The play “Fiddler on the Roof” recounts the story of Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe and Russia.
President Abraham Lincoln, shortly after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, met with Canadian Christian Zionist, Henry Wentworth Monk regarding the oppression of Russian and Turkish Jews. Lincoln showed sympathy for Henry Wentworth Monk’s plea of: “restoring them to their national home in Palestine.”
Lincoln noted this was “a noble dream and one shared by many Americans.”
On May 22, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant wrote to Congress: “In answer to a resolution of the House of Representatives … requesting me to join the Italian government in a protest against the intolerant and cruel treatment of the Jews in Romania, I transmit a report from the Secretary of State relative to the subject.”
President Chester A. Arthur had stated, Dec. 4, 1882: “Our long-established friendliness with Russia … has prompted me to proffer the earnest counsels of this Government that measures be adopted for suppressing the proscription which the Hebrew race in that country has lately suffered.”
In 1891, pogroms incited by Czar Alexander III provoked an outcry by many prominent Americans, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Speaker of the House.
Rev. William E. Blackstone and Cardinal James Gibbons presented a petition on behalf of the persecuted Jews of Russia to President Benjamin Harrison and Secretary of State James Blaine. The petition was signed by notable leaders, including John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Cyrus McCormick, the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, D.L. Moody, A.T. Pierson, Philip Schaff, and future president William McKinley.
The petition stated: “Why shall not the powers which under the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Serbia to the Serbians now give Palestine back to the Jews? … These provinces, as well as Romania, Montenegro, and Greece, were wrested from the Turks and given to their natural owners. Does not Israel as rightfully belong to the Jews? ”
Rev. William E. Blackstone’s petition, which he also sent to Queen Victoria and Czar Alexander III, continued: “We believe this is an appropriate time for all nations and especially the Christian nations of Europe to show kindness to Israel. A million of exiles, by their terrible suffering, are piteously appealing to our sympathy, justice, and humanity. Let us now restore to them the land of which they were so cruelly despoiled by our Roman ancestors.”
Rev. William E. Blackstone, who later corresponded with Theodor Herzl, called for the first international conference: “to consider the Israelite claim to Palestine as their ancient home, and to promote in any other just and proper way the alleviation of their suffering condition.”
President Benjamin Harrison wrote Dec. 9, 1891: “This government has found occasion to express … to the Government of the Czar its serious concern because of the harsh measures now being enforced against the Hebrews in Russia. … By the revival of anti-semitic laws, long in abeyance, great numbers of those unfortunate people have been constrained to abandon their homes and leave the Empire by reason of the impossibility of finding subsistence within the pale to which it is sought to confine them. …”
President Harrison continued: “The immigration of these people to the United States– many others countries being closed to them – is largely increasing. … It is estimated that over 1,000,000 will be forced from Russia within a few years. …”
Harrison went on: “The Hebrew is never a beggar; he has always kept the law – life by toil – often under severe and oppressive civil restrictions. … It is also true that no race, sect, or class has more fully cared for its own than the Hebrew race. …”
President Harrison concluded: “This consideration, as well as the suggestion of humanity, furnishes ample ground for the remonstrances which we have presented to Russia.”
On Dec. 2, 1895, President Grover Cleveland wrote to Congress: “Correspondence is on foot touching the practice of Russian consuls … to interrogate citizens as to their race and religious faith, and upon ascertainment thereof to deny to Jews authentication of passports of legal documents for use in Russia. … Such a proceeding imposes a disability … and … is an obnoxious invasion. … It has elicited fitting remonstrance.”
President Theodore Roosevelt addressed Congress, Dec. 6, 1904: “It is inevitable that such a nation should desire eagerly to give expression to its horror on an occasion like that of the massacre of the Jews in Kishenef.”
President Woodrow Wilson made a plea for aid to stricken Jewish people, Jan. 11, 1916: “Whereas in the various countries now engaged in war there are nine millions of Jews, the great majority of whom are destitute of food, shelter, and clothing … have been driven from their homes without warning, deprived of an opportunity to make provision for their most elementary wants, causing starvation, disease and untold suffering; and Whereas the people of the United States of America have learned with sorrow of this terrible plight of millions of human beings and have most generously responded to the cry for help. … Now, Therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States … do appoint and proclaim January 27, 1916, as a day upon which the people of the United States may make such contributions as they feel disposed for the aid of the stricken Jewish people.”
On Aug. 21, 1922, President Warren G. Harding gave a greeting to Jews in their year Tishri 5683 (The Jewish Forum: The Leading Jewish Monthly in English, Sept. 1922): “The commemoration of this year of Rosh Hashannah, the New Year day of the Jewish people, will mark the end of a year peculiarly notable in Jewish annals. It has seemed the definite assurances to the Jewish people that their long aspiration for re-establishment of Jewish nationality in the homeland of this great people is to be definitely realized. This is an event of notable significance not only to the Jewish people but to their friends and well-wishers everywhere, among whom the American nation has always been proud and numbered. (signed) Warren G. Harding.”
Will and Ariel Durant wrote in “The Lessons of History” (1968): “Jews gave the Bible and Christianity to Europe, and much of the Koran to Mohammed.”
President Truman stated May 26, 1952: “I had faith in Israel before it was established, I have faith in it now. I believe it has a glorious future before it – not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”
President Harry S Truman answered questions at a News Conference of Aug. 16, 1945:
“Q. What was the American view on Palestine?
President: “The American view … is, we want to let as many of the Jews into Palestine as it is possible.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower stated: “Our forces saved the remnants of the Jewish people of Europe for a new life and a new hope in the reborn land of Israel. Along with all men of good will, I salute the young state and wish it well.”
President Dwight Eisenhower stated Feb. 20, 1957: “There can, of course, be no equating of a nation like Israel with that of the Soviet Union. The people of Israel, like those of the United States, are imbued with a religious faith and a sense of moral values … which unhappily we cannot expect from a nation controlled by atheistic despots.”
President Eisenhower remarked on the Jewish High Holy Days, Sept. 14, 1958: “The teaching of their ancient belief is filled with truth for the present day. … The health of our society depends upon a deep and abiding respect for the basic commandments of the God of Israel.”
President John F. Kennedy met with Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir. He addressed the Zionists of America Convention, Aug. 26, 1960: “Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.”
Kennedy stated May 8, 1963: “This nation from the time of President Woodrow Wilson, has established and continued a tradition of friendship with Israel because we are committed to all free societies that seek a path to peace and honor individual rights.”
President Lyndon Johnson remarked at the 125th anniversary meeting of B’nai B’rith (Children of the Covenant), Sept. 10, 1968: “The United States and Israel share many common objectives … chief of which is the building of a better world in which every nation can develop its resources and develop them in freedom and peace. Our society is illuminated by the spiritual insights of the Hebrew prophets. America and Israel have a common love of human freedom and they have a common faith in a democratic way of life. … Most if not all of you have very deep ties with the land and with the people of Israel, as I do, for my Christian faith sprang from yours. … The Bible stories are woven into my childhood memories as the gallant struggle of modern Jews to be free of persecution is also woven into our souls.”
President Richard Nixon stated: “The United States stands by its friends. Israel is one of its friends.”
Nixon remarked on a presidential trip to Israel, June 16, 1974: “Their courage, their tenacity, their firmness in the face of very great odds, is one that makes us proud to stand with Israel, as we have in the past in times of trouble, and now to work with Israel in a better time, a time that we trust will be a time of peace.”
President Nixon honored the President and Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel, Sept. 25, 1969: “Madam Prime Minister and our very distinguished guests this evening … This is the first time that in this administration we have had the honor to receive the head of government of another state who also is a woman. … We know that very capable women and strong women have played a remarkable and important part in that history. In Biblical terms, we remember Deborah, 3,000 years ago. The Bible tells us very little about Deborah, except that she loved her people and served them well … that there was peace in the land for 40 years. … When we think back on your people, a war every 10 years; when we think back on your people going back through the century, how they have suffered, we know how much the word ‘peace’ means. … We feel it because the people of Israel deserve peace. They have earned peace. … We simply want to say that we are very honored to have the Prime Minister … here in this room tonight. We are honored to pay tribute to a very brave and courageous people … I would like to ask you, in affirming that sentiment, to rise and raise your glasses with me to the Prime Minister.”
President Gerald Ford welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, Sept. 10, 1974: “The United States … has been proud of its association with the State of Israel. We shall continue to stand with Israel. We are committed to Israel’s survival and security. The United States for a quarter of a century has had an excellent relationship with the State of Israel.”
In his autobiography, “An American Life” (Simon & Schuster, 1990, p. 410), Ronald Reagan wrote: “I’ve believed many things in my life, but no conviction I’ve ever held has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel. The Holocaust, I believe, left America with a moral responsibility to ensure that what happened to the Jews under Hitler never happens again. We must not let if happen again. The civilized world owes a debt to the people who were the greatest victims of Hitler’s madness.”
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