|Vol. VII, No. 7
Tishry 5610, October 1849
To The Friends Of The Israelites Of Palestine.
Knowing that the descendants of Israel have not relinquished the ancient character of benevolence, for which they have been always distinguished, the undersigned, messengers from the Holy Land, beg leave to lay before you the following statement, in the full hope that it may incite you to aid the small remnant yet residing in the country over which once ruled chiefs and princes, governing in the spirit of our religion, and where spoke the poets and prophets of our own race in a language never to be forgotten. It was owing to our transgressions that we as a nation were banished from that land, where formerly reigned plenty and elegance, but where now all is desolation and ruin.
For several centuries after the destruction of the Temple and the <<346>>final expulsion of the people after the unsuccessful struggle for freedom, under the guidance of Bar Cochaba, against the legions led on by the captains of Aelian Hadrian, the Israelites were not suffered to dwell in their own patrimony, the soil of their fathers was not permitted to be trodden by them, as though the presence of the Hebrew would be a signal for rebellion, and recall the ancient freedom which was sinking into decay under the despotism of the Roman emperors; and only on the payment of a tax were they allowed to repair singly to the ruins of Jerusalem, to weep there over the subversion of their state, and were then compelled to return again to their exile homes.
But with the overthrow of the Christian powers by the Mahomedans, many Jews gradually sought the desolate fields of their own land, and established themselves in its waste places amidst fear and trembling. They lived protected, though oppressed, by the followers of the Koran. And when the crusaders, in their mad attempt to recover what they considered the burial-place of the founder of their religion, made war against the Saracens, the Israelites were found stoutly defending the Holy City by the side of their Moslem protectors; and when it was at length taken, the blood of our brothers flowed like water in its streets; and reeking with slaughter the Christian knights returned thanks for the victory, which they fancied would secure them the possession of Jerusalem and Palestine.
But their reign was brief, and the Sultan of Egypt, Saladin, recovered what his predecessors had lost, and ever since Palestine has remained the portion of the followers of Mahomed. Although under them, too, our lot has been exceedingly grievous, exposed as we are to the rapacity of the Pachas and the exactions of the Arab plunderers, who have infested the land from time immemorial: still the land of Israel has been a place of refuge to us in many a trouble; and when the Inquisition of Spain induced the King and Queen of Castile, Ferdinand and Isabella, to expel the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, followed, as they soon were, by the King of Portugal, thousands turned their steps to the shores of Palestine, and became the founders of the Portuguese congregations still existing there, and they carried with them, as to other parts of Turkey, the language of Spain, which still continues their vernacular tongue [Ladino].
By degrees other emigrants from Africa, Poland, and Germany joined them, and all clung with a holy devotion, amidst every suffering, to the place of sepulchre of their fathers, a land endeared to every son of Israel by the great deeds which were wrought there in their behalf.
A Don Joseph Caro, a Rabbi Isaac Luria, and other great names, have flourished from time to time in the genial clime of the land of <<347>>Israel, since the migrations of which we have just spoken; but with all this the Israelites there are subject to a great many deprivations, and are necessarily dependent on the aid of others for their support.
It is not now, as formerly, that the whole land is covered with villages and towns, and every foot of ground rendered productive by the industry of man; for the far larger number of towns are totally destroyed, and the land is waste because there are no inhabitants to cultivate it. The terraces on the hills, which produced food in abundance, have been washed away by the winter rains; since the industry of the husband-man has ceased to guard them against destruction; and what land is still productive lies fallow because of the wandering Bedouin, who loves to reap where he has not sown.
Commerce is scarcely known; navigation is not attended to; the mechanic arts are not needed in a country where the inhabitants have so few wants as the roving Arabs who now dwell there; wherefore, with all their efforts, it is almost impossible for the few Israelites, who chiefly dwell at Jerusalem, Hebron, Zafeth and Tiberias, to obtain a livelihood.
It has accordingly been the practice of European Jews to aid their brothers in Palestine with annual donations, to collect which messengers were sent out to bring the funds to the managers in the chief cities just named. But the expenses attending this mode are evidently very great, and to obviate this the undersigned, accredited messengers from Jerusalem, have been instructed to appeal to all congregations in America, to organize a permanent relief fund, to consist of free-will offerings, annual collections, and stated contributions, which are to be forwarded to such persons as the Israelites of this country may themselves designate, and distributed in good faith and impartially among all who stand in need of assistance.
The subjoined certificates will at once show that a number of influential persons in this country have already offered their services; and we hope that you will induce your congregation or immediate friends to be active in the cause, and to send out through a committee in your own neighbourhood, or the various gentlemen here named in New York and Philadelphia, any funds you may collect.
The Portuguese congregation in New York have already appropriated twenty-five dollars per annum; other bodies in that place have followed with similar donations, and all this independently of the Hebra תרומת הקדש, whose object it is to aid the poor of the Holy Land. In case our appeal is responded to, we can assure our brethren in America that the congregations in Palestine will not send out any more special messengers, wherefore you will not hereafter be troubled by personal applicants. Due notice will be given as soon as possible of <<348>>the distributing commission, to be appointed in Palestine; and we can give the most positive assurance that the wishes of the donors shall be faithfully carried into effect.
Invoking the blessing of God on you all, we sign ourselves,
Rabbi Joseph Schwarz,
New York, Elul 13th, 5609.
Note.—Rev. Dr. Lilienthal, Rev. Mr. Isaacs, Messrs. M. M. Noah, Jacob J. M. Falkenau, Simeon Abrahams, (who lately returned from Palestine, and is therefore cognizant of all the above,) and Henry Moses, President of the Anshay Chesed congregation, of New York, and Mr. L. Bomeisler, and [Isaac Leeser,] the Editor of the Occident of Philadelphia, will for the present receive any donations and forward any letters to the messengers; but each congregation can establish its own committee, and enter into correspondence with either of the gentlemen named.