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Extracts From An Address Delivered At The Annual Examination Of The Hebrew Sunday School Of Columbia, S. C.,

May 6th, 1849, By Henry S. Cohen.

Man was created by the all-bountiful Creator of the universe, a rational and intellectual being, with powers as much superior to the rest of the ani­mal creatures, as His are superior to ours. He has endowed us with reason and reflection, which, united with strong faculties and capacities, enable us to govern and improve a world wonderfully created by His hand. For this purpose He has endowed us with a common love for social correspondence, that by concert of action, and union of effort, the general happiness of mankind, the proper ends of our creation, may be effected. For this, were friendship, esteem, and love, implanted in our hearts; whilst, devoid of their influence, man would be selfish, sordid, and cruel, without either the inclination or the power of doing good. But governed as we are by kindly feelings, there is no reasonable object we cannot attain, no reasonable difficulty we cannot surmount. Our merciful Father has therefore endowed us with certain inclinations, affections,  and wants, which are susceptible of imparting extreme delight and pleasure, when properly controlled and directed; their full gratification cannot be attained, however, without the employment of external aid. Doomed to solitude, the beautiful scenes around us would but cast an additional gloom on the mind, and give a more forcible impression of the extent of our loneliness. In vain would heaven display its wonders, the teeming earth yield its fragrant beauties, or the feathered songster warble its natural and enchanting music. The beauty of groves, of forests, of rivers, and of lakes, together with all the splendid variety of objects and sounds that charm the eye and ear, and impart gratification and happiness to enlightened and social man, would all lose their soothing and pleasurable influence, impart instead but melancholy and un­happiness to the poor solitary outcast from society. How wise an act then of the All-wise, that he has implanted in our nature this inherent desire for social intercourse, which, while it ministers to our happiness insures success to our most hazardous efforts. In the contemplation of our relative power the conclusion forces itself on the mind than man is a mite, men are giants; individually our utmost efforts do but betray our weakness, collectively we can triumphantly succeed in the most gigantic projects, and keep pace with giant stride in the onward march of improvement.

But the advancement of our race depends not on harmony and union of action alone; However potent they are towards its accomplishment, they re­quire aids equally necessary to animate and sustain them. Education and the diffusion of knowledge are these great requisites, without which, all our efforts, energies, and capacities, however combined, could effect but little.

Knowledge has been estimated in all ages the governing principle of mankind. He, then, who possesses it in an eminent degree, challenges our <<214>>respect and confidence, and involuntarily commands our deference. To reach this superiority is an inherent desire in our nature, and to this desire principally are we indebted for our advancement. The minds of men are as various as their countenances or dispositions; and though all are susceptible of improvement, all are not alike constituted to attain the same mental elevation.

“Order is Heaven’s first law, this stands confest,
Some are, and must be, greater than the rest.”

As “knowledge is power,” it becomes us to strive for its attainment, by putting into practice and endeavouring to improve what capacities we possess. This can only be effected by means of education, which, if early and properly applied, leads to the most important results. Indeed, the mind, though gifted with lightning-like celerity, is unable at once to embrace or enumerate its advantages. It opens the storehouse of the mind and fills it with a fund of knowledge inexhaustible in its nature, and permanent in its duration. It is a treasure, of which neither adversity nor prosperity can deprive us; a companion, which no misfortune can depress, no enemy alienate, no despotism enslave; a solace in solitude, an ornament in society, and an unfailing friend in every circumstance of life. While it secures to the recipient a store of exquisite enjoyment, it is diffusible in its nature, and imparts its pleasurable emotions to all within the sphere of its influence. It gives at once both grace and government to genius. It lessens vice. It both guides and strengthens virtue and morality, which, while they serve to elevate, afford the only security for the prosperity of nations as well as individuals. But to enumerate the blessings and benefits to be derived from education is an almost endless task; and did my feeble abilities permit me to portray even a portion of them, I should detain you, my friends, much longer than is consistent with my duty and your inclination to listen.

Among the number of its blessings, the most important are those we derive from a knowledge of the Scriptures; for they concern both our temporal and spiritual welfare, and while capable of imparting pleasure here, teach us to hope for it in a higher state of perfection hereafter. By them are we led to contemplate with gratitude and admiration the sacred source from which flow all earthly comforts; and the belief in and the knowledge, and due reverence of the supreme God constitute the very essence of all true religion. Without such belief how feeble would be human benevolence, and how useless would be all the finer feelings of man! If the impression fully prevailed that we were the work of nature, unaided by nature’s God, that no kind Providence regarded our actions. and that we were not accountable beings, the extent of desolation would be inconceivable. Let religion be cast aside, and how inadequate would be the power of human law; its restraints, without other fear would be spurned and disregarded; duty, honour, and principle, would be words “signifying nothing,” and a base selfishness would prevail to the exclusion of every better feeling.

To the Israelite in particular, the sacred volume has an extraordinary degree of interest and importance; possessing it in its original language, that of his nation, he is enabled to draw from its sacred stores with the consciousness of its purity, free alike from the misconception and false construction incident to its various translations. He holds it as the rule and guide of his faith and practice; and while it teaches him lessons of wisdom and duty, it unfolds the most interesting incidents in the history of ins people. Both his imagination and sympathy are excited in its attentive perusal, he shares alike their burden in bondage, their joy in deliverance, the fatigue of their eventful journeys, the happiness of their arrival in, and possession of the land of promise, and the natural feelings of pride and exultation consequent << 215>>on their exalted and distinguished position of being the chosen people of God. Following their eventful career, he beholds with grateful wonder the miracles manifested in their behalf by their Almighty Guardian; the magnificent works of art, that elicited the admiration of the world; the extraordinary wisdom of their sages; their renown as warriors; their glory and greatness as a nation; but again will sorrow triumph in contemplating their dissatisfaction, their crimes and abominations, and their ultimate downfall, and the tear of regret will involuntarily flow, at the termination so fatal both to their nationality and happiness.

But the chief value of the Bible to the Israelite consists in its being his principal ritual, governing and influencing his every tenet and doctrine. It enjoins every feast, fast, and ceremony, observed by us, either in direct command, or in celebration of some principal event in the history of our people. It abounds in advice and directions relative to cleanliness, food, raiment, and various other matters necessary to our comfort and happiness, showing the especial care and providence of God for His chosen race. Taking such divine mercy into consideration, what base ingratitude would we evince in neglecting to perpetuate, by every means in our power, a religion sanctioned and dictated by God himself! This can only be effected by inculcating its truths in the minds of our children, by impressing them with the knowledge of Him and His divine attributes, and the duty of obeying His commands according to the words of Scripture. By such means have all the rites, ceremonies, and requirements of our holy religion been transmitted from generation to generation, until at the present time their practice is regarded as no less a duty, and with no less devotion and veneration than characterized them centuries since.

The most effectual means of transmitting unimpaired these highly prized doctrines, has been found in the establishment of schools; they have consequently met with the most favourable attention of our people. Their importance has fortunately not been underrated by those of our own enlightened and happy country; in every city, town, and village of which, wherever a few are congregated, one or more schools are now in successful operation. In tracing its cause, we find that nothing has conduced so much to the permanence of our religion as the inculcation of its truths in the minds of the young. Aware of the great importance of early impressions, our forefathers were governed by it in the instruction of their children, firmly impressing on their minds their duty to, and utter dependence on God. For this purpose was His holy name* written in their habitations, and placed on their gates and door-posts, that they might be continually reminded of Him, and that their first thoughts should be directed towards Him, in all their outgoings, forthcomings, and undertakings. These impressions, thus rendered permanent, have sustained them in all their vicissitudes; and no amount of cruelty and oppression exercised towards them has been sufficient to eradicate them. And what people on earth have had such odium and contumely heaped upon them, or suffered the cruelty and injustice which they have been exposed to for a succession of ages? Sufficient, surely, to awaken disgust, and cause them to renounce both the doctrines and the hated name of the Jew; yet have they calmly, firmly borne all, strengthened and assured by their only redeeming hope and ever-abiding confidence.

* The word שדי Almighty, which is seen outside of the Mezuzah.—Ed. Oc.

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With such impressions and opinions, which experience proves to be as difficult of eradication even as those relative to the existence and power of the Almighty, how utterly futile must appear, to every reflecting mind, the <<216>>efforts of a few misguided and mistaken individuals, in forming societies, and attempting by other means to effect our conversion,—an event seldom accomplished—and then more frequently from interested and mercenary motives than conviction. Our belief is reared on too firm a basis to be overthrown by human effort; the Almighty’s power can alone effect the change, and we place too great a reliance on His judgment and wisdom to doubt the result, if such were His divine will. Let those efforts, therefore, so zealously and unnecessarily put forth in our behalf, be directed to such objects as require them in a greater degree. All we require is to be considered the best judges of our own spiritual welfare. If those kind-hearted individuals will but turn their attention to the poor and the suffering, or endeavour to reclaim such as have strayed from their own fold, whose lives are wasted in debauchery, intemperance, and vice, they will find a wide field and worthy objects for their philanthropy; and success, even in a single instance, would be sufficient reward for the efforts of the most zealous. Such efforts, thus directed, would soon render almshouses, penitentiaries, and prisons comparatively useless, by giving a moral and religious elevation to thousands now sunk in ignorance and crime. These are results much to be desired, and not difficult to be effected, and while conducing to the individual and general happiness of mankind, they would redound to the honour of those whose efforts would be productive of such immense advantages to the world.

The amelioration of our condition daily progresses, and becomes less an object for solicitude as knowledge advances and prejudice subsides. The dark clouds of adversity are fast dispersing, and the benign rays of justice and toleration beam on our once afflicted race. A bright era now dawns upon us, rendered brighter in contrast with the darkness by which we have heretofore been surrounded. The day of tribulation has passed, giving place to a happy present and a cheering future. To the Israelite no thought can conduce more to happiness than that he can again, as in times of old, lift his head, and elevate his voice towards heaven, without the fear molestation or oppression. The sins of the parents have indeed been fearfully visited on the children; not only to the third and fourth, but to generation after generation;—may we not hope, however, that the anger of the Lord has at length been appeased, that the changes in favour of His once chosen race, constantly exhibited by various nations, in the enactment of laws and the promulgation of decrees, are but a manifestation of His divine forgiveness and an indication of His merciful intention to restore them again to happiness by an elevation to equality with the rest of mankind?

The present century may indeed be regarded as a golden era to our people; for it has given birth to an interest and an enlarged view of our claim to the consideration of mankind, in an increased ratio to that of many preceding ages. This result may likewise be traced to education and improved knowledge, the extensive diffusion of which tends to enlighten the public mind on subjects with which it was heretofore but imperfectly acquainted, and to eradicate prejudice, the offspring only of bigotry and superstition. This is fast vanishing from the face of civilization, as vanish the clouds of night at the approach of morning, and we no longer bend under the pressure of public hatred and malice: but the equitable laws of nations, the original of which were first entrusted to our care, transmitted to the present time, shield us alike with others under their protecting mantle.

We cannot repress our gratitude to the Almighty Disposer of events, when contemplating our favourable position, compared to the past, amid the constant efforts and movements tending to benefit our people in Europe, a quarter of the world celebrated for the cruelty and injustice once exercised towards them. In many parts their claims to respect and confidence are <<217>>no longer disregarded; while others, although labouring under disabilities which time will doubtless remove, yet enjoy a tranquility and happiness hitherto unknown for centuries.

Of our own happy country, what language is sufficient to express our high appreciation or deeply impressed love? To speak of her acquired and increasing greatness, the respect she commands from the world, the majesty and equality of her laws, the fame of her statesmen, her prowess in war and policy to remain at peace, the extent of her commercial relations, her advancement in literary, scientific, and mechanical knowledge, the skill, perseverance, and industry of her children,—to allude to these, and much more that excites our pride and admiration, in appropriate language of praise, is beyond my feeble capacity. Every American heart present, whether natural or naturalized, can feel and appreciate what my deficiency of language renders me incompetent to express. Well may she be termed “the model nation,” and well may her sons point with pride to such a mother; for they have no less cause for pride and exultation than had the ancient Roman, whose proudest boast was “I am a Roman citizen.” Above all, they may boast that her annals have never been sullied by religious proscription; the right of worshipping God according to the dictates of conscience being guaranteed by her constitution to every person and people. This, as well as the fact of her being the first nation that publicly acknowledged his claim to equality, is a sufficient inducement for the love and veneration of the Israelite. The noble sentiment expressed in her first declaration, “that all men are born free and equal,” secures to him the same honours and privileges enjoyed by the rest of her citizens. Have we not, then, great cause for patriotic attachment to her?—to feel a noble pride in her welfare and advancement?—and, if necessary, to sacrifice our blood in defence of her liberty and honour, which, like the sun’s rays, irradiate and beautify the world?

In contemplating, as Israelites, our position in this land, to us truly a “land of milk and honey,” we may justly exclaim, with Israel of old, “The Lord hash brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, He hath brought us unto this place, and hath given us this land.”

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[After giving a history of the school, and paying a just compliment, both to the former and present directress, Mr. Cohen proceeded as follows:]—

To the ladies who have assisted as teachers, as well as to all those by whom this school was established, and whose efforts have since promoted and sustained it, the thanks of our community are likewise due. The performances this day, and the improvement exhibited by its pupils, bear ample evidence both of its usefulness and success; its failure would indeed be matter of surprise, when the zeal and perseverance of woman, in the promotion of any praiseworthy object, be considered. With such motives, “there is no such word as fail.” While man takes time to reflect, woman accomplishes; to her, then, we naturally turn for aid and support, in attempting any important step for the advancement of our species,—and to her influence are we generally indebted for success.

But woman’s influence is not only confined to these causes. It extends to the every-day occurrences of life, which stamp an indelible impression on our existence, controlling our actions from its commencement to its close, and operating either for our good or evil. Thus, at the very threshold of life are we dependent, not only for the care and attention, but likewise for the discretion of a mother in preparing our minds for future usefulness and ultimate success. It is the mother that stamps the infant intellect, and gives the first impetus to intellectual and moral greatness; or it is the mother that, <<218>>influenced by a superfluous and unwise love, fears to check, and thus gives countenance to the infant foibles of her child, rendering him, in after years, incapable of appreciating those high moral notions so necessary to his future success and happiness. How great a responsibility rests, then, on a mother! and what a fountain of affection is associated with the sacred title! Nor is her value less apparent in all the other relations of life: for, as wife, sister, daughter, or friend, she exercised undoubted control in giving importance and stability to our moral existence. The sun’s genial influence, therefore, is not more necessary to the animal and vegetable world, than is that of a woman to our own social sphere.

In reflecting on the extent to which we are indebted to woman for our welfare and happiness, it is impossible to withhold that respect and attention so freely accorded to her wherever civilization exists. To promote her comfort and happiness, is, and should justly be held, one of our highest duties, and to their attainment our utmost efforts should be applied. By this course is man decidedly the gainer; the devotion he extends being repaid with interest in a thousand kind attentions that give zest to life. Who among us has not experienced pleasure from these attentions? Whose heart has not been cheered by the kindness which flows like a constant stream from that of woman? Who has not been rendered better, wiser, and happier from her sweet companionship? As the mariner is guided by a certain star to his destined haven, so is man guided by woman to virtue and usefulness. She is the star of his destiny, the “bright particular star” of all his thoughts, his hopes, and his pleasures.

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On you, my friends, devolves the duty of assisting, by your efforts at home, those of the teacher in school. A child’s advancement in knowledge, though greatly influenced by the tutor, depends much more on the parent, whose constant companionship inspires greater confidence, and renders the lessons more permanent and impressive. The former but sows the seed,—it is for the latter to watch and encourage its growth; and if they would have it yield desirable fruit, a careful cultivation must not be neglected. “Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined,” is the most truthful line ever written by poet, and the most appropriate to the rearing of children: its significance and truth should be deeply impressed on the mind of all parents, who, if they commence early, possess the power of bending them to their own desires,—and this, not by rigorous or coercive measures, but by a little care in their supervision, and the employment only of kind and encouraging words.

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With respect to the morals of your children, that depends entirely on yourselves. Light and heat are not more certain the uniform in giving hue and complexion to the vegetable world than is example in the affairs of morals. We are naturally the creatures of imitation, our actions being controlled, in a great measure, by the conduct of those whom we most esteem, and in whom we have the greatest confidence. This more particularly applies to children, who, having no other rule of action, and unable to distinguish right from wrong, except in extreme cases, are led by love for and confidence in a parent to place a construction of right on their every action. Let your own conduct, therefore, be such as to stand the test of scrutiny,—and thus, your example, assisted by holy precept, will reflect on the future welfare of your children, and insure the most desirable and happy results.

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[In addressing the children, among other advice, Mr. C. said]—

As you advance in years, you will doubtless learn and appreciate the many virtues, the practice of which serves to adorn and elevate mankind.

<<219>>The principal of these are truth and charity, and I point to them as being particularly worthy of your regard; for if you commence practising them as children, their beauty and value will become so apparent, that you will not forsake them in after years, while, if you neglect them now, the worst results may then be realized. Truth is a godlike virtue, which yields to its followers unnumbered advantages; among these are confidence and respect, and real foundation of all preferment and greatness; without it none can attain true greatness or happiness; for although falsehood may triumph for a time, it must eventually be exposed and defeated, for “truth is powerful and must prevail.” Let me, therefore, implore you, for the sake of your own happiness, to seek for and abide by the truth; for while no character is so utterly despised as the liar, none is so much honoured and prized as the lover of truth.

The practice of charity requires that we should mutually assist each other in difficulty, and relieve each other in want, to offer comfort and consolation to the afflicted, to soothe the anguish and wipe away the tear of the suffering, and to do all, in fact, for the mitigation of each others’ sorrows and the promotion of each others’ happiness. These are duties incumbent not on a portion only, but on the whole human family. We are all the children of the same Almighty Parent, influenced by the same desires and passions, subject to the same pains and sorrows, and destined to the same end. Our interest and feelings for each other should, therefore, be no less general and sympathetic. Though some may be more fortunate than others in escaping the pains and sufferings of disease, or the grasp of poverty and distress,—yet they are not the less liable, nor are they less exempt from the duties which the common ties of humanity demand. You thus perceive that charity consists not only in giving to the needy a portion of what you possess, but that almost all the actions that elicit the praise of others, and the approbation of our own heart and conscience, combine to give beauty and worth to the sacred name of charity.

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Having said thus much with the hope of contributing to your gratification, I may in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, be permitted a few words for the expression of my own. This is occasioned by the very numerous and attentive audience around me,—and is much enhanced by the number of our Christian friends who have honoured us with their presence; and who, in absenting themselves from their own places of worship to attend at ours, display an interest in our proceedings, and a desire for our welfare, sufficiently flattering to be deserving of acknowledgment. While fully appreciating their motives, we trust that nothing has transpired this day to impair that interest, or lessen those bonds of reciprocal esteem which it is our highest desire to encourage.