It was a good story, however...
December 8, 2017
The article that ran in the Nov. 17 issue titled “The history of the $1 bill and who was Haym Solomon?” was a great story, but it wasn’t entirely true, unfortunately.
I had a very enlightening conversation about the piece with Murray Toborowsky, a former high school American history teacher, who agreed that it is a great story. For Jewish people, it’s encouraging to read that a Jewish man saved our fledgling new country at the ninth hour. But alas, Toborowsky told me George Washington never said “Send for Haym Solomon,” when funds were desperately needed for the Continental Army.
Solomon did raise money for the Army—that’s what he did, he was a financial broker. He helped convert the French loans into ready cash by selling bills of exchange for Robert Morris, the superintendent of Finance. In this way he aided the Continental Army.
Toborowsky should know. He holds talks about Jews and American history and Abraham Lincoln and the Jews at various locations and has taught classes at Rollins on the subject.
Did I dutifully fact-check the story? Yes, I did, and that part about Washington requesting Solomon’s help was taken straight out of Wikipedia! Toborowsky said though, that is wasn’t true (and further investigation at snopes.com verified what he said). Nor was the story about Washington ordering that the 13 stars on the $1 be arranged as the Star of David.
“Washington had nothing to do with the design of the dollar bill,” Toborowsky told me. So, the nice part of the story about Washington asking Solomon what he would like as a personal reward for his services and Solomon stating that he would like something “for his people,” (resulting in the 13 stars shaped like the Star of David) was fabricated.
Let’s not just take Toborowsky’s word (as I’m learning not to rely on just one source), Benjamin Goldberg wrote of the Solomon myth in Schmooze magazine: “Unfortunately for lovers of National Treasure-style conspiracy theories, there is no evidence that this story occurred. While the stars are in fact arranged in a hexagram (the geometric name of the Star of David), the official State Department document describing the history of the seal makes no mention of any Jewish symbolism.”
I’m not the only one who was led to believe this story to be true. Apparently it has captured the imagination of many American Jews. Toborowsky has heard the tale told many times, even from rabbis.
So, why has it endured for so long? In the Schmooze magazine article, Goldberg quotes Dr. Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun professor of American Jewish History and Life at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.: “Since very few Jews actually have Revolutionary roots in the U.S., the story of Haym Salomon helped to legitimize Jews in this country; it proved that they too had played a ‘major’ role in America’s founding. At a time when Jews were reviled as immigrants and latecomers to America, this was very important.”
Goldberg also referenced Beth Wenger, director of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book “History Lessons”: The Invention of American Jewish Heritage”: “The Haym Salomon myth has persisted because it provides a way for Jews to demonstrate their patriotism and, in particular, it places a Jew in a pivotal role during the moment the nation was created. In other words, the Haym Salomon myth establishes Jews as part of the organic fabric of the country, and offers ‘proof’ of their long-standing loyalty.”
Well, OK. So Solomon wasn’t that influential in the winning of the Revolutionary War. However, we can readily see the “Jews as part of the organic fabric” of Central Florida over the last 100 years! Want to feel that Jewish pride? Visit the Orange County Regional History Center and walk through a century of Jewish accomplishments right here at Kehillah: A History of Jewish Life in Greater Orlando.
And if you want a great history lesson about Abraham Lincoln and the Jewish people, Murray Toborowsky will be giving a lecture on the topic on Feb. 25, 2018, at Congregation Ohev Shalom.