Rabbi Dr. David Dalin, a distinguished professor of history at Ave Maria University in Florida, spoke on Thursday, April 14, at the Jewish Community Center. During the event, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council, he spoke about the relations between American presidents and the Jews, dating from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama.
His presentation was scattershot and uneven while covering a great deal of history in the course of 45 minutes. He moved in random fashion from Bill Clinton who made the most Jewish appointees and garnered 80 percent of the Jewish vote in his two campaigns back to the beginning of significant Jewish connections with Abraham Lincoln, the first president to have important affiliations with Jews before and during his terms in office. He also described Judah Benjamin’s importance in Jefferson Davis’s term of office as president of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War 1861-65.
During the course of his presentation he mentioned the following Jewish connections:
- Oscar Strauss, owner of Macy’s Department Store and as Grover Cleveland’s ambassador to Turkey, introduced Cleveland and his family to matzah. The family love it so much that Strauss made a point of sending a case of the Passover staple to them every year.
- Woodrow Wilson appointed Louisvillian Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court.
- Franklin Roosevelt appointed Henry Morgenthau as the first Jewish Secretary of the Treasury
Harry S. Truman was the first executive of a country to recognize the state of Israel against the wishes of his wife, Bess, and Secretary of State George Marshall;
- John F. Kennedy appointed Arthur Goldberg to the Supreme Court;
- Barack Obama appointed Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court;
- Madeline Albright was selected as the first female Secretary of State by Bill Clinton Her mother was born Jewish but converted to Catholicism during World War II and she claimed she didn’t know about her roots until it was uncovered by a journalist during her tenure in that position.
The list goes on and on the seminal point of the presentation being that Jews have been a key factor in many presidential administrations since the time of Abraham Lincoln.
To supplement this interesting presentation it might be a good idea to read Gary Phillip Zola’s We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry which goes into fascinating detail about the origins of Jewish connections with American presidents and the mystical ties between the nation’s leaders and the Jewish community down through the years.