Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
50
day he quitted school in his native land to come to this country,
to present to his fellow-Israelites an English version, made by
one of themselves, of the Holy Word of God. From early in-
fancy he was made conscious how much persons differing from
us in religious ideas make use of Scripture to assail Israel’s
hope and faith, by what he deems, in accordance with the well-
settled opinions of sound critics, both Israelites and others, a
perverted and hence erroneous rendering of the words of the
original Bible. Therefore he always entertained the hope to
be one day permitted to do for his fellow-Hebrews who use
the English as their vernacular, what had been done for the
Germans by some of the most eminent minds whom the
Almighty has endowed with the power of reanimating in us
the almost expiring desire for critical inquiry into the sacred
text.
The first Jewish book publisher was Benjamin Gomez of New
York (1769-1828), who began publishing in 1792 and produced
a large variety of books. Not the least important of these was a
reprint of Dr. Priestley’s letters to the Jews urging them to be
converted, and the answering letters of David Levi which appeared
in 1794.
No enumeration of Jewish American “firsts” could properly
be brought to a close without mentioning Major Mordecai M.
Noah. He was the champion holder of “firsts.” The first articu-
late American Zionist (1843); the first American Jewish dramatist
(1808); first Jew to be an American Consul abroad. If not first,
certainly amongst the first of our Jewish journalists, sheriffs,
politicians, and finally the first Jew whose portrait was reproduced
in a book (1819).
After all, it is not difficult to select “firsts” for this article out
of the far-flung and diversified assortment which history presents.
No collection of them can be but a backdrop of a cyclorama of
American life, showing how from the days of the founding fathers,
as the years rolled on, Jews, changing and developing with their
experiences on the American scene, preserving individuality and
inherited characteristics yet integrated in the surrounding life,
united with their neighbors in building, upholding and cherishing
a new nation.