Speaker talks about Truman and Thurman

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Rabbi Samuel Thurman, who served as spiritual leader of United Hebrew Congregation from 1914-1958, and who offered a benediction at his inauguration in 1949, had a longstanding friendship with former President Harry S Truman, which reinforced Truman’s historic decision to recognize the State of Israel only 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion issued its Declaration of Independence.

Sam Rushay, supervisory archivist at the Harry S Truman Library in Independence, Mo., spoke about Rabbi Thurman’s long friendship with Truman recently as the guest speaker at United Hebrew Congregation, where he spoke on the topic: “Truman and Israel: Inside the Decision.”

Rick Cornfeld, president of United Hebrew, welcomed Rushay to the special 60th anniversary celebration of Israel’s independence at the congregation, and thanked Mark Lebedun and Joel Barasch, co-chairs of the congregation’s Israel Committee for organizing the event. Several hundred people came to hear the presentation following Shabbat services.

Rushay, who received his Ph.D. in history at Ohio State University, has spent considerable time researching Truman’s decision to recognize Israel so soon after it declared its independence on May 14, 1948, and the Harry S Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo. had recently completed a special exhibit on Truman’s decision, which contained considerable information on the role of Rabbi Thurman’s longstanding friendship with Truman which began when the two were in leadership positions in the Missouri Masonic Order.

Truman and Rabbi Thurman often met both before, during and after Truman’s presidency, and their long friendship resulted in Rabbi Thurman being given the honor of being only the second rabbi in American history to be invited to offer a blessing at a Presidential Inaugural. “For a long time, it was believed that Rabbi Thurman was the first,” Rushay said. “Actually, President Washington invited a rabbi to take part in his first inaugural in 1789,” Rushay said. In the course of that benediction, Rabbi Thurman praised Truman’s decision to recognize Israel. Rushay pointed out that he began his professional archivist career at the Truman Library in 1993 as a staff archivist, and then worked for several years studying the Nixon White House tapes before returning to the Truman Library as supervisory archivist.

Rushay said, “Truman felt a deep and real sympathy for the Jewish people who had gone through the Holocaust and those who were confined to the displaced persons camps after World War II.”

A major role, perhaps one of the two most important which influenced Truman’s decision to recognize Israel, was the strongly pro-recognition stance of Clark M. Clifford, a former prominent St. Louis attorney, who was serving as a White House Counsel during Truman’s term. “Clifford reminded Truman that the British, who controlled Palestine under the League of Nations Mandate set to expire in May 1948, had promised the Zionist leadership that it favored the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine when it issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917.”

Rushay added, “A second great influence on Truman, who was self-taught in history, was related to texts in the Bible, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy in which it states that ‘the day will come’ when the Jews are returned to their land.”

As the deadline for the end of the British Mandate over Palestine approached, Rushay pointed out that Truman, while initially sympathetic with the Zionist cause, became “increasingly frustrated” with what he perceived to be continued pressure by American Jewish supporters of Zionism to recognize a Jewish State. Rushay pointed out an entry in a recently discovered Truman Diary from 1947, in which Truman expresses displeasure over a pleading by Henry Morganthau, who had served in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Cabinet, for Truman to intervene on behalf of the famous refugee ship Exodus. “He had no business calling me on this,” Truman noted, accusing American Jewish leaders of having no sense of political realities.

In addition to his own mounting frustration over pro-Zionist pressures, which caused Truman to order his staff not to allow any more calls or telegrams through on the subject, recognition of a Jewish State was strongly opposed by the U.S. State Department, then led by Secretary of State George C. Marshall, hero of World War II and author of the famous Marshall Plan. “Marshall and his colleagues at the State Department feared recognizing a Jewish State would anger the Arabs and threaten America’s oil supply from that part of the world,” Rushay said.

Things might have remained at an impasse, Rushay noted, if it had not been for the longstanding friendship between Truman and Eddie Jacobson, his partner in a failed men’s clothing store in Kansas City/Independence in the 1920s. “Their business failed and ended, but not their great friendship,” Rushay said. “Perhaps more than anyone Eddie Jacobson played the strongest role in Truman’s decision to recognize Israel,” Rushay said.

Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader who would later become president of Israel, had traveled to Washington hoping for an audience with Truman, who by then was refusing to schedule any more meetings on Israel.

“Eddie Jacobson pleaded with his friend, and Truman did agree to meet with Weizmann for a meeting which is believed to have been crucial in persuading Truman to go forward with the recognition.” In a film clip for a series of interviews with past Presidents that was completed in 1965, Truman himself recalled meeting with Jacobson and Weizmann at the same time, and Truman himself confirms how essential that meeting was in convincing him to go forward with the decision. Rushay described another meeting between Truman and Marshall, which was attended by both Marshall and Clark Clifford, much to the displeasure of Clifford. Marshall argued against recognition so as not to harm U.S. relations with the oil-rich Arab world, and Clifford argued in favor of recognition.

“Marshall accused Clifford of only thinking about the Jewish vote in the upcoming 1948 presidential elections, but in the end, while Marshall might have won Truman’s mind, Clifford won his heart.”

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