An brief essay about Jews in America, a small town synagogue, the LGBT population and their freedom to be whomever they chose to be, under the protection of the Constitution…by Robert M. Katzman and Joyce E. Katzman:
Haym Salomon (April 7, 1740 – January 6, 1785) was a Polish-born Jewish American businessman and political financial broker who immigrated to New York from Poland during the period of the American Revolution. He helped convert the French loans into ready cash by selling bills of exchange for Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance. In this way he aided the Continental Army and was possibly the prime financier of the American side during the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain. He died at the age of 44 after the end of the war, penniless. He did more than help finance the war against the British. He gave everything he had.
Or, put another way, American Jews did whatever they could to help create the ultimate safe haven for themselves less than three hundred years after the Spanish Inquisition, which was world-wide and not just confined to Spain. The colonial Jewish population in 1776 was approximately 2,500 among an estimated total population of 2,500,000 colonists. One 10th of one per cent of the total population. Obviously, Jews needed protection.
After George Washington became president in 1789, he wrote a now famous August 17th 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, personally guaranteeing Jews in America protection from harm from any others, including the government. A personal statement like that one, and in writing, from a country’s Head of State was unique in the world at that time. I also believe that likewise, the Jews owe such protection to others of different beliefs, manner of dress and customs. Who are we to judge others?
Current American population is approximately 330,000,000. Estimated American Jewish population is 6,000,000. Jews are about 2% of the population and shrinking.
The LGBT population is estimated to be about 10% of America’s total population, or 33,000,000. Jews, at 2% of them, would be about 600,000 individuals with hopes and aspirations of happiness and acceptance from their families, friends and institutions. However, today about half of them living in America suffer from discrimination, persecution and diminished rights.
This is a terrible crime and Jews should do what they can to right this wrong, nationwide. I have read about incidents in small towns where members of some very conservative Jewish congregations have insensitively excluded people who are open about their sexuality from participating in ancient rituals.
To treat such a person with any sort of rejection, discrimination, or religious exclusion is to reject how we expect America to treat all Jews, everywhere in this country. My wife Joyce and I, Jews in both spirit and in practice say clearly this is unequivocally unacceptable to us. We two may be only infinitesimally small voices in a universe of prejudice. But two small voices can break the loudest of unjust silences. Whatever you may be, wherever you may be, why not add your voice to ours?
Together, we view a person seeking the freedom to be who they truly are as an equal of ours in every way and we would seek such a person out to be a friend of ours if he/she would accept us as one. As we treat others, God judges us.
Robert and Joyce Katzman
Note: below, George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Tuoro Synagogue
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
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