Levy, Jonas Phillips

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LEVY, JONAS PHILLIPS (1807–1883), U.S. naval officer and communal leader. Levy, the brother of Uriah Phillips *Levy and the father of Jefferson Monroe *Levy, was born in Philadelphia. He took up a career in the U.S. Navy, reaching the rank of commander. Unlike his brother Uriah, he seems to have adapted well to naval life and encountered no recorded antisemitism. In 1847 he was commander of the steamer America, ferrying troops to and participating in the naval battle for Veracruz during the Mexican War. He was appointed captain of the captured city. Levy was active in Jewish life. His greatest contribution to progress in equal rights for Jews was in his work to rectify the disabilities imposed on Jews in Switzerland. When news of the U.S.-Swiss treaty drawn up in 1850 reached American Jews, Levy led the struggle to alter the treaty, writing letters and working with his friend, Senator Lewis Cass, to delete the provision disallowing equal rights of travel and settlement to Jewish nationals and non-nationals in Switzerland. When Levy moved to Washington, d.c., in 1852, there were about 25 Jewish men in the city, meeting haphazardly for services. Levy supported the movement for a permanent synagogue. Discovering that the local laws were ambiguous on the rights of Jews so to organize, Levy called on his political friends, and in 1855 an act of Congress gave full rights to the Washington Hebrew Congregation and other congregations to organize.


H.K. Meier, United States and Switzerland in the Nineteenth Century (1963), 33–38, 58–66; C. Adler, Jews in the Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (1906); C. Adler and A.M. Margalith, With Firmness in the Right: American Diplomatic Action Affecting Jews, 18401945 (1946); S. Stroock, in: ajhsp, 11 (1903), 7–11.

[Abram Kanof]