Item of the Day: Discourse, Delivered at the Consecration of the Synagogue in the City of New York (1818)
Full Title: Delivered at the Consecration of the Synagogue in the City of New York, on Friday, the 10th of Nisan, 5578, corresponding with the 17th of April, 1818. By Mordecai M. Noah. New-York: Printed by C.S. Van Winkle, 1818.
[One of the early American republic’s most influential Jews, Mordecai M. Noah was a journalist, editor of New York newspapers the National Advocate, publisher of the New York Enquirer, and a community activist. He held the position of United States Consul to Tunis in 1816, was the sheriff of New York in 1821, the Surveyor of the Port from 1829-1833, and a judge of the Court of General Sessions in 1841. He is perhaps most remembered as the originator of the failed Ararat Project on Grand Island near Niagara Falls in 1825—a proposed utopian city of refuge for persecuted European Jews. The following is an excerpt of an address delivered by Noah in New York at the consecration of the new synagogue. The address, printed as a pamphlet and later appearing in his Travels in England, France, Spain, and the Barbary States, received written responses from Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison.]
Children of Israel,
After eighteen centuries of oppression, of sufferings, and of unwearied persecution—after having been driven from the land of our fathers, and scattered to the most remote parts of the globe, it has pleased Almighty God, whose unity and omnipotence we have never ceased to acknowledge and defend, to direct a portion of his chosen people to this land of toleration and liberal principles, where, in peace and tranquility, contending with no obstacles, and enjoying the blessings of light and liberty, we have been permitted to erect this place of worship to his honour and holy name, which we now dedicate to his service—and invoke his protection and blessings on the children of his choice. On this occasion, I would ask you to accompany me to the early periods of our nation, and to follow in the rapid glance I shall take of their origin, character, religion, and sufferings. Born, as many of us here have been, in the most enlightened times, and enjoying, from our infancy, rights and privileges which many of our unfortunate ancestors never knew, we are but partially acquainted with their struggles and sufferings, and are not fully prepared to estimate the virtue of their sacrifices.
Eighteen hundred years have passed without shedding a ray of happiness upon the Jews. Assailed in the early periods of our history by the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, by each successively harassed, oppressed, and proscribed, our armies were destroyed, the scepter of Israel was broken, and the people chosen by the Almighty to establish his unity and omnipotence, were dispersed throughout the world, Overwhelmed wit contumely; driven from their inheritance; with sufferings most acute, and privations the most painful, they intrepidly maintained the Majesty of their God, when every effort was made to sap their resolution and destroy their firmness. Since the time of Vespasian our history has been traced in blood. Eleven hundred thousand were massacred at the siege of Jerusalem; millions perished during the reign of Adrian, and in combating on the plains of Palestine for their rights as a nation. It would seem that the sword of desolation was never to return to the scabbard. They persisted in the supremacy of their religion over the idolatry and infidelity to the times—they remained firm—and they perished. The world regarded their efforts with wonder and astonishment. Their resistance was termed obstinacy—their struggles rebellion. It was neither: It was the resistance which every nation is bound to make against foreign invaders; it was a natural and proper defence [sic] of their just and unalienable rights. The lapse of ages prove it so. Reason and truth have triumphed. The persecutors of the Jews have ceased to exist. Rome and Greece are no more; we yet live—are more numerous than at the period of our dispersion; and while nations have arisen and departed—while religions have multiplied and confounded each other by schisms and dissentions, we yet preserve our faith, the simple religion of nature, unimpaired by the corroding hand of time. . . .