Channukah at Valley Forge
James Scott Trimm
In December, 1778, General George Washington had supper at the home of Michael Hart, a Jewish merchant in Easton, Pennsylvania. It was during the Hanukkah celebration, and Hart began to explain the customs of the holiday to his guest. Washington replied that he already knew about Hanukkah. He told Hart and his family of meeting a Jewish soldier at Valley Forge the previous year. Hart's daughter Louisa wrote the story down in her diary.
The lights of the Hanukkah menorah had inspired General George Washington to forge on when everything looked bleak when his cold and hungry Continental Army camped at Valley Forge. Washington was walking among his troops when he saw one soldier sitting apart from the others, huddled over what looked like two tiny flames.
Washington approached the soldier and asked him what he was doing. The soldier explained that he was a Jew, a Polish immigrant who said he had fled his homeland because he could not practice his Jewish faith under the Prussian government there. He had lit the candles to celebrate Hanukkah, the festival commemorating the miraculous victory of his people so many centuries ago over the tyranny of a much better equipped and more powerful enemy who had sought to deny them their freedom. The soldier then expressed his confidence that just as, with the help of God, the Jews of ancient times were ultimately victorious, so too would they be victorious in their just cause for freedom. Washington thanked the soldier and walked back to where the rest of the troops camped, warmed by the inspiration of those little flames and the knowledge that miracles are possible.
The parallels with the American Revolution are obvious and these parallels were not lost on our founding fathers. Benjamin Rush, in his editorials denouncing the Tea Act, wrote:
What did not Moses forsake and suffer for his countrymen! What shining examples of patriotism do we behold in Joshua, Samuel, [the] Maccabees and all the illustrious princes, captains and prophets among the Jews.
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