Sunday, March 11, 2012

When Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan Sarna

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Schocken (March 13, 2012)

Over the course of the last week, I spent time reading the recently published When Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan Sarna. The book deals with General Order No. 11, issued by General Ulysses S. Grant on December 17, 1862. This order, along with Grant's reputation of being a drunk, is one of the reasons why I, initially, had mixed views of Grant.

President Lincoln revoked the order as soon as he heard about it.

However, Sarna did a great job with this book. I no longer have that negative view of Grant, in spite of his leading the Union Army to victory during the Civil War. It's better than that now. Grant was a CHAMPION of human rights. He went as far as intervening in places like Russia and Romania after hearing how they treated Jewish people. He appointed more Jews to government positions than ANY OTHER PRESIDENT prior to his 1868 inauguration. For American Jews to be appointed to so many positions, it was groundbreaking. He was the first of any sitting or former president to visit Israel.

Grant, I imagine, was forever remorseful for issuing that order. It's no secret that many Jews wanted to vote against his candidacy in 1868. I'm not surprised. Not one bit at all. In all likelihood, I would have voted for him both times but only after I read where he was sorry for the order.

The 1868 election was the first one in which Jewish voters had no balance not only being an American but a Jewish-American no less.

When Grant died, his funeral was held on Shabbas. Rabbi Dr. Edward Benjamin Morris "Alphabet" Browne was the only Jewish person to serve as an honorary pallbearer for the funeral. He was on the conservative side of the reform movement. Instead of riding in the carriage, he walked the 7 miles to Grant's burial in Riverside, which was most definitely a slap in the face to the Reform movement wanting to do away with many Jewish laws at the time. It should come as no surprise though that Congregation Gates of Hope, the shul where he served as Rabbi, would later ditch the Reform movement for the Conservative movement in 1933. That shul is now the Park Avenye Synagogue.

Sarna's book is "a riveting account" of Grant's decision during the Civil War. The Brandeis professor did a marvelous job with looking into a glimpse of Grant's life and it's effect on Jewish-Americans.

Sarna will be visiting Louisville as a part of his book tour. His stop will be at 7 PM on Wednesday, April 25th at the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library.

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