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The Truth About George Washington’s Hanukkah

For centuries, the lights of the Hanukkah menorah have inspired hope and courage. They may have also been responsible for inspiring then-General George Washington to forge on when everything looked bleak when his cold and hungry Continental Army camped at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777/8.
The story is told that Washington was walking among his troops when he saw one soldier sitting apart from the others, huddled over what looked like two tiny flames. Washington approached the soldier and asked him what he was doing. The soldier explained that he was a Jew and he had lit the candles celebrate Hanukkah, the festival commemorating the miraculous victory of his people so many centuries ago over the tyranny of a much better equipped and more powerful enemy who had sought to deny them their freedom. The soldier then expressed his confidence that just as, with the help of God, the Jews of ancient times were ultimately victorious, so too would they would be victorious in their just cause for freedom. Washington thanked the soldier and walked back to where the rest troops camped, warmed by the inspiration of those little flames and the knowledge that miracles are possible.


Different names have been suggested for the mysterious soldier, Jeremiah Greenman, Capt. Isaac Levy, or Private Asher Pollock of the Second Rhode Island Battalion, all of whom were at Valley Forge. Stephen Krensky, in his lovely children’s book, “Hanukkah at Valley Forge,” traces the story back to a 1778 meeting Washington had at the home of Michael Hart, a Jewish merchant in Easton, Pa., which Hart’s daughter recorded in her diary, when Washington described his meeting with the Jewish soldier.
For me, what is most interesting is that while Hanukkah falls at different times during the year, in 1777, the first night of Hanukkah fell on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.
George Washington’s Continental Army arrived at Valley Forge just five days earlier, on Dec. 19. His choice of a site was sharply criticized. The troops were struggling to build enough huts before the men, barefoot and starving, died of exposure. Mutiny was in the air. One can only imagine what was going through General Washington’’s mind as he walked among the troops that night of Christmas Eve.
While some might question the veracity of the story, because the details of the Jewish soldier’s identity may be lost in time, here are its “truths:” Like generations of Jews before him, that soldier served as a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6), bringing inspiration and courage to a nation in its birth pangs. And he did so in a perfectly American way, a way in which a miracle did result, the miracle by which the light from one religion helps give comfort and courage to another.
It is just such religious tolerance and cooperation that the world needs so desperately today. The lights of Hanukkah remind us even in the darkest nights that miracles do happen.

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posted December 10, 2007 at 11:53 am

I had not heard this story. Thank you for sharing it. This would be a good one to relate the next time I hear the U.S. referred to as a Christian country.

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posted December 11, 2007 at 12:03 am

let it be known that george washington was a freemason of the mosonic temple, they believe that they are the children of ancient egyptions.therefore it cannot be elicited that he was a christian and he was fully knowledgable of the jewish/druid culture.
“A few years ago when Freemasonic Temples were open to the public in South Australia the letter G was evident, suspended above eye level. I was told that it stood for God and Geometry.In an expose of 1730 when the letter G was a symbol of the Second Degree Fellow Craft the following ritual was recorded: When you came into the middle, what did you see?
A. The Resemblance of the Letter G.
Q. Who doth that G denote?
A. One that’s greater than you.
Q. Who’s greater than I that am a Free and Accepted Mason, the Master of a Lodge?
A. The Grand Architect and Contriver of the Universe, or He that was taken up to the Top of the Pinnacle of the Holy Temple.
“The Washington family took great pride in their heritage, such that when they emigrated to America they retained their family crest. As a result, when George Washington, who was a prominent Freemason, became the First President of the United States, it was the Washington Coat of Arms which was adopted as the basis of the American flag. Expressed in everyday language the red banners on the white background were retained, but the red stars on a white background were replaced with white stars on a blue background. The stars and banners of Washington Village became the “Stars and Stripes” of the leading world power! The Five-Pointed Star and Freemasonry(symbols of hieroglyphs)
Further examples of the five-pointed star being associated with Freemasonry include the Master of the Lodge being represented by this symbol. Moreover it was traditionally an emblem of the early Masonic Guilds because they were unified in their application of the Sacred Geometry of the Golden Ratio in the building of the great cathedrals of Europe.
Indeed Geometry was synonymous with Masonic Guilds or Freemasonry. Geometry is referred to as the “fifth science” while the Supreme Being is referred to as the Grand Geometrician. A Second Degree Fellow Craft Freemason is referred to as a “G Man”, the “G” referring to Geometry.
copy from audrey flethcher”ancient egyptians and the constilations”

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posted December 11, 2007 at 4:43 am

This is a wonderful story. If it’s true that it happened on Christmas Eve then it’s even more believable.
There’s no need to politicize this or discuss Washington’s Christianity. It’s a warming story all by itself.
Thanks for passing this on.

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Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins

posted December 12, 2007 at 11:50 am

The story about George Washington and Hanukkah is lovely and meaningful – but unfortunately it is not true. It is a well-known myth.
Dov Peretz Elkins

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Julia Woehrlen

posted December 12, 2007 at 6:50 pm

It is a beautiful story and I hope you pass it on. Religious tolerance is only one piece of the peace puzzle. Thank you for sharing!

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The Rev. Dr. Francis E. Jeffery

posted December 12, 2007 at 11:30 pm

I knew of the Freemason activity of Gen. Washington. Hence, the incident of the Jewish soldier could and or would be true. It should be noted that there are two strains of Masonic activity, one protestant and the other Jewish. Therefore as a Freemason…..
Gen. Washington trooped the line and knew the condition of his troops, physically and spiritually.
He was a devout Anglican. Records indicate his prayer life as well as his Bible Study habits. His library reveals a recorded prayer book that he created which indicates a devout and sincere practice of his faith.
The selective reading by some of his critics — or anthing Christian — tab him as a Dieist. The definition of a Deist depends on who is doing the defining.
As always the “truth of history” depends on the recorder or the one doing the review of the writing.
I have my teaching degrees in U. S. History and World History. Plus I am the Chaplain Emeritus of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The Order is very much aware of the faith practice of Gen. Washington.
A visit to his camp site at Newbury, NY and to the National Archives would and will give an excellent overview of his religious practice.

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