As we celebrate this wonderful holiday and the beauty of the summer here in the Conejo Valley, we need to remember how the values of our founding fathers are based on classic Jewish values, and how we can promote living these values today.
From the Beginning
When we speak of the founding of America, we have to remember Christopher Columbus. But what most people don’t know is that all evidence points to Columbus as being a Jew.
On his private documents, Columbus wrote a triangular signature of dots and letters that were found on Jewish gravestones in Spain, that equate to a hidden form of the Kaddish prayer. In his will he made provisions for one tenth of his income to be an anonymous donation as a dowry for poor girls, a distinctly Jewish custom; and he specifically left an inheritance for a Jew living in Lisbon. Simon Wiesenthal contended that Columbus’ entire journey was motivated by a desire to find a safe home for Jews, and according to a linguistics professor from Georgetown, Columbus’ spoken language was Ladino, the “yiddish” of Spanish Jews. More clearly, on all but one of the 13 letters he wrote to his son Diego, he wrote the hebrew letters that stand for “b’ezrat HaShem” (“with the help of God”, a practice of observant Jews to put at the top corner of every document). These were private documents so it was safe to show evidence of his Jewishness, and the one letter that did not bear the mark was a letter bound for King Ferdinand. And despite the common myth that Queen Isabella finance Columbus’ expedition, it was in fact funded by two Jewish conversos (Louis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez) and another prominent Rabbi, Don Isaac Abrabanel.
Ok…so America was “founded” by a Jew, backed by Jewish financiers. But what about the formation of the United States as a nation?
Most of the early leaders of our nation were not only conversant in Biblical knowledge, but many of them were knowledgeable and even fluent in written Hebrew. There is even the argument made by scholars that Alexander Hamilton, who was educated in a Jewish school in the Caribbean, was actually himself Jewish (sorry, Lin Manuel Miranda). His mother is buried in a Jewish cemetery, and he went to a yeshiva, which is where the funds were gathered for him to come to the US in the first place as a young man.
Our framers based much of our country’s structure around Torah teachings. The three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial are specifically modeled after the governing structure of ancient Israel: The Monarchy (descended from King David); Cohanim (descendants of Aaron the Priest and brother of Moses); and the Sanhedrin (the Great Assembly composed of the wise Sages of the generations who sat as judges of the law). The values of pursuing justice, cherishing freedom, and so much more are found both in Judaic teachings as well as the documents of our early leaders.
Many people do not realize how important Jewish history actually was to the members of the Continental Congress. Of the five men who wrote the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, three were additionally selected to create a seal for the United States. On July 4, 1776, the day that independence was declared; John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were asked to design a seal for the nation. Here, as much as anywhere else, we see the Jewish influence on our country.
Both Franklin and Jefferson wanted the Seal to include imagery of Moses leading the Exodus from Egypt, crossing the Sea, and G-d being present with them in their journey through the wilderness. Preserved in a note from August of 1776 in his own handwriting, Ben Franklin wrote:
“Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.”
Jefferson’s ideal seal included not only this image, but an image of “the children of Israel being led in the wilderness by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night”. The two were combined into the original proposed Seal below:
Although these images were not incorporated into the Seal that was ultimately chosen by Congress in 1782; it is clear how the imagery and teachings of our text directly influenced these architects of our nation.
These are only a few of the examples that demonstrate our Founding Fathers’ knowledge and commitment to Judaism. We will be discussing more in the class on this topic on July 7, and really learning about the deep Jewish roots that are integral in understanding American history.
Making History Today
While we are not architects of a new nation, each of us is the architect of his or her own life. and are the foundation stones of a Kahal (holy community) by being actively involved in Temple Ner Simcha. The example of a no dues/no cost for High Holiday tickets that we began a few years ago has spread throughout the United States and has been emulated by over 60 synagogues nationwide! More and more articles are being written about it, and the more that we succeed, the more pressure that is created upon other synagogues to move to this inclusive business model. In the same way that America is dedicated to every citizen having liberty; we are dedicated to making sure that every Jew can be part of a spiritual community.
Like the visionaries committed to the founding of a new nation over 240 years ago based on ethics and values, as a passionate and active member of the Temple Ner Simcha community, you are leading the way for a shift into a more ethical and inclusive model of Jewish involvement. For those of us who grew up being required to “pay to pray”, this is a powerful shift (although I am not guaranteeing that anyone will ever get a musical like “Hamilton” written about them). Your active participation in this community is not only rewarding for you but allows our Kahal to help Jews nationwide. Your individual actions truly make a difference!
Along with Cantor Glaser and our musical team, I am looking forward to sharing the holidays with you this September, when we will once again be back ar the Canyon Club. If you have not yet registered, please go to www.nersimcha.org to reserve your tickets. With our commitments as a community to joy and depth; I have no doubt that these will be meaningful services for all of us, and that we will all grow as individuals and as a community.
A Special Summer and Beyond…
Throughout the summer we will be having “Shabbat Under the Stars” services at Deer Hill Community Park in Oak Park (there will be armed security present to make sure that we are physically safe), as well as classes and special events. These services at the park are always especially fun and meaningful, and many people choose to picnic before the services in the beauty of nature. Our next Shabbat Under the Stars is next Friday, July 9 and I hope to see you there to share the joy of celebrating the Sabbath in the beautiful setting of nature. Please check your email or the temple website www.nersimcha.org to stay up to date on all the wonderful programming of the summer.
Ner Simcha means “The Light of Joy”. I hope to see you at the services as we explore that light more deeply, and renew our commitments to ourselves, our individual growth, and to our community. Again, if you have not registered for the High Holy Day services at the Canyon Club, please register now….the lay leadership and professional staff are trying to plan the services as efficiently as possible, and early registration makes it much easier on everyone. May you have a safe and fun 4th of July, and May your summer be blessed joy and light, fullness, growth, health, prosperity, and much fun!
Rabbi Michael Barclay
July 4th, 2021
24th of Tamuz, 5781