When Lincoln Died on Passover

How seeing Lincoln's death through Jewish eyes can help us rededicate ourselves to the principles for which he stood.

As America prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death on April 15, fresh insight into the events that occurred a century and a half ago can be gleaned by seeing that entire week through the eyes of America’s Jews, and especially of those Jews who attended America’s oldest and most historically distinguished congregation. 

On Sunday, April 9, 1865, Generals Grant and Lee met in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Lee surrendered, and the Civil War came to an end, with 360,000 Union and 260,000 Confederate soldiers dead. The news broke all over the United States on April 10, which, in the Hebrew calendar, was the morning before the eight-day holiday of Passover was to begin. We can imagine the elegant symmetry that those Jews sympathetic to the Union cause saw in the advent of their Festival of Freedom, commemorating the Israelite exodus from slavery, coinciding with the Confederacy’s defeat. Thinking of their own relatives, who like other Americans had fought, bled, and died for several terrible years, we can imagine their finding a double meaning at their Seder tables that Monday evening, as they uttered the immortal words of the Haggadah: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” 

It was four days later, on Friday evening, when the president ventured out into a joyful, festive Washington for an evening at Ford’s Theatre, that he was shot. Carried to a boarding house across the street, Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on Saturday. It is often told that all those crowded around his deathbed turned to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who said simply, “Now he belongs to the ages.” As the writer Adam Gopnik has noted, these words are the best-known epitaph in American history, and probably the finest: “They seem perfectly chosen, in their bare and stoical evocation of a Lincoln who belongs to history alone, their invocation not of an assumption to an afterlife but of a long reign in the corridors of time, a man now part of eternity.” 

Continue reading at the Washington Examiner.

Seeing Lincoln's death through Jewish eyes.

Seeing Lincoln's death through Jewish eyes.