By Arlene Bridges Samuels, CBN Israel—
Long before Ellis Island became the gateway to America, Haym Salomon, a Jewish immigrant, fled from the political unrest and violence in his native Poland. He settled in New York in the early 1770s and set up a brokerage business that included foreign securities. To protest the British, Solomon joined the Sons of Liberty (perhaps best known today for their role in the Boston Tea Party) and built relationships with George Washington and other leaders in colonial America. While information about this remarkable man is somewhat limited, it has not stopped the legends about his short life (1740-1785). But one fact is certain: He helped finance America’s Revolutionary War (1775-1783). And his vital assistance to the colonies would prove to be a precursor to modern, reciprocally beneficial connections between the U.S. and Israel.
Salomon’s patriotism led him to spy on behalf of his new homeland. He was arrested several times and later imprisoned. However, since he spoke several languages, the British paroled him; they needed his services as a translator for their German-allied troops. Covertly urging the German mercenaries to desert, Salomon was sentenced to hang, yet escaped to Philadelphia. He joined Mikveh Israel Synagogue—known as the “Synagogue of the American Revolution in Philadelphia”—and rebuilt his successful business. He also married, and his new brother-in-law was a lieutenant colonel on George Washington’s staff.
During the Revolutionary War, the businessman gave varying amounts of money—totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s money—to the cause. He made loans to such leaders as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, and his philanthropy was well known.
Salomon’s significance during America’s War of Independence is highlighted in a famous request in 1781. As the story goes, the Continental Army was preparing for the most critical battle of the war in Yorktown, Virginia. After five long years of fighting, food, clothing, and weapons were scarce. Desperately needing money for the war effort, General George Washington sent urgent word to Robert Morris, Director of the Treasury of the Continental Congress.
Morris relayed a message back telling Washington, “We are broke.”
Washington directed Morris, “Send for Haym Salomon.”
Morris hurriedly went to Salomon’s synagogue even though it was Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day of the year, their day of repentance. One of the synagogue members challenged Salomon’s agreeing to help on this most solemn of days. Salomon’s response was, “It is for the cause.”
Two hundred and forty years have passed since the decisive Battle of Yorktown, where British General Cornwallis surrendered. Yet Haym Salomon has been remembered as an American Jewish hero for many years afterward. In 1939, a major motion picture studio brought out a biopic about Salomon, titled The Sons of Liberty. In its catalog, Warner Brothers described the movie: “The story of the unselfish loyalty and devotion of Haym Salomon (Claude Rains) to General Washington and the fight for freedom in the American Revolution are told in a forceful and rousing way.”
And, although Jews’ contributions are rarely included in students’ history texts, young readers’ “trade books” about American heroes like Patrick Henry and Daniel Boone also include Jewish heroes, and Salomon was certainly included in these.
A 1975 commemorative stamp issued by the U.S. Post Office described Salomon this way: “Financial Hero—businessman and broker Haym Salomon was responsible for raising most of the money needed to finance the American Revolution and later to save the new nation from collapse.”
Mr. Salomon did not live to read the fine letter that George Washington, the general who later became President, wrote in August 1790 to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island. The Jewish patriot would have rightly felt pride in Washington’s 340-word letter.
In part it read, “May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid” (the latter portion of the sentence includes a clear reference to Micah 4:4). Washington’s letter also said, “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
On President’s Day last Monday, I reflected on all that President George Washington had done for his country. Like most Americans, I hold him in the highest esteem. In learning about his respect for the Jewish communities in the colonies and now Haym Salomon, the “financial hero,” I am inspired by both leaders as examples for mutually beneficial ties today. In two different yet essential ways, General Washington’s leadership—and the security aid that Haym Salomon generously provided from his personal wealth—ensured our freedom as a nation. Continue Reading…