America’s Grateful Hearts

George Washington Thanksgiving Proclamation from 1789

Credit:US National Archives

Yesterday, we told you about a letter that George Washington wrote to the oldest still-standing Jewish temple in the U.S. Today, we’ve got a similar story, although this one not only pertains to the holiday we’re about to celebrate, but also features the above — words penned in President Washington’s own hand.

Congregation Shearith Israel was the very first Jewish congregation founded in the United States, having been established in 1654 by Sephardic Jews (Jewish people who came from Spain and Portugal) who immigrated to New York (then called New Amsterdam) from Brazil. The synagogue’s Jewish community witnessed, and took part in, America’s colonial years, revolution, and independence. And when President Washington proclaimed a day of thanks, the synagogue took part…and hasn’t stopped in the centuries since:

Congregation Shearith Israel has been conducting Thanksgiving services since President George Washington first declared this holiday in 1789. Jews participated side by side with other Americans in fighting for and establishing the United States as an independent country. At our services on Thanksgiving Day morning, we chant several chapters of Psalms—parts of the Hallel—at the conclusion of the morning prayers. We also recite the prayers for the governments of America and Israel…

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let us be thankful for all people of faith who have kept alive the spirit of “sincere and humble thanks” and “kind care and protection” that President Washington called for, and that you can see in easier-to-read text below:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Tags: George Washington History Holidays Judaism Shearith Israel Thanksgiving United States

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