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POEM AMERICA    


Though the Abba Hillel Silver archives have poems he wrote in 1910 and 1911 while an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati, only this poem, "America", probably composed in 1923, seems to have had much exposure.

This patriotic poem praises our nation and the brave immigrants who came here. Rabbi Silver may have written it as a way to push back at the growing anti-immigrant sentiment and increasingly restrictive immigration policies of the early 1920s. He too was an immigrant, having come here in 1902 as a boy of nine.

Its first two recitals were in 1923, within days of each other. The first was by Silver, on Thursday evening May 17 at the Statler Hotel. It ended his address at the annual dinner of the National Association of Purchasing Agents. Its second reading was by a young woman being confirmed at The Temple on East 55th Street and Central Avenue on Monday morning May 21.

How diligently The Temple staff - probably the rabbi's secretary - collected and saved his talks and writings, even in 1923. The Silver archives at the WRHS include his talk as typed and as it appeared in NAPA's magazine "The Purchasing Agent". We note that this is the only document we have seen in which Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver refers to himself as "Rabbi Abba Silver".

Arnold Berger  February 2019

 


Thursday evening May 17, 1923

That evening Rabbi Silver spoke at the dinner of the National Association of Purchasing Agents, held at the Statler Hotel. His talk "Organizing for Service" was published in the July 1923 issue of the NAPA magazine "The Purchasing Agent". It was a plea to "bring forth an economic condition which will bless every one and hurt no one." We show only the last page. The poem starts four lines from the bottom of the middle column: "God built a continent ...

 


Monday morning May 21, 1923

Confirmation services are held on Shavuot, which celebrates the receiving of the Law on Mount Sinai. In 1923 The Temple's service was held on Monday morning May 21. The weekly Jewish Independent newspaper reported on it on Friday May 25 but there was no room in the eight page issue for all the details. On page 7 of the June 1 issue we see the poem "America" being read by Jean Willner Roth.

The poem was also read in the confirmation services of 1924 and 1925. We have not searched for its inclusion in subsequent years.

 

AMERICA

We found the patriotic poem America in searches many years ago on several websites. It was on the website of the 2000 presidential campaign of Republican Pat Buchanan.
 

God built Him a continent of glory and filled it with treasures untold;
He carpeted it with soft-rolling plains, and columned it with thundering mountains;
He studded it with sweet-flowing fountains, and traced it with long-winding streams;
He planted it with deep-shadowed forests, and filled them with song.

Then He called unto a thousand peoples and summoned the bravest among them.
They came from the ends of the earth, each bearing a gift and a hope.
The glow of adventure was in their eyes, and in their hearts the glory of hope.

And out of the bounty of earth and the labor of men,
Out of the longing of hearts and the prayers of souls,
Out of the memory of ages and the hopes of the world;
God fashioned a nation in love, blessed it with a purpose sublime

                  A
nd called it AMERICA.


Searches of The Plain Dealer and our Jewish papers found no mention of the poem.

A recent web search found the copy shown below, with no mention of who had printed it.
A chronology of Silver's writings by Temple librarian Miriam Leikind in "In The Time of Harvest" shows "America" as first published in the New York Times on August 17, 1923.
 
We found it in the August 19th, 1923 Times, page XX10, titled A Definition of America by  Rabbi Abba Silver. A search on "God built a continent of glory" found it easily.
 


The form of "America" changed

As shown above, the first publication of America was as prose, not as a poem.

Remove from the N Y Times version the first paragraph and the first three sentences of the second paragraph. What remains is the poem, starting with "God built a continent of glory"

The poem changed words and some phrases. As examples: "God built a continent" became "God built Him a continent"; "pillared it" became "columned it"; and "the labor of men and the bounty of earth" became "the bounty of earth and the labor of men".

"America" and The Temple

Printed on a card shown at the left, "America" was found in the archives of The Temple - Tifereth Israel. About 4 x 7 inches, it could be mailed in a business envelope. We hope to learn when the cards were printed and how they were distributed.

 

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