PHILADELPHIA (NNS) -- A Jewish Navy officer dedicated a statue of Uriah Levy, a War of 1812 veteran and the first Jewish Sailor to attain the rank of commodore, in Levy's hometown of Philadelphia Dec. 17.
Rear Adm. Herman Shelanski, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 10, joined former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, statue financiers and event planners, and retired Capt. Gary Tabach, to dedicate the more-than-1,000-pound bronze statue.
"[Levy] is one of my favorite naval heroes, and I feel a real kinship to him," said Shelanski, a native of Wynnewood, Penn., a small town 10 miles from Philadelphia. "He and I have our ties to Philadelphia, our connection of proud Jewish heritage and our unified love of adventure and service in the Navy."
Levy was born in Philadelphia in 1792 and went to sea at the age of 10. He was appointed to the Navy by President James Madison in 1812, and served in the War of 1812 on the fast commerce raider USS Argus from which Levy was captured by Great Britain. After Levy's release, he took command of the U.S. Mediterranean Fleet.
"I think it's important for all of us to remember that our Navy is comprised of a diverse body of Sailors," said Shelanski. "It wasn't always easy for Jews and African Americans and other minority groups to be accepted, and so there were a lot of pioneers. Uriah Levy was one of those pioneers."
Levy overcame adversity based on his religion and went on to a prominent career, which showcases the importance of what America stands for, said Shelanski.
Levy also pioneered a different style of Navy leadership and worked to make flogging illegal, fighting "against a very traditional, staunch Navy that didn't want to change at the time," said Shelanski.
"How he changed the focus of Navy leadership to better care for Sailors is very relevant today," said Shelanski. "We are the beneficiaries of his bold actions."
"That was the inspiration for me when I was thinking of joining the Navy," said Shelanski. "He was an intelligent man, a master Sailor, fought in the War of 1812 and dedicated himself to his country. He didn't have to do that; he could have done a lot of other things in his life and yet he still made a career out of the Navy."
Levy also pioneered American historical preservation by purchasing Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in 1834 and refurbishing the property and home.
"He was one of the first to see the worthiness of our national historical sites," said Shelanski. "He was one of the great citizens of this country."
The statue of Levy depicts him standing atop a replica of the dome of Monticello while holding the congressional order outlawing flogging. It is located at a historic synagogue, the Congregation Mikveh Israel, founded in 1740, at the Independence Mall.
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