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Sheftall

SHEFTALL

SHEFTALL , U.S. family among the original (1733) Jewish settlers of *Savannah, Georgia. benjamin sheftall (1692–1765), who was born in Prussia, was active in the establishment in 1735 of Congregation Mikveh Israel, which he seems to have served as shammash and shohet. He had two sons, Mordecai (by his first wife Perla) and Levi (by his second wife Hannah Solomons). Benjamin kept the congregation's vital records, which were continued by his son Levi. Benjamin served as interpreter and supplier to a Georgia community of Lutherans from Salzburg. In 1748 he sent to England for tefillin and prayer books for Mordecai's bar mitzvah, the first recorded observance of this rite in America. Two years later, Benjamin was naturalized at Charleston, South Carolina. That same year, he joined a group of Christians in creating Georgia's first philanthropic organization, the St. George (later Union) Society, to assist widows and orphans. Benjamin was a modest landowner and small-time merchant when he died.

mordecai sheftall (1735–1797) enlarged his father's mercantile enterprises and land holdings. He aided in the reorganization of Mikveh Israel in 1774 and functioned as a mohel. Supporting the American revolutionary cause, he became chairman of his parish committee, which seized British imports and records. He subsequently served as a colonel in the Georgia brigade and as commissary general of purchases and issues to the state militia. He and his son Sheftall were captured, paroled, recaptured, shipped to Antigua, and paroled again, whereupon they made their way to Philadelphia. Mordecai took an active role in the building of that city's synagogue in 1782. He tried privateering, purchasing a ship with the small amounts Congress paid on its indebtedness to him. The end of the war brought him to Savannah, where he remained. One of his sons, sheftall (1762–1847), became an attorney in Savannah, while another, moses (1769–1835), was a Savannah physician trained by Benjamin Rush.

levi sheftall (1739–1809), second son of Benjamin, became a butcher. He joined his brother Mordecai in the revolutionary cause but was accused of Tory sympathies for carrying on trade in British-occupied Savannah. After living for several years in Charleston, he returned to Savannah and helped reestablish Mikveh Israel. He was its president by 1789, when he wrote a congratulatory letter to George *Washington. He served as U.S. agent, and agent for fortifications, at Savannah until his death.

bibliography:

M.H. Stern, in: ajhsq, 52 (1962/63), 169–99; 54 (1964/65), 243–77; J.R. Marcus, Early American Jewry, 2 (1953), passim.

[Malcolm H. Stern]

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