Wednesday, March 16, 2016

West Point

Last spring, the Jewish news media delightedly reported that Rachelle David was the first female graduate of an Orthodox Jewish High School to be accepted to West Point. It is a distinguishing feat, without question. It might surprise you to know, however, that the history of Jews at this elite military academy is as old as the institution itself. 

West Point, which sits on a promontory overlooking an S-curve in the Hudson River, has been occupied by the American army since the Revolutionary War. On March 16, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed the Military Peace Establishment Act of 1802, which formally established the garrison as the United States Military Academy. In October of that same year, it graduated its first class, a class of two: Joseph Gardner Swift and Simeon Magruder Levy (1774 -1807). The first class of West Point was 50% Jewish!

Levy, who had distinguished himself in the Northwest Indian War in the 1790s, served as officer engineer, but his career was short-lived. Failing health forced the young soldier to resign his commission in 1805, and by March 1807, he had passed away.

Levy’s class may have had the highest percentage of graduating Jews, but there has been a consistent Jewish presence among the ranks since then. There have been over 900 Jewish graduates of the Academy and, since 1984, the campus features the strikingly elegant West Point Jewish Chapel.

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