Tag Archives: Slavery

Jews of the Week: Moses Levy and David Levy Yulee

The Abolition of Slavery and the First Jewish Senator 

David Levy Yulee

David Levy Yulee

Moshe Eliyahu Levy Yulee (1782-1854) was born in Morocco to a wealthy Sephardic Jewish family. His father was a prominent figure in the Ottoman Empire, and an adviser to the Sultan. Moshe went off on his own across the Atlantic, settling in the US Virgin Islands, and dropping the family name of “Yulee”, now going by Moses Elias Levy. He made his own fortune in the lumber and merchant trades, then moved the whole family to Florida. There, he purchased 100,000 acres of land and established it as a refuge for persecuted European Jews. He also planned for a 50,000 acre “New Jerusalem” in Florida. Levy has been described as a “proto-Zionist”, as he sought to re-establish a Jewish homeland in Israel long before the official Zionist movement began. Though he originally owned slaves, Levy soon joined the anti-slavery movement, and in 1828 published the popular treatise A Plan For the Abolition of Slavery. Levy’s work was instrumental in abolishing slavery in both the United States and across the British Empire. In 1835, Levy’s fortunes soured with the outbreak of the Second Seminole War, which devastated his land in Florida, destroyed the refuge, and strained his finances. In poor health, Levy retired to St. Augustine, Florida, where he slowly rebuilt his wealth.

His son, David Levy Yulee (1810-1886) was elected to the House of Representatives in 1841. When Florida became a state in 1845, he became the first Jew in the US Senate. The following year, he married into a prominent Kentucky family, and to do so, had to convert to Christianity. Though he only did this in name at the request of his wife, the move drove a wedge between David and his father, and the two became permanently estranged. After failing to win re-election in 1850, David turned to business, first opening a sugar plantation, and then spearheading the construction of railroads across Florida. Yulee returned to the Senate in 1855, after his father’s death. When the Civil War began, he joined the Confederates, for which he was imprisoned following the war. After being released, Yulee continued his railroad ventures, and went on to be nicknamed the “Father of Florida Railroads”. The town of Yulee and Yulee County in Florida are named after him, and he was selected as one of the “Greatest Floridians” in 2000.

Words of the Week

You are not as great as you think, and the world is not as bad as it seems.
– Rabbi Wolf of Strikov

Jew of the Week: Sir Moses Montefiore

The Legendary Moses Montefiore

Moshe Chaim Montefiore (1784-1885) was born in Livorno, Italy to a wealthy Sephardic family. Raised in England, he worked as a grocery merchant before earning great wealth in the stock exchange. In 1824, Montefiore retired and dedicated his life to making the world a better place, funding countless schools, hospitals and other institutions. He was a key figure in abolishing slavery, and even raised the money used to compensate angry plantation owners. Montefiore served as Sheriff of London, and was knighted by Queen Victoria for his selflessness. In 1827 he travelled to Israel and the experience returned him to his Jewish roots. He became a strictly Torah-observant Jew, so much so that he had a personal shochet travel with him so that he can have kosher meat. Fighting for each individual Jew, Montefiore personally went to Turkey to gain the release of 10 imprisoned Jews. He did the same in trips to Russia, Morocco, Rome and Romania. In 1862 he built a Sephardic yeshiva, in addition to the great Montefiore synagogue, built on the former estate of Queen Caroline. Montefiore would make 7 trips to the Holy Land over his life time (the last at age 91!) setting the ground work for the Zionist movement. He financed much of the early construction projects, including the first printing press and textile factory, established multiple agricultural colonies, and even commissioned several censuses that provide us with important information to this day. Montefiore died childless at the age of 100. His centenary was celebrated as a national holiday. Today, the 13th of Av, is his yahrzeit.

Words of the Week

A wealthy anti-Semite once told Moses Montefiore that he had just returned from Japan, where there are “neither pigs nor Jews.” Sir Moses replied: “then you and I should go there, so that they should have a sample of each.”