Monday, June 5, 2017

A Diplomat to Romania

In July 1944, it was announced that a new Liberty ship under construction was to be named for Benjamin Franklin Peixotto  (November 13, 1834 - September 18, 1890). The descendant of a distinguished Sephardi family - his grandfather was the cantor at New York’s Shearith Israel Synagogue and his father was a leading figure in medicine - Benjamin Franklin Peixotto  earned his own national distinction as a United States diplomat.

The Peixotto family moved several times from New York to Cleveland and back, and Benjamin Peixotto  remained in Cleveland upon reaching adulthood. His first career was in clothing retail, but he spent a great deal of his time and energy on Jewish communal work. In 1855, Peixotto  was a co-founder of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and, eight years later, he helped found the first Cleveland branch of Bnai Brith. Through his work with Bnai Brith, Peixotto was instrumental in the creation of the Jewish Orphan Asylum. He was elected Grand Sar (leader) of Bnai Brith when he was only 29. Peixotto was also a founder and superintendent of Congregation Tifereth Israel’s Sunday school.

During the 1860s, Piexotto became a friend of Stephen A. Douglas, under whom he studied law. In 1866, Peixotto left Cleveland to practice law in New York, then headed briefly to San Francisco before being appointed Consul General to Romania by President Grant.

Peixotto went to Romania with a Jewish agenda. In addition to his normal diplomatic responsibilities, he worked to better the situation of Romanian Jews, who had attained civil equality in name only and were greatly persecuted. He helped create a Bnai Brith-like organization, the Society of Zion, and played a critical role in the Berlin Congress of 1878, which granted Romania sovereignty.

Following a second diplomatic appointment, as consul in Lyons from 1877 until 1885, Peixotto returned to practicing law in New York and being heavily involved in Jewish organizational life until his passing in 1890.

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