Off the Pulpit

George Washington and the Synagogue President

No country is perfect and no nation without crimes and flaws. Some few nations however, are defined by aspiration as well as achievements far greater than their shortcomings. America is founded on a great idea; Israel was founded on a great idea. Each struggles to realize the high possibilities that are part of its mission. Both are intertwined in history and in destiny.

Many of the founders of the United States were Hebraists, and the first design for the official seal of the United States recommended by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1776 depicts the Jews crossing the Red Sea. Both Israel and the United States were built around the idea of freedom from tyranny and service to something greater than oneself.

When George Washington stood before the Hebrew congregation at Newport in 1790 and declared that the government of this country “gives to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” he was quoting the letter written to him by Moses Seixas, President of the synagogue. That the father of our country should be quoting a synagogue President in declaring the promise of this nation symbolizes the synergy that has existed between Israel and the United States. On this Fourth of July, we celebrate a world in which both exist, and pray they may grow greater and kinder under the blessing of a benevolent God.