Us There is Still Some Sabbath..."
Jewish tradition was not easy in the early republic. Except in
the port cities, where Jewish communities were more established,
Jews tended to live in small, more isolated communities, and were
often unable to support the mainstays of Jewish communal life:
teachers, rabbis, kosher slaughterers, ritual baths, and burial
grounds. In this letter, Rebecca Samuels, an immigrant from Germany
writes home to her parents, explaining that she has had enough
of life in Petersburg, Virginia, and is preparing to move to the
more established Jewish community of Charleston.
I hope my letter will ease your mind. You can now be reassured
me one of the family to Charleston, South Carolina.
This is the place to which, with God's help, we will go
after Passover. The whole reason why we are leaving this
place is because of Yehudishkeit.
Dear Parents, I know quite well you will not want me to
bring up my children like gentiles. Here they cannot become
anything else. Jewishness is pushed aside here. There are
here ten or twelve Jews, and they are not worthy of being
called Jews. We have a shochet [slaughterer] here who goes
to market and buys terefah [nonkosher] meat and then brings
it home. On Rosh ha-Shanah and on Yom Kippur the people
worshiped here without one sefer torah [Torah scroll] and
not one of them wore the tallis [prayer shawl] or the arba
kanfot [fringed undergarment], except Hyman
and my Sammy's
godfather. The latter is an old man of sixty, a man from
Holland. He has been in America for thirty years already;
for twenty years he was in Charleston, and he has been living
here for four years. He does not want to remain here any
longer and will go with us to Charleston. In that place
there is a blessed community of three hundred Jews.
You can believe me that I crave to see a synagogue to which
I can go. The way we live now is no life at all. We do not
know what the Sabbath and the holidays are. On the Sabbath
all the Jewish shops are open; and they do business on that
day as they do throughout the whole week. But ours we do
not allow open. With us there is still some Sabbath. You
must believe me that in our house we all live as Jews as
much as we can. . . .
All the people who hear that we are leaving give us their
blessings. They say that it is sinful that such blessed
children should be brought up here in Petersburg. My children
cannot learn anything here, nothing Jewish, nothing of general