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July 05, 2012 - Image 28

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-07-05

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oints of view

Presidential Promise from page 27

Heaven and among the inhabitants of
the Earth, doing whatever seemeth him
good."
The message concluded by asking
God to send "the Angel who conducted
our forefathers through the wilderness
into the promised land" to now guide
Washington "through all the difficul-
ties and dangers of this mortal life
It expressed hope that Washington
— "when like Joshua full of days and
full of honor" — ultimately would "be
admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to
partake of the water of life and the tree
of immortality."

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28

July 5 • 2012

Stag ibruni

President's Vision
Borrowing ideas and actual phrases
from Seixas' stirring address, including
the much-heralded "bigotry no sanction,
to persecution no assistance" phrase,
Washington wrote that Americans have
a right to feel good about a policy wor-
thy of emulating — one of all citizens
possessing "liberty of conscience and
immunities of citizenship."
In his letter, Washington thanked
congregants for their encouraging words.
He celebrated how peacetime days of
pfosperity and security had replaced
wartime days of difficulty and danger.
It would be another 73 years before
an American president would free the
slaves, but Washington at least was in
the forefront of setting the stage for
religious life free from government inter-
ference. "May the Children of the Stock
of Abraham, who dwell in this land','
Washington wrote in richly descriptive
language, "continue to merit and enjoy
the good will of the other inhabitants;
while every one shall sit in safety under
his own vine and figtree, and there shall
be none to make him afraid."
The letter, in the script of Washington's
secretary, Tobias Lear, was signed simply
"G. Washington." The president went to
Newport as part of a tour of good will
in the afterglow of the 1787 adoption of
the Constitution creating a new national
government.
Jews numbered about 300 in Newport
at that time. The Christian community
accepted Jewish worship although indi-
vidual Jews could not secure full politi-
cal equality as Rhode Island citizens.
Thus, the Jewish community longed for
the new national government, under an
enlightened president, "to remove the
last of the barriers to religious liberty
and civil equality confronting American
Jewry," according to Jewish Virtual
Library, an online encyclopedia.

Regaining The Spotlight
The letter was the source of contro-
versy last year when the Forward, the
New York-based Jewish newspaper,

discovered the original version had
been held from public view for 10
years and its current whereabouts were
unknown. The letter had been on dis-
play at the Klutznick Museum at B'nai
B'rith International's headquarters in
Washington for some 40 years until
2002. Financial tightening at that time
forced a move to smaller offices. Most
of the B'nai B'rith collection, including
the now-laminated letter, owned by the
Morris Morgenstern Foundation since
about 1950, was put into arts storage in
Maryland, the Forward found.
Explaining why the foundation has
finally chosen to re-release the letter to
public viewing, Richard Morgenstern, a
grandson of Morris, who was a financier
and philanthropist, told the NMAJH: "It
is our fervent hope that unprecedented
numbers of people, Jews and gentiles
alike, will be afforded the opportunity
see this document" and "think about the
message embodied therein. If they can
appreciate and heed its spirit, the world
will be better for it."

History Comes Alive
In a Forward interview this May,
Jonathan Sarna, the NMAJH chief his-
torian and a professor of American
Jewish history at Brandeis University in
Waltham, Mass., described the letter as
"one of the great documents of modern
Jewish history."
We know Christians and non-Chris-
tians alike intently followed the debate
about the ideals and limits of the grand
American experiment we call democ-
racy and its attitude toward religion. In
their search for freedom of religion, they
found an ally in George Washington.
Dr. Josh Perelman, chief curator, put
it well in the summer edition of the
NMAJH newsletter Only in America. He
wrote that Washington's correspondence
with Newport's Jews "is emblematic of
the moment in American history when
democracy and pluralism were being
established as defining principles."
The letter's legacy was buffed to
a mirror shine in the invocation by
Washington that closes the certainly
didactic epistle:
"May the father of all mercies scatter
light and not darkness in our paths, and
make us all in our several vocations use-
ful here, and in his own due time and
way, everlastingly happy."
Is that not a beautiful, energizing and
engaging reflection of the hope that
people of all civilized faiths so nobly
share?

For National Museum of American Jewish

History hours: www.nmajh.org or (215) 923-

3811.

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