Displacement and Loss
The war inflicted great hardships on individuals and communities alike. Many Jewish merchants suffered dislocations and reverses, and many a personal fortune disappeared as merchants found their trade interrupted. Haym Salomon, later to gain fame as the mythic Jewish financier of the Revolution, began the war as a wealthy merchant whose unstinting financial sacrifices helped to keep the Revolution going. He died penniless.
British attacks forced residents, including Jews, from the cities of Newport, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston. Of the approximately 1,500 Jews scattered among the 13 colonies on the eve of the American Revolution, about 200 lived in Newport--the largest concentration of Jews in the colonies.
Aaron Lopez was one of the Newport Jews who opposed British rule and abandoned the city where they had developed roots and prospered. Lopez led his extended family and members of the Rivera and Mendes families, numbering nearly 70 people, to temporary settlement in Leicester, Massachusetts. The renowned synagogue was closed, and its spiritual leader, Isaac Touro, who professed Loyalist tendencies, sailed with his family to Jamaica where he lived out his life under British rule. According the diary of the Reverend Ezra Stiles, the few Jews remaining in Newport were "very officious as Informing against the Inhabitant--who are one + another frequently taken up + put in Gaol."
For Jews, participation in the war marked the first time since their exile from Jerusalem that they could take their place alongside their Christian neighbors as equals in a fight for freedom. Jews were present at Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and other battle sites throughout the colonies. Behind the scenes, they provided logistic support by equipping soldiers, shipping supplies, and raising funds. Ship owners such as Isaac Moses of Philadelphia outfitted privateers to harass British shipping, and their ships engaged in running the British blockade to provide necessary provisions to the needy Revolutionary forces.
Norman H. Finkelstein