The oldest tallit in America

The oldest tallit in America, originally owned by Abraham Isaacks (d. 1743)

I can’t believe I left this out of my profile of Abraham Isaacks.

In 2006 a beautiful silk prayer shawl, called a tallit, was donated to the American Jewish Historical Society in New York. It’s been authenticated as the oldest tallit in America, and one scholar makes the case that it may be the oldest in the world.

The first owner of the tallit was our ancestor Abraham Isaacks. On his death in 1743 he passed it on to his wife, Hannah Mears Isaacks, who in turn passed it on to their son Jacob Isaacks, a merchant in Newport, in 1745. Jacob Isaacks and his wife Rebecca (who was also part of the Mears family) had eight children, and passed the tallit on to their eldest daughter. 

In such fashion was the prayer shawl passed down through nine generations of the family, lovingly preserved, ending up in the care of a philosophy professor named Henry Alexander at the University of Oregon in Eugene. When he died at the age of 78, a younger cousin named Judith Shanks inherited the tallit and donated it to the historical society. 

The prayer shawl is more than just a beautiful and old religious object. It was witness to the four oldest congregations in North America, the birth of American Reform Judaism at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, and the Golden Ages of the historic Jewish communities in Newport and Charleston. It traveled a journey of thousands of miles and hundreds of years. In its final resting place, it has come home to be preserved in an archive just blocks from Abraham Isaacks’s final resting place.

These are the ten generations through which the tallit was likely passed:

1. Hannah Mears Isaacks of New York (? – 1745)

2. Jacob Isaacks (ca. 1718-1798) = Rebecca Mears (ca. 1738 -1802)

3. Hannah Isaacks (ca. 1762-1798) = Jacob Phillips (? – ca. 1830) of Newport, New York, West Indies

4. Rebecca Phillips (1792-1872) = Isaiah Moses (1772-1857) of Charleston

5. Hannah Moses (1809-1875) = Alexander H. Abrahams (1801-1871) of Charleston

6. Henrietta Abrahams (1832-1884) = Abraham Falk (1828-?)

7. Sarah Falk (1859-1938) = Isaiah Abrahams Solomons (1857-1909) of Savannah

8. Henry Aaron Alexander (1874-1967) (Nephew of Sarah Falk Solomons) = Manya Zelmanovna Klinitszkaya (Marian Kline)

9. Henry Aaron Alexander Jr. (1922-2000) = Patricia Schoen

10. Judith Shanks (Henry Aaron Alexander Jr.’s 1 st cousin, once removed; grandniece of Henry Aaron Alexander Sr.)

Abraham Isaacks is an ancestor of Lyman Colt Josephs.

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