November 23, 2013


God Delivered the Pilgrims--and My People : Thanksgiving always had particular resonance for one group of religious freedom-seekers. (MEIR SOLOVEICHIK, Nov. 21, 2013 WSJ)

At the beginning of the 18th century, Shearith Israel--the name means "the remnant of Israel"--was importing its clergy from Europe. But by 1768, it was ready to hire its first American-born minister, Gershom Mendes Seixas. And it is here that the story of Shearith Israel becomes forever intertwined with the story of Thanksgiving--and of America.

Known as the "Patriot Rabbi," Seixas ardently supported the American cause against Britain. By April of 1789, when the victorious George Washington arrived in New York to be sworn in as the first president of the United States, Seixas joined the city's Christian clergymen in the inaugural procession. Later that year, when the president proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving, the minister of America's first Jewish congregation delivered the first Thanksgiving address in a synagogue following the adoption of the Constitution.

In his sermon, delivered Nov. 26, 1789, he expressed his profound gratitude for a government that was "founded upon the strictest principles of equal liberty and justice." In a Thanksgiving Day service several years later, Seixas declared: "As Jews, we are even more than others called upon to return thanks to God for placing us in such a country--where we are free to act according to the dictates of conscience, and where no exception is taken from following the principles of our religion."

Throughout its history, the members of Shearith Israel have observed Thanksgiving by reciting in synagogue the same psalms of praise and gratitude sung by Jews all over the world on festive days like Hanukkah. This year, thanks to the coincidence of the two holidays, our members will be joined by a global chorus of their coreligionists.
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Posted by at November 23, 2013 11:13 AM

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