Seixas Gala Dinner
The Gershom Mendes Seixas Award is bestowed by Columbia/Barnard Hillel on those who have made outstanding contributions to Jewish life at Columbia University and Barnard College.
Gershom Mendes Seixas, first American-born Rabbi, revolutionary patriot, and Jewish Trustee of Columbia College, was born in 1746. His father was a Portuguese Morrano who had returned to openly practicing Judaism, and his mother was the daughter of Moses Levy, a leader of early New York Jewry. Although there was no rabbinical seminary anywhere in the American colonies, young Gershom undertook the study of Hebrew texts and, at age 23, became the spiritual leader of Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest synagogue in North America.
Seixas was one of the incorporators of Columbia College and served as a trustee for over 30 years. He wrote the Hebrew oration that Sampson Simson, the first Jewish graduate of the university, delivered at commencement exercises in 1800. In tribute to Seixas’ commitment, Columbia University issued a bronze medal with his portrait, a replica of which has been made into the Seixas award.
A committed patriot, Seixas refused a British order that his congregation pray for King George III. When the British captured the city, he chose to close his synagogue and leave New York rather than give allegiance to the King. He took the community’s Torah scrolls and prayer books to Philadelphia, where he served as the first head of Congregation Mikveh Israel.
After the Revolution, Seixas returned to New York and participated in George Washington’s presidential inauguration. He was the first religious leader of any faith to preach a Thanksgiving sermon. Copies of his speech were printed in the thousands, with all proceeds benefiting the widows and orphans of the Revolutionary War.
Gershom Mendes Seixas died in 1816 at the age of 70, a renowned leader who promoted the intellectual growth of his city, the nation, and Columbia. The plaque in his memory at Shearith Israel is inscribed to the “patriot Rabbi of the American revolution.”
For more information, or to register please go to hilleldinner.org