The Rebel of Savannah
by Hayim Tawil, Chananya Weissman, and Mazal Mizrahi
Excerpt from Rabbi Saul Jacob Rubin, “Rebel Kvell,” Savannah Jewish News, June 2014, p. 5
The Savannah Jewish community is unique on many levels. Our history attracts not only visitors by the thousands, but notable novelists and authors as well. In the 1970s, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Kluger published Members of the Tribe, which received a sterling review in The New York Times. Kluger acknowledged the novel resulted from a visit to Temple Mickve Israel. Now comes a second significant work, The Rebel of Savannah. The primary author, Hawal Tawil, declares his inspiration was the result of a visit to the Temple Museum.
To cut to the chase, The Rebel of Savannah is worth your time and investment. Being a work of fiction it takes some liberties with the facts (example: Captain Hanson—whose vessel, The William and Sarah, was hired to transport the first Jews to Savannah—assumes a new identity after landing, stays in the area, and stirs up trouble). Tawil and company (the book is co- authored with Chananya Weissman and Mazal Mizrahi) rely heavily on the existing historical books about Savannah Jews for the most salient facts.
However the authors’ gift is the ability to flesh out the characters and make them fully human. One identifies with the central figures’ struggles, their triumphs, their pain and their joy. The writers’ ability to transform dry historical figures into three-dimensional people who one can easily picture on the big screen of the mind is a real art. After reading The Rebel, Benjamin Sheftall, Mordecai Sheftall, Abigail Minis, Sheftall Sheftall, Levi Sheftall, Frances Hart, et al. are alive and real. Like relatives you wish you had. Heroes and heroines all!
Reading about the Jewish participation in the American Revolution and the roles of Mordecai and Sheftall Sheftall stirred my soul. Mordecai was not only the chosen leader of the Liberty Boys, the Committee of Safety and the Parochial Council, but the sworn patriot willing to surrender life and fortune for American Independence. Severe suffering ensued for him and his family. But his conviction, born of Jewish teaching and commitment, allowed for no other response.
On the battlefield and in the dungeon he experienced what should never un- fold in human interaction. In the end, he could hold his head high, knowing that he behaved as a brave and honorable Jew. He advanced freedom and independence for Georgia and America. How proud all of us should feel to be the compatriots of this supreme Revolutionary hero!