By Roz Rogoff
ForwardUploaded: May 11, 2012
I'm on the email list for the modern English-Language Jewish Daily Forward. The most recent email promotes an article on George Washington's 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island which will be put on display at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia just in time for the 4th of July.
My Grandfather, Hillel (Harry) Rogoff, was the Literary Editor of the Yiddish Daily Forward. He worked for the Forward for 54 years, from 1906 when he was 24 years old, until 1960 when he retired. He died in 1971 at the age of 88. He convinced Isaac Bashevis Singer to move to the US in the 1930s and hired him to work for the Forward. Singer later went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1978.
My Grandfather was Acting Editor of the Yiddish Daily Forward from 1946 to 1951 when famed founder Abraham Cahan was in failing health. After Cahan's death in 1951 my Grandfather was officially named Editor in Chief. He also reported the news in Yiddish on the Forward's radio station, WEVD in New York City.
Yiddish was dying out as an immigrant language in the 1950's. My father, Harry Rogoff's son, didn't read or speak Yiddish and neither do I or my brother or sister. During those years the Forward's importance in the Jewish American population faded along with the language.
The Forward has evolved from a newspaper aimed at group of immigrants who didn't speak or read English, to a daily paper for Jewish Americans and others who want to understand the news from a Jewish perspective. The original Forward was a Socialist newspaper. The current one doesn't take a single political position on the news.
My Grandfather was a Socialist, which is how I know President Obama isn't. My father was a Republican but they always got along and had interesting political discussions. My sister considers herself a Socialist. My brother and most of his family are Democrats, and I am still trying to hang onto the Republican Party even though it has been taken over by extreme right-wing nuts (the real RINOs).
So why am I going down memory lane in this San Ramon Observer blog. I planned to write my Friday blog on the request from TV30 for $97,600 for operational expense that isn't in our City's budget. The Council hasn't decided whether to pay it or not, and I need more time to research the story and get my thoughts together. I shall write that one for my Monday blog.
There's an unfortunate movement in this country now to claim that our Founding Fathers were Anglo Protestants and that's what all good American should be. They wave the original Constitution around, as if they don't know our Constitution has been amended 27 times since then. Maybe they should read what George Washington wrote 222 years ago.
"The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All peoples alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."
I've done a lot of research into Revolutionary War history because my father's mother, Lillian Nanes, used to tell a story that she was descended from Benjamin Nones, a Jewish hero of the Revolutionary War. After two years of digging through Ancestry.com and tracing the whole Nones line and even contacting one of Nones' real descendants, I concluded we could not be descendants of Benjamin Nones.
However, I am a descendant of Harry Rogoff. My immigrant Grandfather came to this country as a boy of 10 and worked to provide news for a generation of immigrants. Most Americans are descended from immigrants who came here speaking different languages and practicing different religions. George Washington supported this diversity of beliefs.
"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our faiths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy."
The United States is more religiously diverse now than it was in 1790, but I'm sure President Washington's sentiments would extend to Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Deists, Wiccans, and any others I might have omitted from that list.
Thank you President Washington. I wonder if this letter cost you votes.