Jonas Phillips (1736-1803) was born in Germany to an observant, Yiddish-speaking family. When he was 21, Jonah set forth for the New World. He first made his way to London, anglicizing his father’s name “Phaibush” to “Phillips”. There, he sold himself into indentured servitude in order to pay for his passage to America. After working several years on an indigo plantation, Phillips earned his freedom and moved to New York to work as a merchant. He became a wealthy man and married a prominent Sephardic Jewish woman, with whom he would have 21 children. Unfortunately, Phillips lost much of his wealth because of British restrictions on commerce. Not surprisingly, Phillips became a strong supporter of the American Revolutionary War, and joined the Philadelphia Militia. He fought valiantly, and earned a reputation as an American war hero. In 1787, he took part in the Constitutional Convention that drafted the United States Constitution. He played a key role in ensuring that the Constitution would protect people’s religious freedoms, and give equal civil rights to all citizens. Meanwhile, Phillips was a founding father of one of America’s oldest synagogues, Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel. One of his grandsons became the Chief Justice of South Carolina’s Supreme Court, while another was America’s first Jewish commodore in the US Navy, and also a famous war hero. His great-grandson was a governor of South Carolina.
Words of the Week
Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis. Who are the Palestinians? Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the North, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians. We are Arabs.
— Hamas Minister Fathi Hammad on Al-Hekma TV (Egypt), March 23, 2012 (Click here to watch)
Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851) is considered by many to be America’s first famous Jew. Coming from a blended family of Sephardic-Portuguese and German-Ashkenazi Jews, Noah’s father was one of the main financiers of the American Revolution. Mordecai began his career in trade, then moved into law while living in South Carolina. He made a name for himself as a journalist, writing passionately to drive the American cause and boosting the nation’s morale in the face of war with the British Empire. For his wisdom and eloquence, President Madison appointed him consul to Imperial Russia in 1811, then consul to Tunis in 1813. There he worked to fight against marauding pirates and saved countless Americans captured and enslaved in Morocco. However, in 1815 the anti-Semitic President Monroe repealed Noah’s position. This stirred a massive controversy. Former presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison all joined Noah’s side, championing equality for all. Nonetheless, Noah left politics, returning to New York where he founded a variety of newspapers (including the Enquirer). He wrote several popular plays (including the famous She Would be a Soldier), as well as three books. He is a founder of New York University and Mt. Sinai Hospital, and also served as a judge and sheriff of New York. But most intriguing of all is that in 1825 Mordechai Noah bought a massive piece of land near Buffalo to be established as a Jewish state called “Ararat”. Surprisingly, thousands of Christians came out in support to lay the first cornerstone, along with Masons, the New York militia and St. Paul’s Church! Unfortunately, the project failed, and Noah realized a Jewish state could only be established in the Holy Land. To this he dedicated the last years of his life, spearheading the return to Israel long before Herzl and the Zionists.
Words of the Week
The progeny of Abraham are likened to the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16), and to the stars of the heavens (Genesis 15:5). For when they fall, they fall as low as dust; when they rise, they rise as high as the stars.