Home > Adventures in SD History > Adventures in San Diego Jewish History, September 17, 1954, Part 7

Adventures in San Diego Jewish History, September 17, 1954, Part 7

Compiled by San Diego Jewish World staffSouthwestern Jewish Press, September 17, 1954, page 12

Some surprises in American Jewish History

By Rabbi Lee J. Levinger

In this tercentenary year we are going to hear many times the central themes of American Jewish history.  We shall be told how this community has grown in three-hundred years from twenty-three persons to five million, how the United States of America was the first nation in the world to give equal rights of citizenship to Christians and Jews, how the Jews rendered worthy and often vital service to the nation. These significant themes may lose interest, even though not in importance, with repetition. Perhaps it may be worth the effort to note how Jews appear in many a footnote to American history, past and present.

For Jews bob up at the most unexpected places from early colonial days to the present. In the year 1695l the governor of South Carolina desired to interrogate some Indians captured in the border wars with the Spanish colony of Florida.  Nobody about could speak the Indian language, but there was a Jew present to interpret Spanish. We do not even know his name; his very existence is known to us only in the obscure reminiscences of a colonial governor.

When John Charles Fremont made his epochal fifth expedition across the Rockies in 1854, tracing the route for the future railway to the West, one Solomon Nunes Carvalho was the official artist of the expedition.  His fascinating book, “Travel and Adventure in the Far West,” is being reprinted this year by the Jewish Publication Society.

In 1803, when New Orleans was still French territory, a retiring young man of twenty-eight settled there and opened a shop; when he died exactly a century ago, Judah Touro was famous the country over as a generous donor to many causes, Jewish, Christian and patriotic. In his will he left bequests to every Jewish congregation then existing in the country, to the neglected Jews of Jerusalem, and to a hospital in New Orleans. There is a Touro Street in Newport, Rhode Island, where he was born, and in New Orleans, where he died.

Every section of the country welcomed a few Jews among the pioneers, and usually one of them was an outstanding figure. For the Republic of Texas this was Henry Castro, born in France as Henri de Castro, member of a famous Jewish line. He made a contract with Sam Houston in 1842 to find colonists for the empty land, and in the following four years brought 5,000 immigrants from Alsace and the Rhineland, investing a great fortune in the enterprise. The town of Castroville bears his name, which the state later gave to one of its counties as well.

The first president of the American Federation of Labor, who held that office for thirty eight years, was Samuel Gompers, an English Jew.  As an immigrant boy of thirteen he assisted his father at the cigar maker’s bench; he took his turn at reading to the other workers, and learned the art of public address; he attended  classes at Cooper Union. The little boy who joined a labor union that was a radical act, who organized many industries and led many strikes, became in his old age the dominating figure of the American labor movement.

At the historic siege of Fort McHenry in 1812, Francis Scott Key, an observer, conceived the “Star Spangled Banner.” But others were present, too; the records how that eight Jews were listed among the defenders of the fort.  Naturally, for some Jews fought in every war and almost in every battle from the days of the Revolution.  In the Civil War, seven Jews were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and three rabbis were appointed chaplains by President Lincoln.

In the colony of South Carolina, as the Revolution was beginning, Francis Salvador was a member of the Provincial Congress, the first Jew to hold elective office in this country, as well as one of the earliest victims of the war. When the shadows of the Civil War were threatening in 1856, three young Jewish immigrants fought in the abolitionist band of John Brown in bleeding Kansas.

If we turn to the Pacific coast, we find that in 1849, the very year of the Gold Rush, two minyanim observed the High Holy-days in the village of San Francisco.  Many a ghost town of today has a Jewish cemetery or other memories of those hectic days.  The “great man” among the early Jews was Adolph Sutro, builder of a tunnel at the Comstock Lode and for many years mayor of San Francisco.  But the best remembered even now is the strange figure of Emperor Norton, in his fantastic uniform, followed by two mongrel dogs.  He lived for many years on the bounty of the San Franciscans, and issued scrip which was accepted as legal tender in every restaurant in town.

Hebrew was taught in the leading colleges in colonial days, not for the sake of the Jews but in order that Christian clergymen might learn the holy tongue. In one case at least the courses were given by a converted Jew; Judah Monis taught at Harvard for forty years in the first half of the eighteenth century, and wrote for his students the first Hebrew grammar to be printed in the New World.

If we look to the navy, we find a Commodore in the 1850’s, the romantic Uriah P. Levy, and an Admiral in the Second World War, Ben Morreel. Three Jews have sat on the Supreme Court, and six in the Senate; their present representatives are Justice Felix Frankfurter and Senator Herbert Lehman.

So the Jews are interwoven in the very fabric of American history, in every period, in every section, in every area of the national life. As we study the growth of the thirteen little colonies into a great nation, we see at the same time the founding and growth of their Jewish institutions.

In 16566, just two years after the first landing, a Jewish cemetery was founded in New Amsterdam, and in 1682 the first synagogue was opened for worship in the same city, by that time called New York. When the Christian Sunday School movement was new, Rebecca Gratz founded the first Jewish Sunday School in Philadelphia in 1838.  Just five years later, in 1843, twelve young German immigrants met in New York under the leadership of one Henry Jones (previously Heinrich Jonas) to organize the first Jewish fraternal order in all history, the B’nai B’rith.  One of their purposes was to unify the little Jewish community, torn by the struggles of rival congregations.

By the 1870;s a movement to unite congregations was consummated by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations became a reality in 1871 and the Hebrew Union College, the oldest Jewish college to endure, in 1875.

Jewish life grew with Jewish numbers; Judaism, as well as individual Jews, was incorporated in the very structure of American life. The immense Jewish community which celebrates the Tercentenary traces its foundation to the achievements of the pioneer, the peddler, the scholar, the soldier of these eventful centuries.

Beth Israel Religious School Registration
Southwestern Jewish Press, September 17, 1954, Page 13

The registration of Religious School pupils at Temple Beth Israel, begun on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, promises to be the heaviest in the history of the Temple.

Pupils, old and new, will continue to be enrolled o Sunday, Sept. 19th, from 9:45 a.m. till noon. All parents are urged to enroll their children at that time, as classes will be closed to further registration when classroom capacities are reached.

The first classroom sessions will be held on Sunday, Sept. 26th, at 9:45 a.m.  Children will not be enrolled on that day; they must be registered in advance. New children entering the School must be at least five years old by Nov. 30th, 1954. It is our hope that every Jewish child in San Diego will be enrolled in a Religious School, and the Congregation urges its members and friends to see that their children are registered this Sunday.

Monday and Wednesday afternoon Hebrew classes at the Temple already are in session.  All parents of children of 4th grade age and over are urged to enroll them for Hebrew instruction at the Temple immediately.

City of Hope Juniors Hold Luncheon
Southwestern Jewish Press, September 17, 1954, Page 13

The City of Hope Junior Auxiliary is carrying “the torch.”  This will be the theme of the membership luncheon which will take place on September 22, in the garden of Mrs. Sid Berman’s home at 4431 Campo Drive at 12:30 p.m.  Mrs. Elias Berwin, President of the Senior Auxiliary will be guest speaker, giving a brief outline of the work done at the hospital. 

Surprise entertainment will complete the afternoon festivities.

For reservations call Adele Cheron, chairman at CY-5-8528.

B.J. Ladies Hold Annual Picnic Sept. 19
Southwestern Jewish Press, September 17, 1954, Page 13

The Beth Jacob Ladies Auxiliary will hold their Annual Picnic Bazaar on Sunday, September 19, at Pepper Grove in Balboa Park beginning at noon.

Delicious home-cooked food will be served.  Wonderful merchandise prizes donated by generous San Diego merchants will be auctioned.

“Adventures in San Diego Jewish History” is sponsored by Inland Industries Group LP in memory of long-time San Diego Jewish community leader Marie (Mrs. Gabriel) Berg. Our “Adventures in San Diego Jewish History” series will be a regular feature until we run out of history.  To find stories on specific individuals or organizations, type their names in our search box. 



  1. November 19, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Rabbi Levingers work is of great value for all Americans, and should be read by most. Had Rabbi Levinger lived to utilize the work of Koestler and others who seek to enlighten the “JEWS” about the Talmudic peril, maybe the economic future of America would be much brighter without debt slavery to the economic terrorists at the Federal Reserve, and the Truth hating minions who own the media and operate a crack house called Congress. See Genesis 49, and Deuteronomy 28 & 32….there were no “Yiddish” speaking Ashkenazim proselytes to Talmudic Judaism in the Text….See also John 8 :33 & 44 !

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