Jewish American Heroes

Haym Salomon: Financier of the Revolutionay War

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Haym Salomon was a hero and a fervent patriot whose love of liberty and business acumen combined made him a vital force for the War of Independence. Born in Poland, in 1740, he was forced to flee for his life due to his fight for freedom alongside Pulaski and Kosciusko, who later became military heroes in the American Revolution.

After Salomon landed in New York, he immediately became a successful broker because of his education and his remarkable talents. He married Rachel Franks, who came from a famous American Jewish family.

While New York was the seat of British power, and he was doing business with the wealthy loyalists, Salomon joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of revolutionary patriots. When the Revolutionary War started in 1776, the British arrested him and flung him into prison as a SPY.

The British recognized his linguistic abilities-he could speak 10 languages -- and put him to work as an interpreter. He was finally released and went back into business, aiding the Colonists with his mounting fortune.

Salomon was arrested again for his pro-revolutionary activities. This time he was tortured and condemned to be hanged. With the aid of his friends, he managed to escape to Philadelphia, where he arrived penniless. Salomon quickly retumed to business, using his profits to buy food for the starving Colonial Army. Generals Washington, Lafayette, Von Steuben and others often came to him for food and material aid.

Salomon negotiated many loans for the Colonies from France and Holland, but never took a commission for himself. According to legend, General Washington's appeal for funds with which to maintain his ragged army came to Salomon on Yom Kippur. Devoutly religious, Salomon recognized that love of country was an aspect of his religion. So he turned to the congregation and suspended services to secure pledges for the necessary funds. Only after he obtained the necessary amount needed in pledges did he proceed with the solemn holiday observances.

It became a regular practice -- the Revolutionary leaders' diaries testify to this- "that when money was needed for the Revolutionary War, you went to Haym Salomon."

Judah Touro: A Philanthropist and Soldier

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

When Judah Touro died in 1854, his famous will left bequests to Jewish and non-Jewish institutions. The monies left were the largest ever given by anybody at that time.

He was born in 1775 in Newport, Rhode Island. He was the son of Isaac Touro, the hazzan of the Yeshuat Israel Synagogue, and his wife Reyna nee Hays. Judah had an unhappy and troubled childhood because the Revolutionary War had shattered the prosperity and security of the Jewish community of Newport.

His father, Isaac, was a Tory and he went with the British to New York where he lived on a military dole. In 1782, the family moved to Jamaica, British West Indies, where after a brief time, Isaac Touro died. Judah and his mother and the other four children moved to New York City where they lived with his uncle, Moses Michael Hays, a wealthy businessman.

After training and experience in his uncle's business, Judah went to New Orleans which was still ruled by Spain. He apparently made the right choice in moving there and going into business. The city was soon transferred to the French, who in turn sold it to the United States. Soon after, the population and industry grew rapidly and his fortunes rose.

Touro served as a civilian volunteer in the American Army during the War of 1812. The final action of the war was at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, after the British had signed a peace treaty. General Jackson defeated the British forces in this battle.

Judah Touro was severely wounded and his life was saved by his good friend, Rezin Shepard, a Virginia merchant. His recovery was slow and Touro was left with a limp. He dropped out of the social life in New Orleans as he became more engrossed in developing his business. Touro invested in steamships and in real estate.

He once told Rabbi Isaac Leeser that he "made a fortune by strict economy while others had spent one by their liberal expenditures." Touro was not a speculator and he was able to weather the severe periods of panics and depressions.

Touro had no sense of Jewish responsibility until Gershom Kursheedt, a recent newcomer to New Orleans, instilled in him a feeling of Jewish loyalty. Rezin Shepard and Kursheedt had persuaded Touro to buy an Episcopalian church which was converted into a synagogue called Nefutzoth Yehuda. Gershom Kursheedt was a tremendous influence on Judah Touro. He was largely responsible for Touro's large bequests to institutions and organizations which were made when he died.

He left $108,000 to Jewish congregations and societies and to the Touro Hospital; $ 10,000 for the upkeep of the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery; $60,000 to be used for the poor in Eretz Israel; another total of $140,000 to Jewish institutions in seventeen cities.

He was also very generous to non-Jewish institutions. His gifts to them totaled $153,000. When he died in 1854, his bequests were made to all recipients. Judah Touro was the first American Jew to ever give so much to Jewish and Non-Jewish organizations and institutions. He will always be remembered as a philanthropist and soldier.

Uriah P. Levy: A Naval Hero Who Ended the Practice of Flogging

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Uriah P. Levy was a naval hero who served his country from the War of 1812 to 1862. He was the first Jew to obtain the rank of Commodore in the United States Navy, which is the equivalent of an admiral.

Levy left his home in Philadelphia, at the age of 14, to sign up as an apprentice seaman aboard a merchant ship. At 15, he became the mate of the brig POLLY AND BETSY, and at 20 he became master and part owner of the brig-of-war ARGUS, which ran the British blockade to France.

On her return voyage to the United States, the ARGUS destroyed 21 British merchant ships and captured a number of vessels, which Levy armed for battle against the British men-of-war. When he met the heavily armed British frigate PELICAN, Levy fought an unequal battle until the ARGUS was sunk and he was taken prisoner. He spent 16 months in Dartmoor Prison in England.

Levy was one of the first naval officers to recognize men for their ability and not by their ethnic roots, religion or social standing. When he was commander of the U.S.S. VANDALIA during the War of 1812, he fathered a law that would place his name in history. The law abolished flogging in the Navy.

Because there was no Naval Academy to train and guide the young officers, Levy wrote and published the "Manual of War," the first printed guide that detailed all aspects of a young officer's duties aboard a ship. This manual was in three volumes and included the "new age of steam."

When Levy was promoted to lieutenant in 1817, he was confronted by a large group of anti-Semitic officers who slighted, rebuffed and discriminated against him. At one point, he was forced to fight a duel and killed the man. He was court-martialed and found guilty six times. On appeal, however, each case was overturned by a higher board of inquiry.

The anti-Levy feelings were so great that his enemies managed, in 1855, to get Congress to set up a board of inquiry to purge him from the Navy. Levy and the board received many letters of sympathy and support. Once again the anti-Semites lost and Levy remained in the Navy. It was after this event that Levy was promoted to the rank of Commodore and given command of the Mediteffanean Squadron.

Levy was a devoted admirer of Thomas Jefferson and when he found that Jefferson's home, Monticello, was in ruins and decay, he bought it on May 20, 1836. He worked hard to restore and preserve it for future generations.

Levy, a religious man, was the first president of Washington, D.C., Hebrew Congregation and was a member of the Shearith Congregation in New York. In World War II, a destroyer was named the U.S.S. LEVY in his memory and it served in the war with distinction. The first permanent Jewish chapel ever built by the U.S. Armed Forces also honors him. The Commodore Uriah Levy Jewish Chapel is located near the main gate at the historic naval station in Norfolk, Virginia, and the public is invited to visit it.