Columbus & the Jews
A century ago, on October 12, 1892, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing in the New World was celebrated with great fanfare all across the United States. New York, where the most memorable commemoration took place, staged a five-day city-wide extravaganza that drew a million visitors and filled the streets with parades, festivals, and tributes. On Columbus Day itself, businesses closed down and an 84-foot monument of the great explorer was added to Central Park.1
Jews participated actively in the 1892 gala. On the Sabbath that marked the beginning of the festivities in New York, special services were held in the major synagogues and temples. The city’s chief rabbi, Jacob Joseph, published a special prayer for the occasion, its flowery Hebrew text expressing gratitude to God not only for Columbus, “the first man in the New World,” but also for the two Jews who, according to the prayer, had accompanied him on his voyage. The prayer also paid tribute to America’s subsequent role as a refuge for persecuted Jews, highlighted the nation’s traditions of religious freedom and equality, praised George Washington, and closed with a blessing for President Benjamin Harrison and his government.
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