Tuesday, November 8, 2016

USA: Presidents and Synagogues

USA: Presidents and Synagogues
by Samuel D. Gruber

Today is election day in the United States and you can be assured that whoever wins, there will one or more visits to synagogues during the next administration. This is a long tradition. President George Washington visited the Touro synagogue in Newport, RI, in 1781, but not for a Jewish service, but for a town meeting. 

In the United States, Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to attend a synagogue functioning as a house of worship (the dedication of Washington, D.C.'s  Adas Israel in 1876). Since then it has been customary for presidents to visit synagogues – either as part of their election campaigns or for important occasions when in office.

In the spirit of the day, I mention just a few such memorable moments. Readers can feel free to mention others.

At Adas Israel, Grant attended he three-hour dedication service on June 9, 1876, becoming the first president to attend a synagogue service  He also contributed $10 to the building fund. Read an account of Grant's visit to Adas Israel here.

In 1898 President William McKinley attended the cornerstone laying of Washington Hebrew Congregation at 8th & I Streets, NW.  then on April 20, 1900, President McKinley attended the Passover Sabbath evening service at the Congregation Bnai Jeshurun, in Paterson, NJ, built by his friend Nathan Bernert.

William Howard Taft visited Rodef Shalom in  Pittsburgh, PA in May 1909. (I've written about this earlier - read about it here).
In 1952, President Harry S. Truman laid the cornerstone of Washington Hebrew Congregation, which was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955. According to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, Eisenhower mused that it is incumbent upon his office that he should attend “such a great and significant event in the lives of one part of the great faiths that have made this country what it is, to pay his respects to that faith and to this event and to the people who have made it possible.” Read President Eisenhower’s entire dedication speech.

On Dec 28, 1963, Lyndon Johnson visited Agudas Achim (and his old friend Jim Novy) in  Austin, Texas, after having postponed an intended visit for the dedication during the same trip in which President Kennedy was assassinated

More recently, presidents make a point of visiting synagogues at home and abroad. George W. Bush visited the restoration of the Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg, Russia on May 27, 2002. In 2005, President  Bush toured the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue just prior to a major event celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in North America. Read President Bush’s remarks

In 2011, former President Bill Clinton visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for a wedding. Read about the visit in The Washington Post.

Barack Obama has been to shul at least three times during his administration. He visited the synagogue in Stockholm, Sweden, on Sept. 4, 2013. President Obama honored Raoul Wallenberg’s memory in his remarks at the Synagogue. Two months later attended a synagogue in Dallas.  Oboma spoke at Adas Israel in Cleveland Park (Washington, DC) n 2105, about the Iran nuclear deal.  Before the presidency, the Obama;s used to live across the street from Temple Isaiah in Chicago, and frequently attended events there.

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