Isaac Leeser (1806-1868) was such an influential figure that today there are few Jewish institutions in American life that cannot trace their beginnings to him. German-born Leeser was orphaned at an early age, emigrated to Virginia at age 18, and began his career at the pulpit of Philadelphia's congregation Mikveh Israel in 1829.
Leeser's most important contribution was as a publisher, translator and editor. He understood that books could provide American Jews with access to sources of Judaism, despite their distance from Jewish centers. His greatest accomplishment was the translation and publication in 1853 of the Holy Scriptures, which is considered the most important Jewish book published in the 19th century. In addition, he translated and published the first standard prayer books, Jewish liturgical music and sermonic literature. He established the American Jewish Publication Society and edited the first Jewish periodical, The Occident.
This salver, given by the Baltimore Sephardim congregation in 1857 was given in recognition of Reverend Leeser's role as the pioneer of Jewish literature in America.
Leesers boundless energy resulted in an astounding list of other accomplishments. He was an educator, serving as co-founder of the Hebrew Educational Society and the Hebrew Sunday School Society, for which he wrote the elementary texts. He was a defender of Jewish rights and the first promoter of Jewish religious union in the country. The first rabbinical seminary, Maimonides College, owes its beginnings to Leeser. Finally, Leeser was deeply involved in various philanthropies, including many in Philadelphia.
(See: Maxwell Whiteman, Isaac Leeser: Moulder of American Jewish Life, The JSP Bookmark, June 1956; Dedication of the Sephardim Synagogue, House of Israel, Baltimore, September 16, 1857.)
Isaac Leeser, courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, Massachusetts and New York, New York