Tag Archives: Colonel

Jew of the Week: Mordecai Sheftall

Highest-Ranking Jew in the Continental Army

Mordechai Sheftall (1735-1797) was born in the new colony of Savannah, Georgia to Jewish immigrants from England that had arrived two years earlier aboard a vessel carrying 36 Sephardic and 8 Ashkenazi Jews. The same year he was born, his parents cofounded North America’s third oldest synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Mickve Israel of Savannah (the first is Shearith Israel of New York, and the second the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island). Seven years later, Spanish troops invaded Georgia, causing the Sephardic families to flee in fear of the Spanish Inquisition. Only the two Ashkenazi families remained, the Sheftalls being one of them. Mordechai Sheftall received a strong Jewish education from his father, who ordered a set of tefillin and Jewish books for his bar mitzvah from England. He even sent a letter when the precious shipment was delayed—which happens to be the earliest-known historical mention of a bar mitzvah in the Americas! At age 17, Sheftall went into the deerskin business and quickly made a small fortune, soon buying 50 acres of his own in Savannah. By the time he married at age 26, he operated a 2000-acre cattle ranch and a tanning facility. The Mickve Israel congregation ran services from a room in his house. Sheftall was also a philanthropist, and a major contributor to the Union Society and the Bethesda orphanage. In 1765, the British imposed the hugely unpopular Stamp Act. Like many colonists, Sheftall strongly opposed excessive British taxation, and became chairman of Savannah’s Parochial Committee of American patriots. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Sheftall immediately volunteered to fight, and in 1777 became the commissary-general of Georgia’s troops. He went on to attain the rank of colonel, making him the highest-ranking Jew in the Continental Army. Sheftall was captured during the First Battle of Savannah in 1778, yet continued to arrange major funds to the American cause from the prisoner-of-war ship he was being held in. The British would purposely give him pork, which he refused to eat, and even greased his cutlery with pork fat, which he refused to use. He was only freed in a prisoner exchange two years later. Having lost everything in the Revolutionary War, Sheftall moved to Philadelphia in 1781 to try a new business. During his brief time there, he also helped build Philadelphia’s historic Mikveh Israel synagogue. Sheftall returned to Savannah to work at its port as Georgia’s official Inspector of Tanned Leather. In 1790, he became president of Savannah’s Mickve Israel synagogue. That same year, George Washington wrote a letter to the congregation (the first ever by a president to a Jewish community) where he wrote: “May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land – whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation – still continue to water them with the dews of heaven…” Like fellow Revolutionary hero (and the very first Jew of the Week) Haym Solomon, the vital loans Sheftall provided to the nascent US government were never repaid. Sheftall was buried in Savannah’s first Jewish cemetery, which he had himself established years earlier.

Words of the Week

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.
George Washington, first president of the United States, to the Touro Synagogue in 1790

Jew of the Week: Uzi Gal

The Machine Gun that Saved President Reagan

Uzi Gal

Uzi Gal

Uziel Guthardt Glass (1923-2002) was born in Weimar, Germany. His family fled from the Nazis to England in 1933, and from there made their way to Israel in 1936. They joined a kibbutz and changed their last name to Gal. From his youth, Gal was interested in weapons engineering, and designed his first automatic gun (which shot arrows) at age 15. At 20, now a member of the Jewish Haganah defense force, he was arrested by British troops for carrying a gun (forbidden to Jews in Israel at the time) and spent three years in prison. It was during his service in Israel’s War of Independence that he began designing a new, smaller, safer, and more effective submachine gun. In 1951, the IDF adopted his design, giving birth to the famous “Uzi” (although Gal requested that the weapon not be named after him). The weapon was also adopted by over 90 different countries, and became the most popular submachine gun in history, with over $2 billion in sales. It has been used primarily as a personal defense weapon by officers, tank infantry, and special forces units. Most famously, it was the weapon of choice for the US Secret Service – typically hidden in a small briefcase – and was used to save President Ronald Reagan from an assassination attempt in 1981. Along with other military decorations, Gal was the first person to be granted the Israel Security Award. With the high rank of Colonel, Gal retired from the IDF in 1975 in order to take care of his daughter, and moved to Philadelphia for her medical treatment. He continued designing weapons in the US until his passing due to cancer in 2002. In 2003, the Uzi was officially retired by the IDF, praised for its instrumental role in Israel’s many military victories.

Words of the Week

The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.
– Sam Harris

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Col. Jacob Goldstein

Rabbi Goldstein (Courtesy: JEM/Chabad.org)

Rabbi Goldstein (Courtesy: JEM/Chabad.org)

Jacob Z. Goldstein (b. 1947) was born in Brooklyn to a devout Chabad family. In 1967, the Lubavitcher Rebbe instituted the Tefillin Campaign to get all Jews – especially those distant from Jewish religious practice – to regularly don tefillin. Goldstein diligently took up the cause. He was soon visiting a military base to provide tefillin for Jewish soldiers. By 1977, the base’s Catholic chaplain requested that Goldstein enlist in the army as a chaplain himself. With blessings from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Goldstein agreed. He has since served all over the world, in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, Bosnia and South Korea, Grenada, Israel, and even Cuba’s notorious Guantanamo Bay. Following the 9/11 attacks, Rabbi Goldstein was the Chief Chaplain at Ground Zero. Similarly, he was in charge of the chaplaincy in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Over the years, he has helped to permit wearing beards for religious reasons in the armed forces, bring kosher meals to American soldiers, pave the way for more Jewish chaplains, and establish holiday observances and prayer services at military bases around the globe. He has risen to the rank of Colonel, and despite the typical mandatory retirement age of 60, has remained in the armed forces for an additional eight years due to a lack of chaplains in the force. Rabbi Goldstein finally retired last month after 38 years of dedicated service. In addition to his military role, he is also the longest-serving chairman of his Community Board in New York, and has been noted as a successful local politician, and a promoter of interracial cooperation and understanding.

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Words of the Week

Fundamental to Judaism is the belief in One God, and the quest to seek unity in all things… What is truly remarkable is that this idea has also gained prominence in the sciences, particularly in recent years. Increasingly, scientific theory and research is focusing on the endeavor to express all physical phenomena in a single formula and, more importantly, to discover the singular unifying force which underlies all other forces, so that all other forces are shown to be aspects and outgrowths of this singular force…
The Lubavitcher Rebbe

Rabbi Goldstein with the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Courtesy: JEM/Chabad.org)