A Perspective on the Revolutionary War
in honor of the Fourth of July
by Anna Khomina, Research and Special Projects Intern, Center for Jewish History
Although the Declaration of Independence—the symbol of America’s freedom and autonomy—was signed July 4, 1776, the real battle for independence had just begun. The American Revolutionary War, fought from 1775 to 1783, came as a shock to many colonists, most of whom had never engaged in a violent conflict of such proportions before.
The Sephardi members of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York were among the many distressed by the war and its toll on human life. Established in 1654, Shearith Israel has the distinction of being the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, and a testament to the burgeoning Jewish population in New York City in the colonial era.
When one thinks of Jewish life in the City, one’s mind usually jumps to the late 19th century, when persecuted Jews from Eastern Europe streamed into Ellis Island by the thousands and settled on the Lower East Side. But Jewish communities had been thriving and contributing to the City’s development since its founding. The exhibit New York Places/Jewish Places: Life in the City 1700-2012 currently on view at the Center explores more than 300 years of Jewish presence in New York City. You can also see more digitized documents and correspondences from the congregation by searching Congregation Shearith Israel at digital.cjh.org.
In a prayer given during the Revolutionary War, members of Congregation Shearith Israel asked for peace between Britain and the American colonies, imploring both sides to put down their arms:
O Lord: the God of our Fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, may it please thee, to put it in the heart of our sovereign Lord, George the Third, and in the hearts of his Councellors (sic), Princes and Servants, to turn away their fierce wrath from against North America. And to destroy the wicked devices of our enemies, that it may fall on their own heads. That there may no more blood be shed on these countries, O Lord our God, we beseech thee to open unto us the gates of mercy on this our solemn Fast and that our prayers and the prayers of all the people what stand before thee this day, may come before thee. That the [torn] may no more pass through our land. And that thou mayest send the Angels of Mercy to proclaim Peace to all America and to the inhabitants thereof. That though mayest once more plant an everlasting peace between Great Britain and her Colonies, as on former times, and conform unto us what is written. And they shall bear their swords unto low shares, and their spears unto hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against Nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. Amen.
Part of order and service of Hebrew prayer. recommended during the revolution, American Historical Society.