Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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their towns and villages, they retained an unbounded admiration
for the ancient chosen people and testified to their affection for
the old Hebrews by choosing Hebraic names for themselves and
their children. Believing th a t the Messianic E ra would dawn when
the last Hebrews would cease to be Jews and would accept Chris-
tianity , the Puritan settlers were ready to receive as their equal
and brother any Jew who became converted to their faith. They
publicized each conversion as one more step toward the goal of
universal salvation. When Judah Monis was baptized in 1722,
they hailed him as a Jewish witness of the tru th of Christianity,
appointed him to a professorship at Harvard, and for four decades
listened to his lectures on Hebrew. The influential Puritan min-
isters John Eliot, Samuel Sewall and Jonathan Edwards identified
the Indians with the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel and saw in the
conversion of these natives an omen of the nighing day of world-
The poets of New England continued far into the nineteenth
century the traditional Puritan attitude of admiration for Jews.
In almost all cases, however, these were either biblical Jews or
else dead Jews. Typical of this approach is Longfellow’s poem,
The Jewish Cemetery at Newport
, composed in 1852. The poet
ponders on the persecution and suffering of the Jews. He recalls
the Christian hate th a t drove them over the sea to Rhode Island,
the first Puritan colony to offer them asylum. He adds, however,
th a t there is no longer any future for the Jews. Ju s t as the Sephar-
die Jews who came to Newport were assimilated to the American
way of life and disappeared as Jews, so it will be with all other
Jews in the free world. The portals of the once flourishing syn-
agogue a t Newport are closed. Gone are the living. Only the dead
remain, silent beside the never-silent waves, at rest, at last. After
reviewing the glorious past of the Jews, Longfellow concludes:
“ But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again/*
The attitude of the best American writers, a century ago, to-
wards the Jews was to accept them as individuals while waiting
for them to become assimilated to the way of life of the majority
group and gradually to give up their Jewish traits, even as all
other minority groups were giving up their distinguishing minority
characteristics. The impression was wellnigh universal tha t Israel
was a skeleton of withered bones, beyond hope of resurrection,
and tha t the Jews of the New World, who as late as 1840 still
numbered less than one in a thousand, could not and would not