Boston is a city of traditions– Marathon Monday, Opening Day at Fenway, Lilac Sunday at the Arboretum, to name a few.

But there is perhaps no grander spectacle in our fair City on a Hill then the Esplanade on July 4. Picnics, fireworks, Storrow Drive closed down, and, of course, the 1812 Overture played by the Boston Pops at the Hatch Shell.

It gives me the chills to watch the performance every year. I love the rising crescendo of the music as the orchestra builds to the climax, and when the camera cuts to the cannon being fired over the Charles River.

But, American patriots, don’t get confused. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is NOT about the US-British War of 1812, it’s about the Russian defense of their homeland against Napoleon, which also took place that year.

With that being said, on this 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, we should commemorate the historical importance of the war.

Ask the average American about the War of 1812 and they will probably know very little about it. Some may know that “The Star Spangled Banner” was written at the shelling of Fort McHenry in 1814. Other than that, though, it is an event studied in high school American History classes and that’s about it.

Here’s a quick summary from The History Channel:

In the War of 1812, the United States took on the greatest naval power in the world, Great Britain, in a conflict that would have an immense impact on the young country’s future. Causes of the war included British attempts to restrict U.S. trade, the Royal Navy’s impressment of American seamen and America’s desire to expand its territory. The United States suffered many costly defeats at the hands of British, Canadian and Native American troops over the course of the War of 1812, including the capture and burning of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., in August 1814. Nonetheless, American troops were able to repulse British invasions in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans, boosting national confidence and fostering a new spirit of patriotism. The ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815, ended the war but left many of the most contentious questions unresolved. Nonetheless, many in the United States celebrated the War of 1812 as a “second war of independence,” beginning an era of partisan agreement and national pride.

But beyond that, here are two things that we should celebrate as Americans and as Jews from the War of 1812:

  • From American independence until the War of 1812, the state of Maryland explicitly required all citizens to make a Christian oath in order to hold office- a de facto exclusion of Jews from public service. Due to the documented heroism of Maryland Jewish soldiers in the War of 1812, in 1826, the “Jew Bill” was passed, removing the requirement and opening the door for two Jewish men to be elected to the Baltimore City Council.
  • Uriah Levy, the first Jewish commodore in the US Navy, played a major role in the War of 1812 before his capture by the British. Following the Treaty of Ghent, he rose to prominence in the Navy, and in 1834 bought Thomas Jefferson’sMonticello estate in order to preserve it for historical purposes.

Happy Fourth of July to you all.

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