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Presidential Jewish Firsts in Honour of Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

From Roosevelt to Obama, Jews Have Always Played a Role in U.S. Politics

By: Leonard Carl
Published: November 27th, 2012 in News » World
Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln

Released on November 16th, 2012, Steven Spielberg’s latest epic, “Lincoln”, takes place as the Civil War continues to rage, and follows America's president as he struggles with the continuing carnage on the battlefield, while he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.

With an all-star cast that includes Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, as well as Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and more, “Lincoln” is already expected to see more than its share of Oscars.

In honour of Spielberg’s latest, Shalom Life has collected data on Presidential Jewish Firsts, with the help of Professor Sherman L. Cohn, Georgetown University Law Center.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT was the FIRST President to appoint a Jew to a presidential cabinet. In 1906 he named Oscar S. Straus Secretary of Commerce and Labor. Theodore Roosevelt was also the FIRST President to contribute his own funds to a Jewish cause. In 1919, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts while President to settle the Russo-Japanese War, Roosevelt contributed part of his prize to the National Jewish Welfare Board.

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT was the FIRST President to attend a Seder while in office. In 1912, when he visited Providence, RI, he participated in the family Seder of Colonel Harry Cutler, first president of the National Jewish Welfare Board, in the Cutler home on Glenham Street.

WOODROW WILSON was the FIRST President to nominate a Jew, Louis Dembitz Brandeis, to the United States Supreme Court. Standing firm against great pressure to withdraw the nomination, Wilson insisted that he knew no one better qualified by judicial temperament as well as legal and social understanding, confirmation was finally voted by the Senate on June 1, 1916. Wilson was also the FIRST President to publicly endorse a national Jewish philanthropic campaign. In a letter to Jacob Schiff, on November 22, 1917, Wilson called for wide support of the United Jewish Relief Campaign which was raising funds for European War relief.

WARREN HARDING was the FIRST President to sign a Joint Congressional Resolution endorsing the Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate supporting the establishment in Palestine of a national Jewish home for the Jewish people. The resolution was signed September 22, 1922.

CALVIN COOLIDGE was the FIRST President to participate in the dedication of a Jewish community institution that was not a house of worship. On May 3, 1925, he helped dedicate the cornerstone of the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community center.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT was the FIRST President to be given a Torah as a gift. He received a miniature Torah from Young Israel and another that had been rescued from a burning synagogue in Czechoslovakia. Both are now in the Roosevelt Memorial Library in Hyde Park. The Roosevelt administration's failure to expand the existing refuge quota system, ensured that large numbers of Jews would ultimately become some of the Holocaust's six million victims. Fifty-six years after Roosevelt's death, the arguments continue over Roosevelt's response to the Holocaust.

HARRY S TRUMAN, on May 14, 1948, just eleven minutes after Israel's proclamation of independence, was the FIRST head of a government to announce to the press that "the United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new state of Israel." Truman was also the FIRST U.S President to receive a president of Israel at the White House, Chaim Weizman, in 1948 and an Ambassador from Israel , Eliahu Elat in 1948. With Israelstaggering under the burdens of mass immigration in 1951-1952, President Truman obtained from Congress close to $140 million in loans and grants.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER was the FIRST President to participate in a coast-to-coast TV program sponsored by a Jewish organization. It was a network show in 1954 celebrating the 300th anniversary of the American Jewish community. On this occasion he said that it was one of the enduring satisfactions of his life that he was privileged to lead the forces of the free world which finally crushed the brutal regime in Germany, freeing the remnant of Jews for a new life and hope in Israel.

JOHN F. KENNEDY named two Jews to his cabinet - Abraham Ribicoff as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and Arthur Goldberg as Secretary of Labor. Kennedy was the only President for whom a national Jewish Award was named The annual peace award of the Synagogue Council of America was re-named the John F. Kennedy Peace Award after his assassination in 1963.

RICHARD M. NIXON appointed the US' FIRST Jewish Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. This President saved Israel from destruction with an emergency airlift of arms during the devastating Yom Kippur War of 1973. This decision forever changed America's strategic relationship with the State of Israel, as demonstrated by the punishing Arab Oil Embargo, in reaction to US support for Israel.

Related articles: President, United State, US, Jewish, Steven Spielberg, Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Day-Lewis, George Bush, Clinton, Kennedy, Coolidge, Roosevelt, Jewish, Israel
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