I remember in my Yeshiva days reading about the great 18th Century scholar, Rabbi Yaakov Emden’s commentary that the continued existence of the Jewish people is a miracle as great or even greater than G-d’s splitting of the Red Sea. Miracles greater than at the time of the Exodus? No way.
Yet, if we carefully trace the winding path that led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, we are left with the conclusion that it was no less miraculous than baby Moses’ floating down the Nile to be saved by none the tyrant’s daughter.
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Today, many of us believe that miracles are inspirational fables of yesteryear. Too few of us believe that 3,500 years after Abraham there is still a master conductor who from time-to-time directs the symphony of Jewish destiny even if He refuses to take a bow.
Let us begin by examining one day in history.
On July 20, 1944, Adolf Hitler survives an assassination attempt. He goes on radio to tell the German people that his survival was proof that “fate has selected me for my mission.” In fact, that was Hitler’s last public speech he would ever deliver. Fearing for his safety, his aides never permitted him to speak in public again.
On that very same day, July 20, 1944, perhaps an even more shocking event occurs thousands of miles away in Chicago. The Democratic National Convention had gathered to re-nominate a Franklin D. Roosevelt for a fourth term. Because of wartime restrictions, the President could not accept the nomination in person. Instead, he arrived in San Diego by train where he delivered his acceptance speech to stand for reelection in November.
However, at that same time, a few months before the convention, Unbeknownst to the public, a few months earlier Roosevelt’s cardiologist, after an extensive evaluation, informs the President’s senior staff, that with good care Roosevelt might live another year at best. This dramatic development meant that FDR, would when choosing his running mate would also be choosing the next US president, with the world still engulfed in war.
Now let’s leave the convention for a moment and go back to November 2, 1917, when Lord Arthur Balfour stuns the world with the Balfour Declaration stating that the British government supports the establishment of the national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. 30 years later this declaration would be the legal instrument that facilitated the establishment of the State of Israel.
A few months later and a few hundred miles away in France, two young GIs who had only briefly known each other as teens, became fast friends, serving in the same US Army unit during World War I.
Returning home to Missouri a year later, they decide to go into business together. Their names were Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson.
Back to the 1944 Democratic National Convention.
Senator Harry Truman has no interest in seeking the vice presidency. He wasn’t on the president’s radar and hadn’t even seen Roosevelt in more than a year. In fact, in the lead-up to the convention, he writes a speech nominating Jimmy Byrnes for vice president of the United States.
Truman is understandably shocked when just before the convention an aide to the president tells him that Roosevelt had confided that “Truman is the right man” to run for vice president. He reluctantly agrees and informs Byrnes that he will be unable to nominate him. What he doesn’t know is that Roosevelt told the current vice president, Henry Wallace, “while I cannot say so in public, but I hope it will be the same old team.”
Truman is not at all surprised when the results of the first round of voting showing that, Henry Wallace, the well-known sitting vice president has a few hundred ballot lead over the little-known Truman, but not enough to clinch the nomination.
But then on the second ballot, there is an unexpected surge from all the state delegations, who suddenly coalesce behind Truman.
Remarkably, the man who did everything he could to run away from the vice presidential nomination, wins it by a landslide with 1031 delegates to 105 – defeating a sitting vice president of the United States.
Veteran Senator Alben Barkley, who had been to 11 conventions said he had never seen anything like this before in politics!
Just nine months later, on April 12, 1945, just as the president’s cardiologist predicted, Franklin Roosevelt dies, and Harry S. Truman becomes President of the United States.
Truman has little experience in foreign affairs and is almost totally dependent on his Secretary of State, Gen. George Marshall, who had played a major role in helping defeat the Nazis.
Marshall vehemently opposes the creation of a Jewish State, arguing such a move would be a major blunder, giving the Soviets-America’s adversary in the emerging Cold War – an edge in the Arab World and their oil. General Marshall backed a UN trusteeship, which would mean the end of any hopes for a Jewish State. Marshall tells Truman, “…if he declared statehood, he would resign as Secretary of State.”
Working diligently with Jewish leaders, Eddie Jacobson, Truman’s longtime partner in the haberdashery business intervenes seeks to sway the president to back statehood. But first, United Nations must be persuaded to vote for the partition of Palestine.
This happens on November 29, 1947, with the UN voting to partition Palestine into two states – one Jewish and one Arab. That Shabbat, the Torah reading in synagogues was Parashat Va’Yishlach which remarkably contain the verse- “Your name shall not be called Jacob but Israel shall be your name!” (Genesis 35:10).
But George Marshall’s State Department remained adamant that US recognition should be avoided. Alerted to developments in Washington, Eddie Jacobson urgently arrives at the White House on Saturday, March 13, 1948, and insists on seeing the president without an appointment. The President’s Chief of Staff warns him not to bring up Palestine.
Once in the Oval Office, Jacobson tells the President that Chaim Weitzman, despite being very ill, came to the US and waited in vain for a meeting- “but you won’t see him”. Emphasizing the importance of the moment, Jacobson chides Truman- ‘just like you have a hero in Andrew Jackson, whose statute you’ve placed in the Oval Office; Chaim Weitzman is my hero.’
The president looks up at his longtime partner and responds, “you win you baldheaded SOB. I will see him!”
So, on that Shabbat, the day Jacobson barged into the Oval Office uninvited, once again, another remarkable coincidence, in the weekly Torah reading It was Parshat Terumah, time for Truman to offer his Terumah “tithe” for the Jewish people. Indeed, that is just what he did.
Five days later, on March 18, Chaim Weitzman was ushered into the Oval Office and summarizes the situation in a follow-up letter to the president. He writes, “The choice for our people is between statehood and extermination. History and providence have placed this issue in your hands.”
Truman got the message. On April 11, 1948, Eddie Jacobson returns to the Oval Office where the President assures him that if a Jewish State is declared, Truman would recognize it.
So, it was on May 14, 1948, the two soldiers Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson, who reunited at the time when the Balfour Declaration was first declared, were now reunited again – chosen by the Almighty as messengers to help make that unforgettable day a reality.
Fortunate are we and our children and grandchildren that we live at a time in history where with our own eyes we have seen the fulfillment of this great miracle. Not only have we walked “on the mountaintops of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem” as our ancestors did before us and as our great grandchildren will do after us. Here, we are not only to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel, but to witness, thanks to President Trump, the opening of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish people forever.
So, you see, Rabbi Yaakov Emden was quite correct in predicting in the 18th Century that the future miracles of the Jewish people would be as astounding as the miracle of the Exodus!
The author is a rabbi, as well as founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.