewish Press, January 6, 2006.

3David Mendes and Zipporah Nunes Machado,” The Jewish Press, July 6, 2007.

4Rebecca (Machado) Phillips (1746-1831): Colonial Jewish Matriarch,” The Jewish Press, April 7, 2006, pages 41 & 46. Glimpses into American Jewish History Part 13.

5 Probably William Cowper (1731-1800), an English poet.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine recently retired after serving for forty years as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Rebecca (Machado) Phillips: Colonial Jewish Matriarch

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

Note: Most of the information for this article is taken from “The Exceptional and the Mundane: A Biographical Portrait of Rebecca (Machado) Phillips, 1746-1831″ by Aviva Ben Ur. This article was published electronically in “Textures and Meaning: Thirty Years of Judaic Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst,”ed. L. Ehrlich, S. Bolozky, R. Rothstein, M. Schwartz, J. Berkowitz, and J. Young, http://www.umass.edu/judaic/anniversaryvolume/. The article is available at http://www.umass.edu/judaic/anniversaryvolume/articles/28-F1-Ben-Ur.pdf. All quotes come from this source.

Little has been written about the lives of Jewish women during colonial times. In general, historians have focused on the lives of men who were noteworthy during that era, primarily because more information is available about men who were publicly active than women who, more often than not, devoted the majority of their efforts to the home scene.

While Rebecca (Machado) Phillips did indeed devote a great deal of her time to her family, she also was involved in activities outside her home. Fortunately, there exists a record of her domestic as well as non-domestic achievements. Given that she had no less than twenty-one children over a span of twenty-nine years, it is all the more remarkable that she had time for both a “public” and a “private” life.

“Rebecca Machado was born into an eminent Jewish family of Portuguese descent. Her parents, Zipporah Nunes Ribeiro (1714-1799) and David Mendes Machado (1695-1747) were former secret Jews and refugees of the Portuguese Inquisition. Their respective families had lived as crypto-Jews in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries, and it was the harrowing events of the first and second decades of the eighteenth century that finally compelled them to flee. According to Rebecca’s mother, Zipporah, we know that many members of Zipporah’s family, including her father, Dr. Samuel Nunes Ribeiro, a prominent court physician in Lisbon, were arrested by the Inquisition for Judaizing in the early 1700′s. David Machado’s older brother was also arrested by the Inquisition and burned at the stake for publicly mocking Christianity at his trial. Zipporah transmitted through oral testimony the sensational and ingenious flight of her father, Dr. Nunes, and his family from Lisbon to London” (page 366).

The amazing story of this flight was told in Glimpses Part 9 (Jewish Press, Dec. 2, 2005; http://www.jewishpress.com/news_article.asp?article=5755).

“A family oral tradition reveals that the Nunes women were so conditioned to leading a double life that for years after their move to America they continued to recite their Hebrew prayers with the aid of the Catholic rosary. Rebecca’s grandson, Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851), recounted that Rebecca’s mother, Zipporah Nunes, ‘was observed, whenever the clock struck, to repeat a silent prayer, which had some reference to her imprisonment in the Inquisition’” (page 367).

In 1762, at the age of sixteen, Rebecca married Jonas Phillips (1735-1803), who was eleven years her senior. Phillips, of Ashkenazic descent, was born in Rhenish Prussia, but had been reared in London. He must have received a better than average Jewish education, since he was trained as a shochet. “For Jonas, marriage to Rebecca would have symbolized social upward mobility, since Sephardim were associated with nobility and culture. Conversely, many eighteenth century Sephardim scorned German Jews as ‘ill-bred and uncouth.’ These attitudes help to explain the fact that until the early 1800′s, all American congregations followed the Sephardic rite, although by around 1730, Ashkenazim were more numerous than Sephardim in a number of cities, including New York” (page 370).

“Shortly after their marriage, Rebecca and her husband moved to New York, where Jonas resumed his activities as a businessman. By the next autumn, Rebecca had given birth to the first of their twenty-one children. The early years of marriage were financially strained. Phillips’s business dealings were complicated by England’s restrictive colonial trade regulations, and he became an insolvent debtor in 1764. The following year, he secured a position as a ritual slaughterer and examiner of meat (shochet and bodek) for Congregation Shearith Israel, in which capacity he served until 1769.”

“The financial hardships the Phillips family endured early on were augmented by personal tragedy. From 1763 to 1772, four of Rebecca’s children, including her firstborn, died before the age of one year. The years between 1770 and 1772 were particularly trying; over the period of these two years, Rebecca and Jonas lost three daughters. Although in these early years they faced dire financial straits, struggled to raise a growing family, and endured the death of a number of their babies, in the long run, Rebecca and Jonas were fortunate. Perhaps the majority of their children survived into adulthood” (pages 370 and 371).

In addition to childbearing and childraising, Rebecca, like most eighteenth century women, manufactured cloth, clothing, soap, candles and prepared processed comestibles to serve as their winter food supply. The members of the Phillips family were, of course, observant Jews. Rebecca supervised her kitchen to make sure that all was done according to Halacha. N. Taylor Phillips, family historian and direct descendent of Rebecca, wrote in 1927 (quoted on page 374):

No matter how well off they were, how rich they were, whether they were Gomez or Machado, or who they were, the women either did the cooking themselves or superintended it. It was not left to the slaves, or to the Negroes. If it was, it was a treifa house, that is, the house that permitted the servants exclusively to run the kitchen. People would not eat there, and, therefore, the woman of the house either had to do it herself or had to be on the job and see that it was properly done. If she had a lot of servants, she directed them or could give the final O.K. that everything was according to “Hoyle,” but she had to be there personally.

Jonas Phillips gave up his position as shochet for Congregation Shearith Israel in 1769 and went into business. “In 1774, he transferred his family and business to Philadelphia, where Rebecca’s family resided after the occupation of New York by the British army. Philadelphia, the only city in America to escape siege or occupation by the British, was a central refuge for Jewish Whigs, and its Jewish community, like that of Charleston, (and) emerged from the war larger and organizationally improved” (page 372). Here the family became quite prosperous and contributed generously to Congregation Mikveh Israel. “Phillips was elected Trustee of Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia in 1782 and also served as president and parnas of the congregation in that year, no doubt strengthening the family’s ties to the synagogue” (page 373).

“During the last ten years of her childbearing years, if not earlier, Rebecca began to adopt an active role in both Jewish and non-Jewish public affairs. Rebecca Phillips and Grace Nathan seem to have been involved in fundraising and the collection of funds for the purchase of synagogue ritual objects. In the next several years, her communal activism was to extend to the non-Jewish community as well. Rebecca’s most impressive communal contributions came in the early 1800′s.”

“In 1801, at the age of fifty-five, Rebecca was one of the founding members of the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances. This Philadelphia organization, in which Gentile and Jewish women joined efforts, was dedicated to assisting yellow fever victims in Baltimore, supporting a ‘soup house’ for the poor, and generally providing food and clothing to indigent women and children. Only two years later, Rebecca was widowed, leaving her a single mother of as many as sixteen children” (pages 380-381).

“Rebecca’s personal piety and dedication to her people shone particularly during her widowed years. In 1820, at the age of seventy-four, Rebecca, now widowed for seventeen years, served as first directress and one of thirteen managers serving on the board of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society of Philadelphia. The society, founded in 1819 to assist the Jewish indigent, was the first non-synagogue-related charitable society in America” (page 382).

“Rebecca Phillips embodies both the exceptional and the mundane. Her duties as wife and mother are typical of the colonial and early American experience. Yet these duties must be considered extraordinary, for they were carried out as Rebecca bore twenty-one children and raised two of her grandchildren, exceeding the count of even the largest known American Jewish families of her time.

“Rebecca’s pioneering activities as a communal activist and philanthropist in both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities were extraordinary for her time. Yet these endeavors would be considered, by the end of the nineteenth century, not only the common domain of the American woman, but increasingly and in many important respects, her ‘natural’ domain. Rebecca’s pioneering exceptionalism thus foreshadowed that which would soon become commonplace” (page 386).

Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/rebecca-machado-phillips-colonial-jewish-matriarch/2006/04/05/

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