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March 3, 2017 10:16 am

George Washington’s Historic Letter to the Jewish Community Set to Music for Synagogue’s 170th Anniversary

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. Photo: Gilbert Stuart.

A portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart Williamstown. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A famous pledge penned by American Founding Father George Washington in 1790 to the Jewish community to give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” has been put to music at an inadvertently apt moment in time, the local news site Philly.com reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, the first US president’s commitment, in the form of a 340-word “Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island” — written to thank the state’s voting to ratify the Constitution — was crafted into a cantata by New York composer Jonathan Comisar, who was commissioned to come up with a meaningful statement to mark the 170th anniversary of the Keneseth Israel Reform congregation in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

However, in the six months since he and Keneseth Israeli Rabbi Lance Sussman settled on Washington’s missive — considered one of the most important documents in American Jewish history — for the musical narrative, a wave of antisemitic incidents across the country has made it even more “resonant and powerful,” Comisar said.

The 12-minute piece, “To Bigotry No Sanction: An American Jewish Cantata,” gives a colonial flavor to Hebrew hymns. It begins with Washington’s addressing “the children of the stock of Abraham” and quoting the Biblical prophet, Micah, saying that each Jew “shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The cantata, which debuts Friday at Keneseth Israel, will be performed by a 30-voice adult choir, a small children’s chorus, and six musicians.

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