Monday, February 16, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt and the Jews

This year’s Presidents Day Treat presents a brief overview of the positive interactions of the 26th president and the Jewish people.

The record of President Theodore Roosevelt’s relationship with the Jewish community pre-dates his presidency. There is a unique story of note from the time when he served as the New York City police Commissioner: Rather than ban the speaking engagement of a noted anti-Semite, which Roosevelt felt would be a violation of the rights of free speech, he chose to show the man what he thought of discrimination by assigning him a security detail of Jewish policeman.

As president, Roosevelt is noted for his outspoken defense of the Jews of Russia. As details of the horrific Kishinev pogroms of 1903 became known, the American Jewish community rallied to support their Jewish brethren. They prepared a petition of protest and asked the President to present it to the Czar. When Roosevelt did so through diplomatic channels, he also added his own letter denouncing the pogrom.  While the Czar refused to receive the petition, Roosevelt’s letter was made public. It began: “I need not dwell upon a fact so patent as the widespread indignation with which the Americans heard of the dreadful outrages up on the Jews in Kishineff (sic).”

President Roosevelt also appointed the first Jew to a cabinet level position when, in 1906, he named Oscar Straus as United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor. (Straus’ brothers, Nathan and Isidor, owned Macys.)

Roosevelt also supported the concept of a Jewish state in Palestine. At the end of World War I, he stated that peace could only be real when the Armenians and the Arabs were given their independence “and the Jews given control of Palestine.”

Click here to read about the Jewish connection to President Roosevelt's Teddy Bear.

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