Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Lincoln Was a Hero to Jewish Americans

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Lincoln Was a Hero to Jewish Americans

Article excerpt

In December 1862, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued General Orders No. 11, which expelled all Jews -- men, women and children -- from his military territory, which included parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky.

The orders were designed to stop illegal trade in the region, but the language didn't specify peddlers, and the result was that entire Jewish communities had 24 hours to leave the region.

"It is the only time in all of American history when the Jewish people were expelled from American soil," says Rabbi Gary P. Zola, executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati.

The orders prompted Cesar J. Kaskel, a Jewish merchant from Padukah, Ky., to petition President Abraham Lincoln to revoke the orders.

As the story, possibly apocryphal, goes, Lincoln said to Kaskel, "And so the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?" to which Kaskel replied, "Yes, and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham's bosom, asking for protection."

Lincoln's swift response, along with an 1861 appointment of the first rabbi to Army chaplaincy, made Lincoln a hero among Jews.

"The Jewish community, you can imagine, is very much won over by Lincoln's actions," said Zola, who has written a just-published book, "He Was Like One of Us!," (Southern Illinois Press) which details the relationship between Lincoln and American Jews. He will discuss his research at a free lecture March 30 at Temple Emanu-El.

The book came about as the result of Zola's appointment to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to mark the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. Zola had previously been chair of a Congressional commission that celebrated 350 years of American Jewish history.

"I'm sitting in meetings with various famous and prominent scholars, others distinguished and not so well known," said Zola. "I'm listening to all their thoughts about how to mark the bicentennial, and I'm thinking to myself, if you're going to join the club, you've got to participate! I'm thinking to myself, well, what can I do to help? Well, it's a natural. I happen to know from my Ph.D. work that there's a story about Lincoln and the Jews. …

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