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"With Us There is Still Some Sabbath..."

Maintaining 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.

 

 

 Petersburg, 1792 [?]

Dear Parents:
I hope my letter will ease your mind. You can now be reassured and send 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 culture.

 

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