Passover After the Civil War

Northern Jews come to the aid of the southern Jewish community.

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Reprinted with permission of the publisher from The Jewish Holidays: A Journey Through History (Jason Aronson, Inc).

Since the time of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, Passover has been a time for families to gather together and celebrate the momentous occasion. Passover is also a time when the Jewish community must make substantial efforts to ensure that no Jew is without the provisions needed to observe the holiday. 

As the United States was divided during the Civil War, so too were the Jewish communities of the North and South. Each community felt passionately for its cause and sacrificed on behalf of its side’s war efforts. As the war was nearing its end and the war-torn Confederacy was in ruins, the Jews of the South sought to rebuild their broken lives. When Passover approached, they did not have the means to observe the holiday, and they looked towards their Northern brethren for support. The Northerners immediately put aside their differences and ensured that their Southern co-religionists would have adequate provisions. They did so with compassion and understanding.

In February 1865, two months before Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomatox, the Jews of Savannah addressed a request to their Northern brethren for Passover matzot. The requests were sent to Isaac Leeser, spiritual leader of Congregation Mikve Yisrael of Philadelphia and publisher of the Jewish newspaper The Occident, and to Meyer S. Isaacs, a prominent Northern Jewish businessman. Other appeals soon followed.

On March 3, 1865, a Jewish periodical called The Jewish Messenger appealed on behalf of Savannah’s Jews in an editorial [published March 3, 1865]. “An appeal has been made through Mr. N. J. Brady, now at Savannah, on behalf of the Jewish residents of that city. It is desired to procure for them about five thousand pounds of matzot. Many of the inhabitants, formerly wealthy, are in extremely straitened circumstances, and besides, have lost entirely the means of baking for the ensuing Passover.” The editorial urged support, noting the generosity of Savannah Jewry in the past, “The Israelites of Savannah as a community here, in former years, have been prompt and generous in response to calls for aid.”

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Larry Domnitch is a freelance writer and Jewish educator. He has a master's degree in Jewish history from Yeshiva University's Bernard Revel Graduate School.

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