Presidential Firsts

Presidential Firsts

From the Internet…..

GEORGE WASHINGTON was the FIRST President to write to a synagogue. In
1790 he addressed separate letters to the Touro Synagogue in Newport,
RI, to Mikveh Israel Congregation in Savannah, GA, and a joint letter
to Congregation Beth Shalom, Richmond, VA, Mikveh Israel Philadelphia,
Beth Elohim, Charleston, S. C., and Shearith Israel, New York. His
letters are an eloquent expression and hope for religious harmony and
endure as indelible statements of the most fundamental tenets of
American democracy.

THOMAS JEFFERSON was the FIRST President to appoint a Jew to a Federal
post. In 1801 he named Reuben Etting of Baltimore as US Marshall for

JAMES MADISON was the FIRST President to appoint a Jew to a diplomatic
post. He sent Mordecai M. Noah to Tunis from 1813 to 1816.

MARTIN VAN BUREN was the FIRST President to order an American consul
to intervene on behalf of Jews abroad. In 1840 he instructed the U.S.
consul in Alexandria, Egypt to use his good offices to protect the
Jews of Damascus who were under attack because of a false blood ritual

JOHN TYLER was the FIRST President to nominate a U.S. consul to
Palestine. Warder Cresson, a Quaker convert to Judaism who established
a pioneer Zionist colony, received the appointment in 1844.

FRANKLIN PIERCE was the FIRST and probably the only President whose
name appears on the charter of a synagogue. Pierce signed the A ct of
Congress in 1857 that amended the laws of the District of Columbia to
enable the incorporation of the city’s FIRST synagogue, the Washington
Hebrew Congregation.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN was the FIRST President to make it possible for rabbis
to serve as military chaplains. He did this by signing the 1862 Act of
Congress which changed the law that had previously barred all but
Christian clergymen from the captaincy. Lincoln was also the FIRST,
and happily the only President who was called upon to revoke an
official act of anti-Semitism by the U.S. government. It was Lincoln
who canceled General Ulysses S Grant’s “Order No. 11” expelling all
Jews from Tennessee from the district controlled by his armies during
the Civil War. Grant always denied personal responsibility for this
act attributing it to his subordinate.

ULYSSES S. GRANT was the FIRST President to attend a synagogue service
while in office. When Adas Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. was
dedicated in 1874, Grant and all members of his Cabinet were present.

RUTHERFORD B. HAYES was the FIRST President to designate a Jewish
ambassador for the stated purpose of fighting anti-Semitism. In 1870,
he named Benjamin Peixotto Consul-General to Romania. Hays also was
the FIRST President to assure a civil service employee her right to
work for the Federal government and yet observe the Sabbath. He
ordered the employment of a Jewish woman who had been denied a
position in the Department of the Interior because of her refusal to
work on Saturday.

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

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 Israel staggering
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

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.

JAMES EARL CARTER successfully negotiated Israel’s FIRST-ever peace
treaty with an Arab country, the Camp David Peace Accord between
Israel, and her most dangerous enemy, Egypt, saving countless lives.
After 33 years, the treaty still holds.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH in 1985 as Vice President had played a personal role
in “Operation Joshua,” the airlift which brought 10,000 Jews out of
Ethiopia directly to resettlement in Israel. Then, again in 1991, when
Bush was President, American help played a critical role in “Operation
Solomon”, the escape of 14,000 more Ethiopian Jews. Most dramatically,
Bush got to the U.N. to revoke its 1975 “Zionism is Racism”

BILL CLINTON appointed more Jews to his cabinet than all of the
previous presidents combined and put Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen
Breyer, both 1st appointed to the federal bench by Jimmy Carter, on
the Supreme Court.

GEORGE W. BUSH was the first president to assemble the largest group
of Jewish neo-conservatives under one administration in US history.
They included Richard Perle, Chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy
Board, and Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, along with Under
Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Dov Zakheim, in addition to
Edward Luttwak and Paul Adelman and National Security Advisor Elliott
Abrams. The man who most Americans heard as the President’s spokesman
was Ari Fleisher. After 9/11, perhaps President Bush’s most important
Jewish appointment was Michael Chrtoff, US Secretary of Homeland
Security and co-author of the US Patriot Act. On a lighter note, Bush
was the first president to celebrate Chanukah in the White House
residence, which he repeated several years while in office.

BARAK OBAMA will certainly be remembered for successfully nominating
Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, making the high court the most
Jewish in American history, with three Jewish justices. He has also
surrounded himself with perhaps the largest inner-circle of close
Jewish advisors, including David Axelrod, former Senior Advisor to the
President, Rahm Emanuel as former Chief of Staff and now Sabbath
observant Jack Lew as the President’s new Chief of Staff. Although
catching serious flack from various segments of the American Jewish
community regarding statements he has made regarding the
Israel-Palestine peace process, it can be argued that no American
President has done more for Israel’s security, from the toughest Iran
sanctions legislation in history to thwart their nascent nuclear
weapons program, to directing funds for innovative Israel defense
systems, including Iron Dome, designed to shoot down new
Iranian-backed short range missiles being launched from the
Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. On a lighter note, starting in 2009,
Obama was the FIRST president to host a Passover seder in the White
House residence, marking perhaps the FIRST time that gefilte fish was
served on Presidential fine china, and it is a tradition which is now
in its third year, with Obama at the head of the table.

read more: