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Thursday, April 17, 2014

A SPECIAL HOUSE OF WORSHIP IN SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

Congregation Mickve Israel
Savannah, Georgia
As we travel, we often stop to admire beautiful houses of worship, especially those known for their unique characters.  We visited one of these special places in Savannah, Georgia.

It seems fitting that as Jewish peoples around the world are in the midst of the holiday of Passover, a holiday celebrating the liberation of a people from slavery, I write about a more modern and early group of Georgian settlers leaving one land searching for freedom of religion in another.

The third oldest Jewish community in America is located in Savannah, Georgia where, on July 11, 1733, just five months after James Oglethorpe established the colony of Georgia, a group of 34 poor Sephardic Jews (of Spanish/Portugese heritage who had been Crypto-Jews, publicly practicing Catholicism while secretly retaining their Jewish identity and religion) and eight Ashkenazic Jews (of German descent) arrived from London to begin a new life.

They brought with them a Torah (Bible) made of deerskin. That Torah is still used today on commemorative occasions, and those Jewish immigrants established a synagogue, Kahal Kodesh Mickva Israel—Holy Congregation Hope of Israel.  They came looking for religious freedom and a new life, and even today, descendents of those original Jewish settlers participate in this synagogue and this congregation.

This was the largest single immigration of Jewish people to this continent .  Their specific purpose was to establish a Jewish congregation and to practice their religion freely.

Why did I choose to include this synagogue still functioning today in a city where the Jewish population is about 3,700 people?  When George Washington was elected the first President of the United States, the president of this synagogue wrote him a congratulatory letter.  George Washington, President, replied thusly:

Congregation Mickve Israel, Savannah
Letters from ten United States' Presidents
beginning with George Washington
 “To the Hebrew Congregation of the City of Savannah, Georgia”:

May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, planted them in the promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven, and make the inhabitants of every denomination partake in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people, whose God is Jehova”

Today in the synagogue’s archival museum are letters from ten presidents including James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Bill Clinton, and George Bush.

In a way the history of the Mikva Israel Synagogue in Savannah, Georgia is reminiscent of the Exodus from Egypt

If you get to Savannah, stop in and see this magnificent building where the ark (where the Torah is kept) represents the walls surrounding Old Jerusalem.  

Take the tour of the building, and see a beautiful part of Savannah’s earliest history.

Congregation Mickve Israel, Savannah
The "walls" of the Ark holding the Torah
represents the walls of Jerusalem








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