Due to the hugely successful Broadway musical Hamilton, one of the men who was an early American hero and villain has again come to our national attention. Aaron Burr, who was born 261 years ago today, was the nation's third vice president, but is still remembered mostly for killing founding father Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
But one bit of Burr's story that not many know has a Jewish link. Aaron Burr instructed Sampson Simson, who was one of the United States' first Jewish lawyers. But just as Burr abandoned his legal career (to go into politics), Simson also stopped practicing law. But instead of politics, Simson - who was described by those who knew him as a very pious man - decided to help others.
Perhaps Simson's most-remembered act was founding what is today known as Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, not only one of the oldest and largest teaching hospitals in the country, but also rated as one of America's best. The hospital sits on land donated by Simson, who also served as its first board president and also paid the young institution's early financial costs.
Simson also helped found the synagogue Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, the first Eastern European temple in New York City and the oldest Russian Jewish Orthodox congregation in the entire country.
When Sampson Simson died in 1857, he left behind money for the Holy Land in his will, which stated, "the purpose of ameliorating the condition of the Jews in Jerusalem."
So while much ill came from the life of Aaron Burr, so, too, did much good, for the Jewish people, the people of the Holy Land, and the citizens of America.