Marker tells story of Passover seder in Hayes’ camp regiment

Press Staff Writer

        As the annual Jewish holiday of Passover approached, Union Army Private Joseph Joel was stationed with his regiment in the hills of West Virginia and missing his home and family.
        Joel, 19, of Cleveland, and other Jewish members of the 23rdOhio Volunteer Infantry knew they wouldn’t be home for the weeklong holiday celebrating the Jews’ deliverance from Egypt, but they still wanted to observe it.               After some discussion, the group agreed that Joel should ask their colonel, future President Rutherford B. Hayes, if they could temporarily be relieved of their duties to have a traditional Passover seder meal. Hayes agreed.
        On April 3, 1862, the men enjoyed a seder that included lamb, Matzo bread obtained by the camp sutler while he was in Cincinnati, cider, eggs and other items the soldiers gathered. The evening included prayers, Hebrew readings and the fellowship.
        “In the midst of our nation’s darkest hour, these soldiers came together, enabled by the larger community, and in doing so, they offered peace and hope to a nation at war,” said Drew Gruber, executive director of Civil War Trails, an organization that links Civil War sites and shares their history.
        One hundred sixty-one years later, Civil War Trails will unveil an interpretive historical marker where the seder took place in Fayetteville, West Virginia. The dedication will be held April 3 at 11 a.m. at the Love Hope Center for the Arts, 100 Rotan St., Fayetteville.
        Meghan Wonderly-Kolbe, annual giving and membership coordinator at the Hayes Presidential Library & Museums, will attend the ceremony on behalf of Hayes Presidential.
        The marker is the result of years of hard work and research by several organizations: Temple Beth El in Beckley, West Virginia; Love Hope Center for the Arts and New River Gorge Convention and Visitors Bureau in Oak Hill, West Virginia.
        Julie Mayle, curator of manuscripts at the HPLM, assisted the researchers by providing materials from Hayes Presidential’s collections.
        “It has been wonderful working with the Civil War Trails organization to help illustrate a more complete history of this important event,” Mayle said.
        During her research, she found that Hayes and Joel shared a friendship for nearly three decades. Hayes would acknowledge that friendship in his correspondence to Joel, closing one letter: ‘I shall always cherish you as one of the true friends, and shall be interested in whatever befalls you.’”
        Years later, Joel named his firstborn son after the president, calling him Rutherford B. Hayes Joel.
        Although the 23rd’s seder took place more than 160 years ago, the story still resonates today.
        Joseph Golden, secretary of the Temple Beth El congregation, reads from the soldiers’ diaries during the temple’s own Passover celebrations and has also researched the story of the 1862 Seder.
        “Commemorating this Passover Seder celebrated by 20 Jewish Union soldiers has importance to the Jewish community in Fayette and Raleigh counties,” he said. “Although we are a minority, and they were a minority in the Union Army, they were and we are part and parcel of the diverse fabric that make up this nation of ours.”
        For information about the marker, call Civil War Trails at 757-378-5462. Visitors to the area are invited to snap a selfie with the new sign and check in @lovehopearts, #civilwartrails, #signselfie, #gogorge.
        For travel information, visit
Jason Shaffer, operations director for Civil War Trails, Inc. installs the ‘trailblazer’ sign, which helps travelers find each location. (Photo courtesy of Civil War Trails, Inc.)


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