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Founding Fathers: Jewish people key to American success

Respecting Jewish people and standing against antisemitism has a long history in the United States.

“The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation,” John Adams said. “If I were an atheist and believed blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations.”

The words of the second president reflect the pro-Jewish sentiment that prevailed among America’s Founding Fathers and throughout the nation at the time of its founding. This respect was rooted in their view of history and the positive role they believed the Jews had played in world history.

Many early immigrants to America considered themselves a second Israel and England as their Egypt from which they had fled to the New England wilderness to find freedom. It is, therefore, not surprising that they looked to the story of Israel in the Old Testament for guidance and inspiration. This respect for Old Testament Israel, led to colonial colleges such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, all offering courses in Hebrew. Several students at Yale delivered their commencement speeches in Hebrew. At the time, Hebrew was not offered in any university in England.

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Photo courtesy of the Touro Synagogue.

George Washington visited the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, where he was warmly received by this Hebrew congregation. In his official welcome, Moses Seixas compared the Revolutionary War to the struggles of ancient Israel and Washington to King David and Daniel/ Yaari Taal of George Washington University said Washington’s remarks to this congregation established a precedent for protecting religious liberty and pluralism in the United States that persists to this day.

Early America’s embrace of the Jewish people resulted in the United States becoming a haven for persecuted Jews from all over the world. This led to America becoming home to the largest Jewish population in the world. This remained true until 2003, when the Jewish population in Israel finally surpassed that in America.

–Alan Goforth | MV

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