מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה | Ma Nishtana, a Spanish-Portuguese Qina for Ngereb Tishnga beAḅ

This qina is recited in the Spanish-Portuguese rite (as practiced in the Snoge in Amsterdam, the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, and Shearith Israel in New York City among many other communities) at the conclusion of the recitation of qinot on the evening of the Ninth of Aḅ. Its refrain, taken from the Four Questions of the Passover liturgy, is reframed* as a reflection of the suffering of such a day, contrasting the celebration of salvation on Passover with the fear and desolation of the fast day. . . .

A Closing Prayer by the Ḥazzan, by Gershom Seixas (K.K. Shearith Israel, 1789)

A ḥatimah (closing) prayer delivered by Ḥazzan Gershom Seixas at a special Thanksgiving Day service by K.K. Shearith Israel in 1789. . . .

מְגִלַּת וָשִׁעְתּוֹן | Megillat Washington: A Scroll for Thanksgiving, by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer

In many Jewish communities around the world, there have been traditional scrolls read for “local Purims,” celebrating redemptions for a specific community. Here in America, we don’t really have an equivalent to that. But we do have Thanksgiving, a day heavily inspired by Biblical traditions of celebration, and one long associated with all that is good about America. Some Jewish communities have a tradition on Thanksgiving of reading Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport, where he vows to support freedom of religion, famously writing that the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” – thus rephrasing words originally written in a prior letter by Moses Seixas (say-shas), the sexton of the Touro Synagogue in Newport. This text includes the original English of both Moses Seixas’ letter to Washington and Washington’s return, as well as a somewhat simplified version of the story of Washington’s visit to Newport. Inspired largely by the style of the Book of Esther, it could be read on Thanksgiving morning during the service, using Esther melodies (or going on detours as per personal choice). . . .

תפילה לשלום המלכות | Prayer for the Welfare of George Washington, George Clinton, and the 13 States of America by Hendla Jochanan van Oettingen (1784)

Prayers recited on special occasions and thus not part of the fixed liturgy offered America’s foremost Jewish congregation far greater latitude for originality in prayer. At such services, particularly when the prayers were delivered in English and written with the knowledge that non-Jews would hear them, leaders of Shearith Israel often dispensed with the traditional prayer for the government and substituted revealing new compositions appropriate to the concerns of the day. A prayer composed in 1784 (in this case in Hebrew) by the otherwise unknown Rabbi (Cantor?) Hendla Jochanan van Oettingen, for example, thanked God who “in His goodness prospered our warfare.” Mentioning by name both Governor George Clinton and General George Washington, the rabbi prayed for peace and offered a restorationist Jewish twist on the popular idea of America as “redeemer nation”: “As Thou hast granted to these thirteen states of America everlasting freedom,” he declared, “so mayst Thou bring us forth once again from bondage into freedom and mayst Thou sound the great horn for our freedom.” . . .


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