Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Washington, Lincoln, and the Jewish Community of America

Washington, Lincoln, and the Jewish Community of America

Presidents Day unifies the commemorations of President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. Some states also recognize other U.S. Presidents on this day.
In Washington, D.C. the monuments to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln stand tall and proud.
George Washington, Revolutionary War hero, exceptional statesman, and man of deep character and public leadership, is fondly admired by the Jewish community for his famous (1790) letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, which is a foundation stone of American religious liberty:
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.
For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens…
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Abraham Lincoln was also kind to the Jewish community, and famously reversed Civil War Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s General Order No. 11 expelling all Jews (considered roaming merchants) from portions of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi where his forces had taken the field.
Granting an audience to Jewish community representative Cesar Kaskel, Lincoln first listened and then asked: “And so the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?”
Kaskel reportedly said, “Yes, and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, asking protection.”
Lincoln, who believed in “mystic” and “electric” chords of memory, firmly replied: “And this protection they shall have at once.”
He then ordered General Order 11 immediately revoked, as it proscribed an entire religious class, many of whom were loyal fighters.
Lincoln’s own possible Jewish roots are debated. His mother’s ancestry went back to a town in eastern England named Lincoln, where mostly Jews were known to reside. Named Abraham (his great-grandfather was Mordechai), Lincoln was the only American president not to have declared himself a member of any particular religious faith, and he was neither raised in nor belonged to a church.
A faithful believer in the Almighty, Lincoln was rooted in biblical theology and frequently cited the 20th chapter of the Book of Exodus, recommending that every American student study it. It is the Ten Commandments.
“In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift G0d has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book,” Lincoln once said.
Lincoln applied the lessons of the Bible through the Declaration of Independence, which asserted that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Heroes of America and promoters of religious liberty.