Sunday, March 25, 2012

When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna

The great Civil War general according to his wife Julia issued an 'obnoxious' order expelling Jewish citizens from the general's war zone.  His general order no. 11 became an infamous rallying point for the American Jewish community to accuse U. S. Grant of prejudice against the Jewish people.  In Professor's Sarna's new book one reads a great narrative that rehabilitates Grant.  One sees that Grant overcame his blunder and went on appoint more Jewish people during his administration that ever before.

General Grant became frustrated with speculators and opportunists that exploited the changes in prices between the North and South.  Many of the those traders were Jewish merchants and the General banned the Jews as a "class" of people.  It was an outrageous charge, a generalization that could not possibly reflect the whole truth.

In reading this history, I was reminded of a theme mentioned by Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabbinovitz from his The History of the Jewish People, that Jewish heroism comes out of anonymity.  One anonymous Jew, named Cesar Kaskel, an immigrant from Germany dwelling in Paducah, Kentucky was issued the order having to leave the department within 48 hours.  Kaskel went straight to Washington DC to appeal to President Lincoln! He was not a famous rabbi or personality, only a simple person feeling the absolute injustice of the order.  The famous rabbi sees the president only later after the president rescinded the order.

This volume is a wonderful introduction to 19th century American Jewry where one is introduced to many major figures: Isaac M. Wise, Isaac Leeser, the Seligmann brothers, Simon Wolf and others.  We understand the empathy of Abraham Lincoln, moreover, we see Grant make great efforts to overcome his blunder and make long lasting relationships among the Jewish community.  The volume is a testament to this country's commitment to civil rights and liberties and how the Jewish people fit into its fabric.

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