Page 52 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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Iowa, or that Joseph Jonas settled in Cincinnati when it was
still but a pioneer Western outpost. It is even unimportant that
some five years before the twenty-three Jews landed in New
Amsterdam the Great & General Court of the Province of Mas-
sachusetts Bay paid Solomon Franco to leave Boston when he
proposed to settle there, or even that Jacob Barsimson had
shortly preceded them. The emphasis on Jewish “firsts” is per-
haps due to a new crop of authors responding to the call that,
to celebrate the Tercentenary of our national Jewish history, all
that is needed is pen, ink and paper, and in any particular part
of the country you can show that Jews were pioneers, important
and indispensible to the founding and upbuilding of the commu-
nity — a prideful, filiopietistic, sectarian propaganda by exag-
geration and false illusions seeking to bolster up a defensive
neurosis for frustrated American Jews.
There are, however, certain Jewish “firsts” which have real
significance in American history. When Oscar S. Straus became
the first Jew to be a member of a President’s Cabinet, or when
Brandeis became the first Jew to sit on the United States Supreme
Court, it indicated a certain status that American Jews had
attained in their relationship with their fellow citizens. It also
showed that in its development the American people had grown
to that stage of assured confidence in itself that it could accept
the fact that our conglomerate intermixing of many differing
races had become a cross-fertilized social, political, and economic
united nation. In this self-confidence, the people, outfacing an
ancient prejudice, accepted as a natural national point of view
that fellow Jewish citizens should share equally in the safeguarding
and developing of American national ideals and ambitions.
Perhaps nowhere do American Jewish “firsts” shed a ray of
light better upon how Jews and Jewish ideals played a part on
the American scene than by examining the literary products
which appeared in earlier days. Hebrew learning starts with the
Pilgrim settlement in Plymouth. In his manuscript “History of
the Plimouth Plantation,” Governor William Bradford used eight
of its blank flyleaves to write out most carefully over a thousand
Hebrew words with their English translations “ to see how the
words and phrases lye in the holy texte; and to discerne some-
what of the same for my owne contente,” and that Hebrew learn-
ing should be safeguarded for coming generations. From this
very beginning, knowledge of Hebrew and acquaintance with the
Old Testament and Jewish history was a requirement of learning
and sound theology in Massachusetts. So when the first printing
press, set up in Cambridge in 1639, printed the first book to be