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Prayer before the Tomb of George Washington at Mount Vernon by Rabbi Dr. Max Lilienthal (13 July 1876)


Contribute a translationSource (English)
Brethren, it is an old Hebrew custom
to visit the graves of illustrious dead,
there to revive the sentiments
of love and gratitude
we owe to their memory,
to take courage in the battle of life
from the noble example they have set to us,
and to promise on the sacred spot where they rest
to continue the good work they have begun.
For this purpose we have come here
to pay homage to the memory of him
who was great because he was good,
and who was good because he was great.
We repeat with the Bible,
the memory of the good and just
is a blessing forevermore.
Though the dust returns to the dust whence it came,
the spirit returns to God who gave it,
there to receive the reward
for a life devoted to the best interests
of the whole human race.
Of him who sleepeth here, says the prophet,
“those who enlighten and instruct their fellow-men,
by deed and by word, shall shine forever
like the lustre of heaven.” (Daniel 12:3)
Yes, the angel of immortality greets us here,
and, pointing to heaven, admonishes us here
to repeat the Hebrew prayer
which in our temples and synagogues
we recite when reminded of the dear and good ones
who have gone before us,
but left us a legacy of future blessing and harvests.
[Here the Hebrew prayer was recited.][1] In the proceedings, “Here was said in Hebrew, קדיש all present joining in the responses with the utmost devotion and fervor.” 
The great name of God be exalted and sanctified in the world
which He created according to His will.
May His kingdom be established in your life, and in your days,
in the life of the whole house of Israel, now and forever.
His great name be glorified forever and aye.
Render praise and benediction, glory and exaltation;
speak of eminence and excellency,
sing psalms and hymns to His hallowed name.
Give praise to Him who is exalted
high above all benedictions and hymns
which are uttered in the world.
May He the Lord of heaven and earth
grant eternal peace and full participation
of the bliss of eternal life, grace and mercy
to George Washington, the father of our country,
and to all his noble associates,
and to all who parted this life
in the blissful hope of a future life.
And while thus in prayer and gratitude
we honor the memory of him who sleeps in his grave
let us not forget the sayings of our old teachers.
We need not erect costly monuments
to the memory of the great and good.
Their actions are their proudest monuments,
and any one who will honor him
not with mere idle ceremonies
shall try to walk on
in the path of virtue and righteousness
they have lined out for us.
Coming up to this wise admonition,
let us promise here on this sacred spot
that we will live and work for the free country
he and his immortal compeers have created for us,
and in order that our intentions may be rewarded with success
let us implore the divine assistance and paternal blessing
of Him who heareth on high
as the Ruler and Father of all Nations.
Yes, all-merciful God,
we approach the throne of the unfathomed majesty,
and pray vouchsafe thy blessing unto these United States,
our beloved home and fatherland.
So far thy mercy has been with us,
thy grace has not forsaken us,
and thy spirit will not leave us forevermore.
Grant in thy power and wisdom
that our Union may be a union
not only established by compact and law,
but that it may be a union of brotherly love,
of hands, and hearts, and sentiments, indeed.
Grant in thy might and love that civil liberty,
in the fullest and best sense of the word,
may remain the inalienable treasure
in the diadem of our land,
and that we all may follow out
the noble sentiment,
that has become a national creed,
with malice to none,
with charity for all,
with justice as God understands it.
We will see justice and righteousness
administered to all classes of our fellow-citizens.
Grant in Thy goodness
that religious liberty may flourish and prosper as heretofore;
that toleration be vindicated,
not only by the power and majesty of the law,
but that it be the natural result of good-will,
of that brotherly love and of that true religious sentiment
which glories in the common fatherland of God
and the common brotherhood of men.
Bless him, the Chief Magistrate of our land,
his counsellors,
and the members of Congress.
Give them Thy spirit
that they all in their proper sphere
may cooperate for the good of all;
that justice, and liberty, and peace
may forever be the supreme ruler of the land;
that they may be the worthy successors of those
who with their blood and treasure
purchased for us the birthright
of our freedom and independence.
On Thee we rely;
in Thy might and goodness we trust.
Thou wilt watch over this land of promise,
that year after year may add to its glory and prosperity;
that centennial following centennial
will display and exhibit new harvests of blessings and progress;
and, unto Thee, Heavenly Father of all thy human children,
we ascribe glory and honor forevermore.

This prayer of Rabbi Lilienthal was offered at a tree planting ceremony at the grave of George Washington attended by the delegates to the Council of Hebrew Congregations (the predecessor to the Union for Reformed Judaism) and published in the The Critic and Record, 13 July 1876, on the fourth page. The prayer was also re-printed in the Annual Report of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Volume 1, “Appendix to Proceedings of Third Council,” pp. 273-275. The very same day, Rabbi Lilienthal had been invited to offer the opening prayer before the House of Representatives. While that prayer has yet to be located in a historical newspaper or other archive, we suspect that it may very well have been a variation of this same prayer.


The Critic and Record (13 July 1876), p. 4



1In the proceedings, “Here was said in Hebrew, קדיש all present joining in the responses with the utmost devotion and fervor.”



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