Page 18 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
board, where Jews established significant communities, they still
numbered less than one in a thousand and most of them melted
away like dewdrops under the beneficent warm sun of America.
By the early nineteenth century the Jews of Newport, once the
most flourishing Jewish community of Colonial America, were
more visible on the Jewish cemetery than in the teeming streets
of this Rhode Island port. The last professing Jew left in 1822
and the most beautiful synagogue of Colonial days, which is
now a national historic monument, was deserted for decades be­
fore sufficient Jews returned to constitute a new Jewish com­
munity. A similar fate overtook the descendants of Connecticut’s
Jews. Though Massachusetts harbored several hundred Jews, it
was still possible to grow up in its largest city until the mid­
nineteenth century and not recognize a single one of them as
Jewish, they were so self-effacing.
JEWISH THEMES AVOIDED
Only in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Charleston were
the Sephardic Hebrews able to maintain a Jewish atmosphere,
but even this atmosphere was limited almost entirely to their
synagogues and intimate family circles. The Jewish writers who
made even the slightest impact upon the literary scene avoided
treating Jewish themes, even biblical ones, or projecting Jewish
characters on the stage. A notorious exception was Samuel B. H.
Judah, who literally teemed with Jewish self-hatred and pub­
lished his diatribes anonymously or under a pseudonym.
Non-Jewish writers, such as Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson,
Holmes, and Hawthorne, had no inhibitions when penning
memorable lyrics, dramas, and tales on Jewish themes. But even
Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851), who lives in Jewish history
as a pioneer of Zionism and who was the most prolific of the
early Jewish writers, suppressed all mention of Jews when writ­
ing for American audiences. This conscious suppression was most
evident when he contemplated his drama
The Siege of Tripoli,
successfully staged in New York in 1820. The play dealt with
the troubles experienced by American citizens captured and held
for ransom by the pirates of the Barbary coast. This theme had
already been treated by two earlier dramatists, Susanna Haswell
Rowson in
Slaves in Algiers, or A Struggle for Freedom
(1794)