In 1853, Samuel Myer Isaacs (1804-1878), cantor and acting rabbi of Congregation Shaaray Tefila on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, became treasurer of the North American Relief Society for Indigent Jews in Palestine. When news began to arrive of famine in Palestine that year, Montefiore and British Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler (1803-1890) sent an appeal to the United States for funds. In response, Isaacs sprang into action, mounting the first national charity campaign in the US on behalf of Jews overseas. Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco, formally organized only a few years earlier by Jewish pioneers who had come as part of the California Gold Rush, responded to Isaacs’ call by donating the equivalent of £30 to the cause. While Emanu-El would eventually become affiliated with the Reform movement, it was, at the time, a largely traditional congregation.
Our letter, written in a neat scribal hand and signed on Monday, 21 Sivan 5613 (June 27, 1853) by Samuel Salant (1816-1909), Isaac Covo (1770-1854), and Isaiah Bardaki (1790-1862), some of the most illustrious Ashkenazic and Sephardic rabbis of Jerusalem at the time, constitutes a receipt for the donation made by the members of the synagogue. The rabbis ask that Montefiore convey their thanks to both the congregation and Isaacs and assure him that the monies were distributed properly to needy Jews throughout the land. Below are two further notes, also signed by Salant, giving a fuller accounting of the allocation of the funds. The front flap bears three of Salant’s stamps, as well as postal stamps from Jaffa, Alexandria, and Paris.
Collection of the late Rabbi Abraham Schischa
Hyman B. Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1945), 446-447.
Robert P. Swierenga, “Samuel Myer Isaacs, the Dutch Rabbi of New York City,” American Jewish Archives 44,2 (1992): 607-621.
Jacob Voorsanger, The Chronicles of Emanu-El: Being an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Congregation Emanu-El Which was Founded in July, 1850 (San Francisco, 1900).
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