During the intolerant times that followed the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the United States appeared, to some in its midst, anything but united.
Making connections could prove to be a complicated affair in the late 18th Century, as Rhode Island’s small Jewish population discovered to their cost.
Determined to become a more active member of his community, one in their number sat down one morning and put pen to paper.
His name was Moses Seixas.
Representing, as he did, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, RI, Moses Seixas crafted a moving communique to the most important man in the land, the President, George Washington.
It is a letter that, 221 years later, still speaks to us loud and clear in our studio here in Saunderstown, a little over six miles across the water from Newport.
“Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free citizens,” he wrote, “we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold a Government erected by the Majesty of the People – a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance, but generously affording to all liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship, deeming every one, of whatever nation, tongue or language, equal parts of the great governmental machine.”
Just pause for a moment, if you will, and consider the things that drove Moses Seixas and his people.
Liberty, equality, rights.
Citizenship, an end to bigotry, no more persecution.
It’s about belonging.
It’s about the stuff that stirs us, more than two centuries later.
Bottom line, it’s about connection.
It pleases us to report that Moses Seixas received a prompt response from the President, Washington replying thus:
“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people. 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.”
Rather satisfactory, as responses go, the President making a promise using Moses’ own words that soon became a birthright for all American Jews.
It’s a nice story, for sure.
But there’s more from this tale of the unexpected, a twist that has us hooked.
You see, President Washington did more than write to Newport’s Jews, he visited them.
In the welcoming party, Moses Seixas and his brother Gershom Mendes Seixas.
In time, Gershom had a great-granddaughter.
Her name was Emma Lazarus.
If our previous blog post passed you by, this might be a good time to read it.
You see, Emma Lazarus became a famous poet in New York, her most well-known work The New Colossus, the sonnet inscribed inside the Statue of Liberty, its immortal line Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Read that previous post and you’ll appreciate that Emma Lazarus has become an inspiration to us here in Saunderstown.
Redefining liberty, shaping our outlook, the Mother of Exiles who gave birth to a new generation, one rooted in connection.
From deep disconnection to incredible influence in just four generations.
Remarkable doesn’t do it justice.
Earlier this week, we had no idea that Emma Lazarus had such strong links to Rhode Island; that she spent her summers in Newport; that The Beeches, the Lazarus family’s home, is still standing there.
You know, we might just have to make a pilgrimage. We’ll be sure to take an OM along for the ride.
You see, this is what we’re all about, us and our OMs.
It’s mind-blowing stuff at times, but then connection can be like that.
From Moses Seixas to George Washington (who, lest we forget, is depicted most often in a portrait by Gilbert Stuart, who hailed from the very street on which our studio now stands).
From George Washington to Gershom Seixas.
From Gershom Seixas to Emma Lazarus, to us and our OMs, and to all who have looked upon Liberty, drawn inspiration from her, or read the spellbinding sonnet that ties us all tight together.
The argument is becoming ever-more persuasive.
We are all connected.