In Part One we looked at a sampling of Jews who not only gave to the world, but were recognized by the world in areas where Jews had not tread prior. In this series we look at those Jews who were “the first” among us to hold a position or be in one that broke ground for all Jews.
The most important experiment that did not work
Albert Abraham Michelson: “The Most Important Experiment That Did Not Work in the Whole History of Science”
This was how writer Isaac Asimov referred to the Michelson – Morley experiment, using rays of light to determine the extent of the “ether” – and proved no such substance was floating around. It was perhaps the most significant negative experiment in history. The results were paradoxical. Evidently, the speed of light plus any other added velocity was still equal only to the speed of light. To explain it, physics had to be recast, which resulted, eventually, in Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity in 1905. Michelson’s work helped begin the tale of atomic research. The Prussian scientist, born in 1882, came to America as a boy, became the first Jewish – American scientist to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907 (Physics) for accurately measuring the speed of light.
First Female Jewish Supreme Court Justice
When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as the 107th justice to the United States Supreme Court in 1993, she became the second woman to sit on the court and the first female Jewish Justice. Having felt the sting of discrimination, her body of legal work reflected her on – going mission to open up doors for all people. Ginsburg embarked on an academic career at Rutgers University, then at Columbia, where she became the first woman to be tenured on the law faculty. Ginsburg was also co – director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project. She worked extensively on sex – discrimination cases, especially those relating to employment, arguing and establishing that Constitutional protections should apply to women. She married Martin Ginsburg, a well – known tax lawyer and professor, in 1954. They have two children, one of whom is a law professor at Columbia.
The Seixas, A Family Of Menshen
Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas, (1745 – 1816): In late August, 1776, when news came that the British were approaching New York, the Rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel closed the synagogue and safeguarded its ceremonial objects, displayed to this day. He was also ...
*the first native – born Jewish clergy in the U.S.
*the first non – Episcopalian to serve as a trustee of Columbia University (1787 to 1815).
*one of 14 clergymen who participated in Washington's first inaugural (1787)
But that’s not all. His brother, Benjamin Mendes (1748 – 1817), was one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange and his son, David, established the Deaf and Dumb Institute in Philadelphia and was among the first to discover efficient ways of burning anthracite coal.
Mama – loshen: Isaac Bashevis Singer
The high honor bestowed upon me by the Swedish Academy is also a recognition of the Yiddish language – a language of exile, without a land, without frontiers, not supported by any government, a language which possesses no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics; ... What the great religions preached, the Yiddish – speaking people of the ghettos practiced .... They were the people of the Book in the truest sense of the word.
This is an excerpt from Isaac Bashevis Singer’s acceptance speech – in English and Yiddish – upon being the first Yiddish author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (1978). Singer was (probably) born on November 21, 1902. He came to America in 1935, and died on July 24, 1991.
They Left Their Stamp
The only Jew (the author could find) to appear on a stamp issued by an Arab country was Dr. Philip Blaiberg, who was Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s second heart transplant patient. Dr. Blaiberg, a Jew, and Dr. Barnard were both portrayed on a stamp issued by the Yemen Arab republic on January 10, 1969. For the record, Dr. Barnard’s first heart transplant patient (1967), Louis Washkansky, was also Jewish.
Linda Lingle, elected 6th governor of Hawaii from 2002 until 2010 was the first female governor of Hawaii (Republican); first Jewish governor of Hawaii; first county mayor elected governor of Hawaii despite the fact that Jews comprise less than one percent of Aloha State. Prior to her gubernatorial administration, Lingle served as Maui County mayor, council member, and chair of the Hawaii Republican Party. In May 2004 Lingle led a delegation to Israel, paid for by the Israeli Government. In 2008, President George W. Bush appointed her to serve on the Honorary Delegation to accompany him to Jerusalem for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. Lingle has said that her Jewish heritage helped her career by giving her a better understanding of diversity. Today Lingle is active in the Republican Jewish Coalition, serving as a speaker at events and otherwise using her role as the only Jewish Republican US governor.
The first Jew appointed U.S. Secretary of State in 1973, and the first American Jew to win the Nobel Peace Prize that same year, is also a Knight! On June 20, 1995, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Henry Kissinger for his contribution toward Anglo – American relations. As an American he does not get the title “Sir,” however he may add “KC” (Knight Commander) after his name.
Famous Firsts Plus Tzedaka
On December 2, 1735, the first white child and first Jew born in Savannah, Georgia was Mordecai Sheftall. A philanthropist, Sheftall helped found the Union Society which brought together Protestants, Catholics and Jews to promote social welfare. A revolutionary, he was appointed Commissioner General of Purchases and Issues of the Georgia and South Carolina militias and at times used personal funds for provisions. Captured by the British twice, he was released in a prisoner exchange and died on this date in 1797. Tourists can still see the old Jewish cemetery in Savannah Sheftall donated in 1773.
More Famous U.S. Jewish Firsts: Quickies ...
Navy Captain: Uriah P. Levy, served with distinction in War of 1812, advanced March 1844.
Naval Chaplain: Rabbi David Goldberg, appointed lieutenant junior grade, October 30, 1917.
Postage Stamp: Samuel Gompers on 3 – cent stamp issued January 27, 1950.
Prayer book: Published, 1766 by John Holt in New York.
Pulitzer Prize for reporting: Herbert Bayard Swope (New York World), June 4, 1917
Rabbi to lead the opening prayer for a session of Congress: Rabbi Morris Raphael, 1860
Senator: David Levy Yulee, 7/1 1845 – 3/3, 1851; 3/5 1855 – 1/21, 1861, in Florida
West Point Woman Graduate: Donna Maller, June 4, 1980.