In honor of Presidents’ Day on Monday, this week’s Shabbat Surfing brings you a sampling of fun facts about the Jews and the Racing Presidents.
George Washington wrote his famous letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island following his visit the state after its ratification of the Constitution. Citizens of Newport, including Congregation Yeshuat Israel of Touro Synagogue, greeted Washington and offered their support of his presidency. Washington’s famous reply not only thanked the Jews of Newport for their hospitality, but also reassured them of religious freedom.
In 1801, Thomas Jefferson appointed the first Jew to a federal post when he appointed Reuben Etting as United States Marshal for Maryland. Etting’s appointment is also significant because at the time, Jews were unable to hold elected office in Maryland due to a required oath of Christianity.
Abraham Lincoln was in office when rabbis were first able to serve as chaplains in the United States Army. Lincoln’s original chaplaincy bill stipulated that chaplains must be “regularly ordained clergyman of some Christian denomination” was replaced by its amended version that a chaplain must be a “minister of some religious denomination” in 1862.
Teddy Roosevelt really won when he appointed Oscar S. Straus to his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce and Labor. According to the 1906 New York Times article regarding his appointment, Straus “will be the first Jew ever appointed to a Cabinet position by a President of the United States. Judah P. Benjamin was in the Confederate Cabinet under President Davis.”