Posted BY: Paul Dowling

There is a particularly American Hanukah story that occurred when Washington and his troops were at Valley Forge during Christmas of 1777.  Dan Adler’s article “Hanukkah at the White House” recounts this tale of George Washington’s encounter with a Jewish soldier: “In December 1778, General George Washington had supper at the home of Michael Hart, a Jewish merchant in Easton, Pennsylvania. 

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It was during the Hanukkah celebration, and Hart began to explain the customs of the holiday to his guest.  Washington replied that he already knew about Hanukkah. He told Hart and his family of meeting the Jewish soldier at Valley Forge the previous year.  (According to Washington, the soldier was a Polish immigrant who said he had fled his homeland because he could not practice his faith under the Prussian government there.)  Hart’s daughter Louisa wrote the story down in her diary.”  Rabbi Susan Grossman has written that, “[l]ike generations of Jews before him, that soldier served as a ‘light unto the nations’ (Isaiah 42:6), bringing inspiration and courage to a nation in its birth pangs.  And he did so in a perfectly American way, a way in which a miracle did result, the miracle by which the light from one religion helps give comfort and courage to another.”

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