Theodore Roosevelt and the Jewish Community
July 11, 2011
Issue: 12.05
this is column number 3
e-mail me e-mail Nathan
Good old reliable...

This year marks the 110th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt becoming President in 1901, following the assassination of President William McKinley. Roosevelt was sworn in as President on September 14, 1901. Roosevelt was a good friend and strong supporter of the Jewish community.

As a child in New York City, Roosevelt lived near, and got to know, several Jewish immigrants. Roosevelt visited Palestine during a trip to the Middle East in the 1870s. As New York City police commissioner from 1895 to 1897, Roosevelt allowed Jews to join the police force, which had not been done previously. Additionally, during the Spanish-American War in 1898, there were Jews who served under Roosevelt in the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, popularly known as, "the Rough Riders." Examples include Jacob Wilbusky, a Jewish teenager who was the first Rough Rider to be killed.

During Roosevelt's presidency, his Secretary of State, John Hay, protested the treatment of the Jewish community of Romania in a message to the Romanian government, in 1902. President Roosevelt himself protested the Kishnev Massacre, in a message to Czar Nicholas II in 1903.The following year in 1904, President Roosevelt instructed that Jewish members of the U.S. military are to be allowed, " be absent for attendance at services on the Jewish holy days." Additionally, Roosevelt wrote a letter commemorating the 250th anniversary of American Jewish life.

Roosevelt was also the first U.S. President to appoint a Jewish Cabinet member. Oscar Straus was appointed to the position of Secretary of Commerce and Labor, in 1906. Another interesting detail is that a Jewish couple, Morris and Rose Michtom, who had immigrated to the United States from Russia, began selling teddy bears, which Rose Michtom named in honor of then-President Theodore Roosevelt.

I am particularly moved by Roosevelt's actions of support for the Jewish community because my great-grandparents, on both sides of my family, were Jewish immigrants from Russia in the early 20th century. In my opinion, an observation Roosevelt made to Oscar Straus with regards to Straus' appointment, "I want to show Russia and some other countries, what we think of Jews in this country" highlights that a free society such as the United States is priceless and is something that we should never take for granted.

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