WASHINGTON, December 21, 2017: The Christmas season may be one of the best times for reflection about freedom, sacrifice and why it is essential to remember the bravery of all soldier patriots who hunkered down at Valley Forge 240 years ago. Among those soldiers and patriots are those that many historians and teachers largely do not acknowledge: The Jewish patriots who joined the fight for America’s religious and governmental freedom.
Two hundred and forty Christmas seasons ago General George Washington’s Revolutionary War army at Valley Forge was on the brink of collapse. The future of the nation and the freedom Americans value today was at risk.
During those cold December days, the contribution of Jewish patriots is crucial to General Washington. Is crucial to ensure the success of the war.
The stories behind the artwork of Bernard Zakheim
‘We the Kids’, a national non-profit organization, president Judy Lane Frazier firmly believes that the Jewish colonists’ story and involvements must be told. Frazier highlights noted 20th-century artist and sculptor Bernard Zakheim who shares the history of Jewish participation during the Revolutionary War through his art.
“He created a series of remarkable easel paintings titled ‘Jewish Patriots of the American Revolution,’ so that they would not be forgotten,” Frazier says.
“Many were forced to bind their bleeding frost-bitten feet with rags,” wrote General Washington.
At Valley Forge Revolutionary War Jewish patriots Abraham Levy and Phillip Russell stood their watch at Valley Forge along with their fellow soldiers. One account tells the story of a Jewish soldier who lit menorah lights at Valley Forge, not forgetting his faith despite the oppressive conditions. That soldier explained to Washington that he was a Jew and lit menorah lights to commemorate Chanukah, the miraculous victory of his people over an oppressive enemy.
“Just as the Jews were ultimately victorious, so too could Washington be. Washington was greatly encouraged.”
Jewish Patriots captured in art
Writer Norman H. Finkelstein’s “The Revolutionary War and the Jews”, says Jewish patriots were very involved in Washington’s War.
Finkelstein writes that Jews
“…Provided logistic support by equipping soldiers, shipping supplies, and raising funds. Ship owners such as Isaac Moses of Philadelphia outfitted privateers to harass British shipping, and their ships engaged in running the British blockade to provide necessary provisions to the needy Revolutionary forces.”
The artwork of Zakheim’s Jewish Patriots of the American Revolution a five-piece painting collection, “revealed and commemorated the historic role of Jews in the anti-colonial American Revolution effort being waged against the British Empire,” explains art dealer Matt Virgin.
“One of his superb canvases was titled, Revolutionary Patriot Chaim Soloman revealing secrets of Red Coat military activities to an American Officer.”
Jewish patriots predate The Revolutionary War
The importance of the Jewish participation during the Revolutionary War takes on increased importance when one considers that since their early arrival in the American colonies, they faced discrimination, ridicule, and mistreatment. The Jewish colonists decided that America, as envisioned by its leaders, would improve after it became a free nation.
As early as 1654, Jewish settlers, arrived from Recife, Brazil, and the West Indies, to settle in New Amsterdam seeking religious freedom and equal opportunities and obligations alongside the Christian citizens. The Aleph Institute reported,
“Governor Peter Stuyvesant denied them these basic rights. Jacob Barsimson, Asher Levy, Abraham de Lucena, Jacob Cohen Henricques and other Jewish settlers petitioned Gov. Stuyvesant for the right to be a part of the defense force of the city, to establish a cemetery, trading and property rights and build a synagogue.”
Eventually, Governor Stuyvesant agreed to their demands and this marked the first time that Jews began serving in the military of the nation.
“Give Me Liberty or Give me Death”
There were approximately 1,500 Jews scattered among the 13 colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. Even though the Jewish population in the colonies was small the contributions of Jewish patriots were critical to the positive outcome of the war.
Jewish Magazine states, that, that On Oct. 25. 1765, a group of Philadelphia merchants gathered in the State House to sign the non-importation agreement to fight the hated Stamp Tax of the British government.
“The first man to step forward to sign his name was the president of Mikve Israel Congregation, Philadelphia’s only synagogue, Mathias Bush.
On June 17, 1776. As the call to arms was sent throughout the countryside, volunteers like Aaron Solomon joins in the defense the city at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He took a stand at the front of the line, with his Christian patriot volunteers of the Gloucester volunteers.
Several days before the signing on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence Francis Salvador, who had become the first Jew be elected to a Colonial constituent the first American Jew to give his life for his adopted country when he was “ambushed, shot down and scalped by Indians, He had ridden out to warn fellow frontiersmen of an impending attack by British friendly Indians.
Then there is Haym Salomon as ween in Zakheim’s Jewish Patriots of the American Revolution collection. This Polish Jewish immigrant was a primary financier of the Revolutionary War effort and helped to create America’s first semi-central bank.
He even advised Alexander Hamilton on the building of America’s financial system.
Jewish patriots gift of freedom shared
Nearly two and a half centuries have passed since that crucial winter Christmas season at Valley Forge when even General Washington felt the future nation’s grasp of freedom was possibly slipping away.
The time to share and celebrate these heroic patriots must be done now according to ‘We the Kids’ president Frazier. Their stories must not be forgotten. The Art of Bernard Zakheim is one of the most wonderful opportunities we have to share tell the story of our Jewish American Revolutionary War Patriots with children and families.”
“Protecting Jewish history is important to his son Nathan Zakheim. In February, he is auctioning off millions of dollars’ worth of his father’s artwork to benefit “We the Kids”. It will help us to continue to educate young people about the history of our patriots, our founding Christian principles and values and the contributions of our Jewish Americans.”
Judy Lake, Executive Director of American Christian Civil Rights Movement says:
“America’s Christian history has been threatened to the point of near extinction. The contributions and sacrifices of Revolutionary War Jewish patriots has suffered greatly as well from lack of exposure,” says Lake. Children should never be denied the truth about the importance of those brave Christians and Jewish patriots and what it meant then and what it means now to our freedom.”
This Christmas season as Americans celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ let’s not forget the early American connection to freedom that we share with those of the Jewish faith.