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September 13: Penina Moise

September 13, 2013

hh0032sPenina Moise, author of Fancy’s Sketch Book, the first book published (1833) by a Jewish American woman, died at 83 in Charleston, South Carolina on this date in 1880. Moise was the daughter of a slave-owning family; her parents came to Charleston from St. Eustace in 1791, fleeing a slave insurrection. She became an active newspaper columnist and a very popular poet, who wrote poems to celebrate occasions as well as to express her sense of religious wonder. The Reform synagogue movement’s 1932 Union Hymnal contained thirteen of the 190 hymns that she wrote. She also became the superintendent of the first Jewish religious school in Charleston. When Moise’s synagogue, K. K. Beth Elohim, which burned in a fire in 1838, was rededicated in 1841, the choir sang an original ode she composed for the event. Moise’s eyesight deteriorated to near-blindness during the Civil War, and she spent her last fifteen years confined to her home. Despite this, she had a reputation throughout the United States.

“Five [poems in Fancy’s Sketch Book] are of Jewish interest, ‘The Hero of Gilead’, ‘Cain’, ‘Joseph’s Dream’ on biblical themes, and two on the contemporary American Jewish scene, ‘On the Death of My Preceptor Isaac Harby, Esq.’ and ‘To Persecuted Foreigners.’ Charleston newspaper editor Isaac Harby was the founder of the Reformed Society of American Israelites. The persecuted foreigners are her own people in the old world, whom she urges to come to the new, promising: ‘Oh, not as strangers shall your welcome be, Come to the homes and bosoms of the free.’ ”—Jewish Virtual Library