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בס"ד

The Consecration at New Orleans

 

In my last number I told thee, kind reader, that it was my intention to be present at the dedication of the new house of God, which was to be opened for prayer in New Orleans. Of course this long journey occupied a considerable time, and hence it was out of my power to meet thee as usual at the beginning of the current month. But it has pleased a beneficent Providence to permit me to return to my post, and I now sit down to give thee some account of what was done on the occasion referred to. I left Philadelphia late on the evening of the 29th of April, and owing to the intervention of two Sabbaths, I was detained on the route till the 13th of May, when I arrived early in the morning at my place of destination. Elsewhere I may state some particulars of the journey, but at present I wish to confine myself to the business which induced me to travel. The Reverend Mr. Nathan, the minister elect, had arrived only on Friday morning from Jamaica, his former place of residence, and the consecration was therefore postponed till Tuesday the 14th, although at first fixed for the 13th. Everything had been prepared before our arrival, and the arrangements made by our friend Gershom Kursheedt, the president of the congregation, were all admirable and in excellent taste. Wherefore it required but the presence of the minister to proceed with the holy work, and this being secured, no delay was needed. In the afternoon of the 13th, therefore, we proceeded to make the final arrangements and to place the Sepha‑<<110>>rim in due order, and to fit appropriately the silken mantles and the silver ornaments, which had been made in Philadelphia by order of the kind-hearted donor of the building and its appurtenances, the venerable Judah Touro; and it was a source of great gratification to find that almost everything was approved of by the few persons present, as it was an earnest that the public at large would not greatly condemn the taste of the persons who had the superintendence thereof.

The next morning was then appointed for the depositing of a memorial stone on the way to the main entrance in the building, which had originally been erected and employed as a place of worship of the Protestant Episcopalian Society, and been purchased by Mr. Touro, and afterwards presented to the congregation as a free gift by him, when they erected a new church not far from their former location. In order to perpetuate this transfer, a stone was prepared with the following inscription:

עד הגל הזה ועדה חמצבה
שבית התפילה הזה נדבה
לק״ק נפוצות יהודה
בעד הישיש הנכבד יהודה טורו
בשנת שמע ה׳ קול יהודה ואל עמו תביאנו לפ״ק

“This building was at first erected and used as a place of worship for non-Israelites, but through the liberality of Judah Touro (a son of Israel; it was purchased and donated to the Portuguese Hebrew Congregation of the Dispersed of Judah; as a place of prayer to the MOST HIGH GOD, the sole LORD and CREATOR, to whom be praise everlastingly. In testimony of which this stone is solemnly deposited beneath the portals through which the faithful are to enter to praise the Lord.

“New Orleans, 3d Sivan, 14th May, 5610,
the 74th year of the independence of America.”

Owing to the well-known character of Mr. T., who is averse to all ostentation, the number present on this interesting occasion was limited to about ten persons, who had all more or less to do with the matter in hand, when it would have been an easy thing <<111>>to have had a numerous attendance to witness the final and solemn transfer of all the highly valuable property constituting the Synagogue and its appurtenances, for the use of the congregation, by the donor.

About half past ten of the above date, everything being in readiness, Mr. Touro, with his own hands, applied the requisite mortar beneath the memorial stone, and when it was properly adjusted, it was covered over with a slate slab, and the flooring was then replaced over all. It was to me a deeply affecting sight to behold this ancient Israelite, who for nearly half a century had been living at New Orleans, far from any congregation of his people, devoting in his 75th year so noble a portion of his wealth to the service of his Maker, and doing this without any parade whatever, feeling in truth that he gave for the sake of God what He had given him.

Mr. T. himself was greatly moved. It was a glorious day in his life, a bright hour, too, on which he might reflect with pleasure and gratification to the latest moment of his earthly existence. Many there are who are blessed with wealth and ample possessions; but few who have the heart to dispose of it in their lifetime; they clutch their gold as the dearest thing on earth, and cannot think of distributing it till after death has closed their career. But here was a man who had toiled as hard as any of them, who knew as well as any the value of gold and lands; and yet he could part with a large portion freely and cheerfully, not, regretting the diminished productiveness of his estate, rejoicing that he was enabled to signalize the last days of his life by an act every way worthy of him and the religion which he professes.

No doubt Mr. T. felt all this at the moment; such and other thoughts must have come over his mind; and hence his evident emotion when he saw that the work was at length accomplished, and that his pious intentions, which he had so long indulged, had at last been carried into effect. The bystanders congratulated him, and wished him many happy years to see the good effects of his pious deed, and when Mr. Nathan repeated the conclusion of the 90th Psalm, “And may the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish thou it,” all present sincerely responded to it, and there can be no question that the same wish is repeated by all <<112>>who agree with us in sentiment.

Mr. Nathan also addressed Mr. T. in some pretty language of congratulation; but I confess to the truth, that I was too much affected to recollect any words that were then spoken. A deed was done that deserves to be long recalled to mind; it spoke more eloquently than all mere words, however beautiful; and so these passed away whilst the other will remain fresh in the memory as a green spot in the desert sands, the water and the fruit of which having refreshed the weary traveller, are blessed for the remainder of life, as a gift for which no gratitude can be too great.

About half past five o’clock, P. M., the ceremony of solemnly dedicating the house to the service of God took place in the presence of a very numerous audience of Jews and gentiles, who came together to honour the great occasion, the first of the kind which was ever witnessed in the southwestern section of the Union. It was at the same time truly gratifying to witness the perfect good understanding subsisting between the Israelites and their fellow-citizens of other persuasions, and the general sympathy which was felt in the work before them, which proved clearly that not by neglecting, but by upholding their religion, can the Jews obtain the respect of other persuasions; since here was exhibited the first public dedication of a building entirely. devoted to the God of Israel, and many gentiles attended with far other motives than mere curiosity. As the ceremonies were as usual, the reader is merely presented with a brief account given the day following by the “Bulletin” newspaper in the following words, merely amended in several slight particulars.

Dedication of the Jewish Synagogue

We yesterday witnessed the imposing and highly interesting ceremony of dedicating the Jewish Synagogue Nefutsoth Jeduah, on Canal Street.

The ceremonies were conducted under the Rev. Mr. Nathan, the  resident minister, the Rev. Mr. Leeser, of Philadelphia, who came expressly for the purpose, and the Rev. Mr. Gutheim, of the other Jewish Synagogue in this city. The building, which formerly belonged to the Episcopal Church, has been entirely renovated inside and out, in the most complete and beautiful, manner, by our esteemed fellow-citizen, <<113>>Judah Touro, Esq., he having purchased the, ground and house, and after making all the extensive and costly alterations, has most liberally presented the whole to the congregation. The pulpit is near the door of entrance—before it, in the middle of the spacious floor, is the platform containing the reading desk, and beyond it, in the rear, is the ark for the reception of the books of the law. The arrangements for the accommodation of the audience were made by G. Kursheedt, Esq., and were highly satisfactory and complete; every seat was numbered, and each person had a corresponding ticket, so that every one was accommodated without confusion or inconvenience, and every seat was occupied.

The congregation and audience being all assembled, the minister, standing outside, knocked at the door, saying:

“Open the gates of righteousness for us, that we may enter through them to praise the Lord.”

And the doors being opened by the Rev. Mr. Leeser and the Rev. Mr. Gutheim, the procession entered, consisting of the Rev. Mr. Nathan and five members of the congregation, each of the latter bearing one a the Books of the Law, and the following response was chanted:

“This is the gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter.”

The procession moved to the steps of the Ark, while the choir sang:

“Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless ye from the house of the Lord.”

Having rested a moment at the Ark, the procession ascended the platform, and surrounded the reader’s desk, whilst the minister said:

“Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has preserved us alive, sustained us, and brought us to enjoy this season,”

Followed by the response of Amen. One of the Books of the Law was then unfolded and displayed to the congregation, by Mr. Leeser, and when, it was closed, the choir sung the following, from the 91st Psalm:

“On the fierce lion and asp shalt thou tread: the young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under foot. ‘Because he hath fixed his desire upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. When he calls upon me, I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him, and grant him honour. With length of days will I satisfy him, and grant him my salvation.’”

The procession continued the circuits, whilst this was singing, and the ministers recited alternately the 30th and the 122d Psalm.

The procession then halted at the steps of the platform, from whence <<114>>they moved to the Ark, where they deposited the Books of the Law, and closed the doors upon them, whilst the choir sang:

“Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.”

After the deposit, Mr. Gutheim said:

“And when the Ark rested, he said, Restore tranquillity to the many thousands of Israel. Arise, O Lord, unto thy dwelling-place, Thou and the Ark thy help. Thy priests shall be clothed with righteousness, and thy saints shall sing praises. For the sake of thy servant David, turn not back the face of thine anointed. For I have given you a good purchase, forsake ye not my law. It is a tree of life to those who strengthen themselves therein, and those who support it are made happy. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. Turn us, O Lord! unto thee, then we shall be turned. Renew our days as in former times.”

The ministers then return to the platform, where the Rev. Mr. Nathan made a very appropriate prayer for the congregation, and a prayer for the government, as follows:

Almighty God! Possessor of Heaven and earth; who swayest the sceptre of dominion, and holdest the scales of justice, who alone exaltest nations and castest them down for their crimes; who bestowest blessings on countries, and withdrawest them if abused; sole and indivisible Governor of the universe, most earnestly do we entreat Thee, most imploringly beseech Thee to regard with especial benevolence and favour the United States of America, and protect its executive, legislative, and judicial authorities. May this great republic, the asylum or the oppressed and destitute, increase in renown; may the helm of state be piloted with judgment and foresight; may wisdom resound in the halls of legislation, and peace, harmony, and obedience to the laws prevail among the people; may religion and virtue, trade and commerce, civilization and letters, science and art, continue to advance and progress; may its noble institutions, so favourable to civil and religious liberty, never cease to prosper, and strike out their roots far and wide, until they displace in the new world every trace and relic of that foul misgovernment planted by tyranny, bigotry, and superstition. With fervour do we also crave the benediction for the state of Louisiana, for its people, laws, and government. May thy gracious countenance smile on its soil, and make it fertile and productive ; and may riches and contentment, enjoyment and happiness, be the portion of its inhabitants. Amen!

The choir then sang the 150th Psalm, after which the Rev. Mr. Nathan ascended into the pulpit, and after an exordium, took for his text the 2d verse of the 118th Psalm—“This is the gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter”—and delivered one of the most practical, excellent, and eloquent sermons which it has been our good fortune ever to hear, and which gave great and general <<115>>satisfaction to the highly intelligent audience to whom it was addressed.

The choir then chanted:

“There is none like our God; there is none like our Lord; there is none like our King; there is none like our Saviour. Who is like our God? Who is like our Lord? Who is like our King? Who is like our Saviour? We will give thanks unto our God; we will give thanks unto our Lord; we will give thanks unto our King: we will give thanks unto our Saviour.—Blessed be our God; blessed be our Lord; blessed be our King; blessed be our Saviour. Thou art our God! Thou art our Lord! Thou art our King! Thou art our Saviour! Thou wilt save us; Thou wilt arise, and have mercy on Zion; for the time to favour her, yea, the appointed time approaches.’”

The minister then read the following:

“It is peculiarly our duty to praise the Lord of all; to ascribe greatness to him who formed the world in the beginning; since he hath not made us like the nations of the different countries, nor placed us like other families of the earth; neither hath he appointed our portion like theirs, nor our lot like their multitude, who worship vanity and emptiness, and make supplication to a god who cannot save. But we prostrate ourselves before the Supreme King of kings! the holy and blessed One! who stretched out the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth: the residence of whose glory is in the heavens above, and the divine majesty of whose power, is in the highest heavens. He is our God, and there is no other. Our King is truth, and there is none beside him: as it is written in the law, ‘Know, therefore, this day, and reflect in thy heart that the Lord he is God, in heaven above, and on the earth beneath, there is none else.’”

This was followed by the evening service, read by Mr. Leeser, which closed the highly interesting ceremony.

Mr. Nathan’s sermon will be found in this number of the Occident; and I am certain that the verdict of the audience will be confirmed by the public voice, that it is an elegant production and well worthy the occasion. Mr. Nathan’s elocution is also remarkable for its distinctness; he pronounces his words fully and clearly, and the only thing to be regretted was that he had pitched his voice, remarkable for its depth and volume, rather too low, which compelled several to be particularly attentive, always a painful thing in an audience, as otherwise much must have escaped, owing to the large size and the crowded state of the building. This is not said in the spirit of fault-finding, but only as an expression of what struck me at the moment; and surely Mr. N. will be satisfied with the fact, that his beautiful performance only lacked this little to make it almost unexceptionable.

<<116>>
Every one present, who had an opinion to offer, expressed his satisfaction, and it was indeed a triumph for our religion, that it gained admirers at the first public proclamation of its principles in the southwestern emporium. There need be no fear of its living, no dread of its decay; let us but be true to ourselves and united in principles and actions, and exhibit a consistent course of conduct, and all the trials and temptations to which we are exposed will fall harmlessly to the ground, and our faith will stand unscathed and unshaken. Even in the case before us, I hazard little in saving that several were awakened to the importance of Judaism, and one may freely hope that many will before long endeavour to learn What is their duty, and having learned it, follow in the path of religion to make that sacrifice which their God demands of them.

The reader can hardly form a conception of how great the difficulty was to organize a congregation on a proper footing in that great mart of commerce. People came thither from all parts of the world to amass a fortune. The Christian population itself was but little given to religious observances, and formerly a degree of freedom in living was indulged in but little promotive of the growth of piety. Those who are conversant with the decay of religious observance will, therefore, not wonder that the Jews in New Orleans were no better than their Christian neighbours, and that, moreover, owing to the paucity of Jewish young women, many intermarriages had taken place with other persuasions. This state of things naturally produced a great estrangement to our faith, and the children of the mixed marriages are, in many instances, entirely lost to Israel.

But nothing has been able to repress the elasticity of Judaism, and for several years it has been struggling upward, and there can be but little danger in asserting that ere long religion will be as faithfully observed in New Orleans as in any other city in the country. There are unmistakeable tokens of an earnest awakening in every direction, and the evident desire to hear the word of God preached in the language of the country, proves that people are at least anxious to hear; and when this desire is earnest, no doubt can be felt that a correspondence in actions must soon ensue. If we then compare the position of the Jews in the southwest with what it was even six years ago, the <<117>>result is both surprising and highly gratifying, much as there is yet to be done before the sincere believer can be satisfied with the result before him.

At least, there are now three organized bodies in New Orleans, and there are people and means enough to make them all flourishing and respectable, and I trust that the will may not be absent. The Portuguese Kahal has been fortunate in obtaining the first permanent place of worship; but the two others will not be long behind in the race, especially as the German, worshipping in Rampart Street, has resolved to erect a suitable house, large enough to contain the numerous worshippers belonging to the same. The Lafayette congregation, however, was but lately organized, and of course it will require some time to give it a proper firmness and consistence, before it would be advisable to erect a Synagogue.

The Synagogue building is situated on the corner of Canal and Bourbon Streets, in one of the greatest thoroughfares of the city. It is ornamented with six Ionic columns and a portico; the ark is surrounded with a colonnade of the Corinthian Order, of solid mahogany, and the gallery is supported by columns of a composite order. There is an organ in the western side; it was played during the consecration; but was not used afterwards during the festival and Sabbath services. In giving the whole building and furniture, Mr. Touro reserved this instrument to himself, and it was left there where it originally stood merely on deposit, to be removed at pleasure. This fact is stated only to Satisfy any inquiries which may be made.

The Tebah is in excellent keeping with the whole building; behind it is the pulpit, a beautiful one of the kind, and ornamented with pretty carving out of solid mahogany. The gas chandelier which gives light to the gallery was constructed in Philadelphia by the Messrs. Cornelius, so well known for their skill in this kind of work. It has three rows of lights, and is blue and gilt, and the ornaments are all chaste and arabesque. In addition to this, there are side-brackets for gas, and six candlesticks corresponding with the chandeliers, and manufactured by the same house.

The seats in the Synagogue are covered with black hair-seating. The Tebah and Hechal steps and platform are covered with fine, and the main floor with common carpeting. The win<<118>>dows, four, I think, on each side, are lofty, and furnished with Venetian shutters, so as to regulate the light and ventilation. A handsome pair of marble tables, containing the ten commandments in gilt letters, surmount the ark; and the ceiling is indeed remarkable for its beauty and simplicity. They have now about one hundred and seventy seats in the men’s Synagogue; but there is room enough to put three hundred more without crowding too much. There is a screen before the front seats,—an excellent arrangement, though not very usual in Synagogues.

Want of knowledge of architecture prevents me from giving a more graphic description of the building; but should one be furnished hereafter by a competent hand, it shall be communicated to the reader.

The singing was performed by a voluntary choir of six ladies and six gentlemen, under the lead, I think, as was everything else, of Mr. G. Kursheedt, who had thus a double duty to perform, and the public sentiment was unanimous that he had done all well, to the satisfaction of all. Mr. K. had not an ordinary labour to perform; he had to attend to the business of the congregation, which withdrew him many hours from his own private affairs, besides getting up the choir to add beauty to the simple ceremony of the consecration, and his feelings must have been enviable when he returned home, after all was over, to reflect that everything had worked so beautifully and harmoniously, there being nothing too much or too little.

The organist struck me as rather defective in his execution, which to my mind, rather marred the harmony of the vocal performers. To me, however, nothing is so beautiful in worship as the human voice, and I could gladly dispense with all accompaniments of instrumental music, especially as we should meet to worship God, not to please our fancy. Perhaps I may be adjudged somewhat barbarous for this opinion; nevertheless, I present, for what it is worth, my own unbiassed judgment. I have been present at several consecrations, and uniformly, with but one exception, the instrumental drowned the vocal part, or was too prominent with my notions of worship.

I fear there is a great deal of affectation with many in their pretended elevation of feeling produced by instrumental music, who, would they but confess the truth, would acknowledge that it makes but little difference with them whether they listen to the finest symphonies or a popular band. However, this is not the opportunity to discuss the question; wherefore it must be dropped where it stands.

The congregation was dismissed about eight o’clock, every one gratified with that had been witnessed, and those of the true faith rejoicing that another house stood devoted to the God of their fathers, whose name be praised to everlasting.