Hi, two friends sent me the following story…I have scoured the Google Library to see whether it is apocryphal or historically based; clearly it is the former. Nevertheless, it is an interesting read that may also be found in the Sefer Pardes Chanukah. This is a folk story about George Washington and the Jewish soldier who fought alongside the famous general. The narrative is attributed to a personal journal of a Jewish soldier who fought alongside General George Washington at Valley Forge during the period of Chanukah.
It is Chanukah in the year of 1776. The winter is hard and the cold is fearsome. We are sitting in Valley Forge and waiting. Waiting for what? I do not know. Possibly, for days better than those at hand. I am to my knowledge the only Jew here. Possibly, there are others, however, I do not recognize any as such.
We are starving for bread. We have no clothes to warm our bodies and no shoes for our feet. Most of the soldiers curse General Washington who went to fight the English. There are also those among us who seek and hope for his downfall; however, I believe justice is with him. We need to remove Britain from the colonies. Britain seeks to extend her hand upon all she sees.
I believe with all my heart in General Washington though we suffer here so greatly. I observe the General as he is passing at night in the camp among the sleeping troops. He looks upon them with compassion as they struggle with the cold. There are those among them that he approaches to cover as a father would his son. There are those who suffer with the famine and cold bringing them to the brink of death. However, I do not curse General Washington who fights to bring independence to America.
At these moments, I am reminded of my father in Poland. I recall how much he suffered at the hands of the cruel Baron. I remember I was but a youngster and saw my father dance before the Baron. How terrible was the sight. My father was made to dress up in the skin of a white bear and he danced for the sport of the Baron and his guests. How great is my pain and shame. Father dances as a bear and the Baron jests and revels. I affirm in my heart that I will never be so humiliated myself. At my first opportunity, I set sail to America.
Behold; I am at Valley Forge and trembling from the cold. There are rumors in the camp that General Washington is about to fall. However, I firmly believe he will surely succeed. I sleep at nights and pray for his welfare.
It is now the first night of Chanukah. This very night, two years ago, I fled from my father’s home in Poland. My father gave me a Chanukah menorah and said, “When you will light, my son, these candles for Chanukah, they will illuminate the path for you.” From that day on, my menorah was as an amulet. Wherever I go, I take it with me. I do not know what to do here and now; to light the menorah among the gentiles or not. I resolve to wait until all are asleep.
When all are sleeping, I take out my father’s menorah. I light the first candle and say the blessings. I gaze upon the flame and I see the home of my parents. I see once again my father dancing as a bear before the Baron with tears welling up in the eyes of my mother. My heart is filled with pain and I burst forth in tears like a young child. I resolve that for the sake of my parents and siblings left in Poland, I will assist the General with all my might, to make America free and a land of refuge for my entire family who suffer so harshly.
Suddenly, I feel a soft, tender hand upon my head. I lift my eyes, and behold it is him, in all his majesty, standing upon me. He asks me, “Why soldier do you cry? Is it then so very cold?” Pain and compassion are in his voice. I could not bear his pain, and I jumped up from my place. I forgot at that moment that I am a soldier in the presence of my superior, and spoke before him as a child to a parent. “My master the General,” I said. “I cry and pray for your victory. I am certain with the help of G-d, we shall prevail. Today, the enemy is strong; tomorrow they will surely fall, for justice is with us. We seek to be free in this land; we desire to build a country for all who flee from oppression and suffer abroad. The Barons will not rule here. The enemy will falter and you will succeed.”
The General shook my hand. “Thank you, soldier,” he said, and sat at my side next to the menorah. “What is this?” asked the General. I told him I brought it from my parent’s home. Jews the world over light this menorah to celebrate the great miracle of Chanukah and the miraculous salvation of the Jews. The light of the Chanukah menorah danced in the eyes of General Washington as he called forth in joy, “You are a Jew from the children of prophets and you declared that we shall prevail.” “Yes my master,” I answered with confidence. We will be victorious as the Maccabees of old, for our own sake and the sake of all who follow us to build a new land and a new life.
The General got up; his face was ablaze. He shook my hand and disappeared into the darkness. My faith was rewarded, victory was achieved, and peace reigned in the land. My General became the leader of our new country, and I became one of its citizens.
I quickly forgot those frightful days and nights at Valley Forge. However, that first night of Chanukah, with General Washington, I carried in my heart always as a precious dream. I never told anyone of my encounter, for I reasoned, who would believe me. Certain I was that General Washington himself had long forgotten the matter. However, this was not to be. He indeed had not forgotten that night at all.
The first night of Chanukah the following year of 1777, I was sitting in my house in New York on Broome Street, with the Chanukah light in my window. Suddenly, I heard a knock on the door. I opened the door, and incredibly, my General, George Washington is standing in the doorway. “Behold, the wondrous flame, the flame of hope of all Jewry,” he called forth in joy as he gazed upon its light.
The General placed his hand upon my shoulder and said, “This light and your beautiful words lit a flame in my heart that night. Surely, you and your comrades will receive due recognition for all of your valor at Valley Forge. But this night, accept from me, this medallion.” He hung the medallion of gold upon my chest and shook my hand. Tears came to my eyes; I couldn’t say a word. The General shook my hand once again and left the house.
I stirred as if coming from a beautiful dream. I then looked upon my medallion and saw a beautiful engraving of a Chanukah menorah with the first candle lit. Below was written, “As an expression of gratitude for the candle of your menorah.”
This medallion is part of the permanent collection in the Jewish Museum in New York.