The family of old Manuel da Garcia, the wealthy merchant from Oporto, Portugal, was very happy when they finally arrived in their new home in the State of Georgia. It was a beautiful estate they had purchased with their very last jewels while still in Amsterdam.

They were fortunate, for everything else they had had been lost to pirates who boarded their ship only hours out of the secret port where they had hidden.

Their summer villa had been ravaged by agents of the Inquisition, who had made the Garcias' servants believe they were bringing the belongings to a safe hideout. But the torture of the brutal pirates could not force old Manuel, his brother Noah, their wives and children to betray the secret of their last treasures.

The silver mezuzot, and the jewels which Noah's wife Donna Denah had so cleverly sewn into the stitched hems of the ladies' petticoats, would never be spotted by the greedy bandits. The pirates ripped Don Manuel's tefillin open and snatched Donna Marima's silver candelabra. But when they found nothing of value inside, their rude search came to an end.

Surely their booty was rich enough! They needn't bother any further. The da Garcias were grateful that at least they would not have to start at the very bottom, as had so many less fortunate friends and relatives.

Half of their precious stones paid the Dutch governor for permission to land. The rest paid for the estate, far to the south of New Amsterdam. Within days, the da Garcias had built two wooden huts large enough to accommodate the two families.

They hoped, with the help of the Lord, to soon build regular stone houses, even if they would be a far cry from the elegant marble front villas of their old homes in the suburb of Oporto.

It was all very exciting, the planting of the soil, the fencing of the garden, and the setting of bushes and trees. There was not enough money left over to hire many hands, so the entire family pitched in.

They tackled chores they had not been accustomed to do. They were so anxious to rebuild their lives that they did not mind the hardships and privation of beginning anew. Remembering the sad fate of friends who did not survive the tortures, persecution and strains of their long and perilous flight, the da Garcias happily took their present hardships in stride.

They were deeply grateful to the Lord that they had been given a new chance to rebuild their homes and future in this new land, so far from Oporto.

Only one thing bothered old Manuel and his brother Noah. They and their four grown sons had no congregation to attend. Even their closest Jewish neighbor, a doctor from Salamanca, lived several days' journey from their land.

Very soon after they had built up their estate and houses, they dispatched a letter to the distinguished scholar, Rabbi David Seixas, in New Amsterdam, asking him to send a capable young scholar to Georgia to study with them, and to teach their young children.

They would allot the Torah scholar a small piece of their large estate in payment for his valuable services.

After a few weeks they received an urgent message from Rabbi Seixas. Could they help a group of Jews from Holland who had arrived in the harbor of New Amsterdam, unable to debark, as they had no money left to pay the landing fee? At once Manuel da Garcia replied.

"Have the boat sent southward to Georgia."

He would take care of the Jewish travelers and all their needs. Manuel, Noah and their sons immediately set to work. They built huts for the seven families. Within months they had a minyan on their very own plantation, which they called Shalom (Peace), for that was what they wanted most.

They wanted peace to live, to work and serve the Lord as faithful Jews in the new land, just as they had in their old home.

Ironically it was their observance of the sacred traditions that was to cause them fear and terror not unlike their experience with the Inquisition and the pirates. And this even before they could settle down to a peaceful life in Shalom.

After consulting with the leaders of Mikveh Israel, the nearest Jewish congregation in Savannah, the da Garcias prepared for the first Passover in their new home. They baked their own matza; bitter herbs were plentiful in their gardens.

And from Savannah they purchased several bottles of precious wine that had been prepared under the supervision of one of Rabbi Seixas's associates. One of the men of the seven families from Holland was a shochet: he was qualified to slaughter animals according to the precepts of the Torah. As far as anyone could foresee, they would be ready for the celebration of the first Passover on Shalom in freedom and peace.

But Divine Providence determined otherwise. One of their field hands, an old man, took ill with severe cramps on the eve of Passover. Like wildfire a rumor spread that the Spanish Jews (as they were called by their neighbors) were poisoning their gentile workers as part of the Passover ritual.

At once the plantation workers fled to the surrounding estates, spreading tall tales regarding the bizarre preparations of the Jews for their celebrations that very night.

Troubled, but steadfast in their faith, the da Garcia family and their new friends conducted their Passover service in full glory. They sat down at the long white tables made for the main hall in order to celebrate the seder together.

Though there were few of the elegant and luxurious furnishings such as had decorated their old homes in Spain and Portugal, these Jewish families were proud of the simple wooden, earthenware and brass utensils that now took the place of their silver and gold and fine china. The children had made a large seder plate out of wood and covered it with an old piece of red velvet.

The seven families who had joined the da Garcias had salvaged two of their prayer books and a Haggadah, of which the men had made rough copies. Everyone contributed something to make this first communal seder a special and a memorable occasion.

As Don Manuel da Garcia rose for the kiddush, the strange sounds of drums, the beating of many feet and savage shouts approached from afar.

"Remain calm, my dear ones," assured Manuel, "the Lord who has helped us thus far will surely not forsake us now."

But he himself turned a sickly pale when torches began flashing through the dark evening and the noise came ever closer.

"Kill the murderers."

"Get rid of the vermin."

"Hang them all, before they murder us," shouted the large mob as the Jewish men rushed out to see what they could do.

"Will there never be an end to this constant terror and fright?" cried Donna Marima. "Even here, after a flight half way around the world, they come to spoil our seder with ghastly accusations."

But a look from her husband helped still her fears. She must take charge of the women and children, who had huddled fearfully in the corner of the main hall.

"Friends, neighbors, please listen to reason!" shouted Don Manuel, as the mob approached, led by a huge dark-skinned giant of a man.

"We Jews have done nothing wrong. We are happy to be free and to live peacefully. Do not accuse us of a crime which our faith forbids, and which we would abhor. The servant's disease has nothing to do with the harmless celebration of our ancient Passover feast.

You are all invited to join us and see for yourselves that tonight we celebrate liberty and freedom for all of mankind."

"Shut him up! He wants to poison us all," shouted the giant, who Manuel recognized as "Big Jim," a brute known for his lawlessness and the evil treatment of his slaves. "Burn the place, kill the rats, all of them, smoke them out!"

He flung his big torch through the air. With hoarse shouts, the mob pressed forward, tearing down fences, bushes and small trees, as they surged forward to the main house. There Don Manuel and his men bravely stood, ready again to face death rather than forsake their precious faith. Big Jim rushed up the wooden steps to the porch, yelling, swinging his fire brand, ready to toss it into the house.

Don Manuel stepped forward and met the big brute face to face. For a fraction of a second the giant bully stopped, awed by the power and nobility of Don Manuel da Garcia, dressed in the traditional white garb for the seder. But the mob was pushing on, and their blood curdling cries encouraged Big Jim to push the old Jew aside.

At that very instant loud trumpet calls sounded through the night. Within seconds, a troop of uniformed men rode through the mob.

"Make room for the governor," shouted the officer in charge. Respectfully the large crowd pressed back to allow the tall, stately man through. The governor's keen eyes seemed to take in all there was to be seen. His very voice commanded respect.

James Edward Oglethorpe knew much about the vicious persecution of the Jews. In fact he had made it possible for many groups, victimized by the Inquisition, to set sail and start life anew in the southern American colonies.

"Throw aside your torches!" he commanded. Not a single man in the mob would dare to contradict Oglethorpe. "Since when do we in the free colony of Georgia persecute others for observing their religious faith?"

Only Big Jim, trying to maintain his defiance, stepped forward. He blurted, "The Jews poisoned one of their field hands to use his blood for their ritual celebration tonight!"

"How do you happen to know that?" asked the governor of the Georgia colony sternly.

"Why, everyone around here knows it. They saw the worker rolling on the floor, screaming of pain from the cramps, before he passed out. It is well known that the Jews use blood for their Passover feast," Big Jim responded.

"It is an old lie!" thundered the wise official. "Here in this country everyone is free to believe and practice his religion as he desires, and as he has inherited from his forefathers.

Mind you, no one will interfere so long as I am the head of this colony, and as long as the founders of our new nation remember why we have all come here! But big Jim was not one to yield so easily.

"But what about the worker who was poisoned today on the plantation, is that also a lie, Governor?"

"How do you know that he died? And how many slaves have died on your own plantation, by your own hand?"

That very moment the old "dead" man stepped forward. "Governor, it was I who suffered the cramps this morning. But they are all gone now, and I know where they came from. I ate something I should not have eaten.

But this Big Jim here has killed my brother with his whip, and a number of his other workers as well. Believe me I'd rather stay here on this plantation with these kind people, than with him!"

This turn of events ended Big Jim's bravado. He disappeared out of sight just as quickly as his huge hulk of a body could carry him. And with him went all those who had gathered to join in the burning, looting and killing of the new Jewish settlers of Shalom.

Old Manuel da Garcia thanked the kind governor in the name of his family. He invited Ogelthorpe to partake in the traditional seder meal.

"Your Honor, see for yourself that our ancient rituals symbolize the purest and highest ideals of liberty, freedom and faith in the Almighty Creator of the Universe."

"My good man," replied James Ogelthorpe, who had won the love of his colony's people by pursuing justice and fairness for all, "you need not convince me of your righteousness and the purity of your faith. I only wish I had the time to stay and celebrate your holiday with you.

But Divine Providence has seen fit to have me pass your plantation just this evening as I was returning to Savanna from an important mission. There is still urgent business waiting for me. So, go on and celebrate your feast in the proper spirit. Keep your faith, obey its commandments, and continue to work with all of us for the betterment of mankind."

Everyone who witnessed this scene broke out in thunderous applause as the Governor of Georgia rode off into the distance.

Samuel da Garcia, his dear family, and their new guests and associates returned to the seder table, grateful and happier than ever before. The unexpected threat to their peace had been averted by the grace of the kind Lord.

It was a mighty chorus of both young and old who sang the traditional melody of Vehi she'amda laavotenu. Its words reaffirmed the family's own experience that Divine Providence guards and protects the Jewish people from the threats of destruction at all times and in all places.

Note: this story is a work of fiction