(1797 - 1880)
Penina Moise was one of the most prolific and creative
writers of poetry on Jewish themes in America. Her dedication and devotion
to Judaism was the driving force in her life and writing.
Her father was a Sephardic Jew who immigrated to the
West Indies from Alsace, France. He was a successful businessman who had to
flee with his wife to Charleston, South Carolina, when a slave insurrection
began in 1791. Penina was the sixth of nine children and she was born on
April 23, 1797, in Charleston.
Penina was twelve years old when her father died leaving
her with the major responsibility of managing the household as her mother
was very sick. Despite dropping out of school to take care of her mother
and family, she managed to find time to study and write.
When she was twelve years old, Penina had many of her
poems printed in Jewish and non-Jewish publications. She was the first Jew
to publish a book of poetry in the United States. Her reputation as a
writer became widely known. She was a favorite among the cultured Jews of
Penina became the superintendent of the first Jewish
religious school in Charleston. She wrote many poems for the children to
recite and composed songs for them to sing. All of her creations were of
the glories of Jewish history to help them be proud of their Jewish
heritage. Though her love of Judaism was profound, Penina recognized the
good in all religions. When a prominent Christian minister died, she was
asked to write a poem in his honor which was read at the funeral service.
Penina's sister and her daughter returned to Charleston
after a thirty year separation. Their joyous reunion was disrupted by the
Civil War. Her loyalty was with the South and she wrote poems to encourage
the soldiers as they went to battle.
It was at this time that she began to experience
problems with her sight and recurrent headaches. It was during this period
that she wrote some of her best hymns, rejoicing in God's mercy and
thanking him for his goodness. Many of these hymns are still sung in many
Jewish Sabbath Sunday Schools.
She was confined in her home for the last fifteen years
of her life where she and her sister conducted a Sunday school to support
themselves. When the children's classes were over, they would go to her
room to read to her and she in turn would tell them stories. Her courage
remained high after her sister died and she passed away when she was
Penina's later works were written in the form of hymns
on Jewish themes. Many of them are included in the collection of the Union
Hymnal used by many congregations including Temple Emanu-El in New York
Penina Moise was the first Jewish woman in America to
share her love of God with others through her poetry and hymns. She died on
September 13, 1880, and is buried in the Coming Street Cemetery in
Charleston, S.C. She has left a legacy to the people of America and she is
a role model for our children to emulate.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of
American heroism included in Jewish
Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish
Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of
Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and
published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.