Friday, October 5, 2007

Jews Who Rode Rough With Teddy

One of my biggest pet peeves is the idea that many Americans and the world has as Jews (Not including Israel) as not taking part in the military or being in the front lines. There is a long history beginning with the Revolutionary War as Jews being over represented per capita in the US military. Look for more posts on this later because right now I want to focus on the Jews who fought with Teddy Roosevelt as "Rough Riders". By the way he was the President Roosevelt that did more for the Jews and other minorities than his more famous Democratic nephew President FDR. If anything FDR was not a friend to the Jews and probably would not have let any Jewish immigrants in during the years leading up to the Holocaust had it not been for his wife Eleanor. So if you hear any liberals waxing poetic about the days of President FDR you might want want to make sure you have your Jewfacts in order. I guess that will also be a future post, on with the show..
From: Jews As American Soldiers By Julilan Batlan
Col. Theodore Roosevelt's Spanish-American War memoirs give special praise for the actions of a Jewish colonel in the Regular Army who served on the left flank of the Rough Riders. The first of the Rough Riders to be killed in action was Trooper Jacob Wilbusky, a Jewish cowboy from Texas. The first to fall in the attack on Manila was Jewish Sergeant Maurice Joost of California.

Taken from The American Jewish Historical Society website

Teddy Roosevelt, Jewish Avenger

In the 1890s, as Eastern European Jews poured into the tenements of New York’s Lower East Side, Chicago’s Maxwell Street area and similar neighborhoods of America’s cities, they faced great pressure from native-born Americans—most of whom were associated with the Republican Party—to abandon their ethnic loyalties and become "real Americans." Yet, when it was expedient, the Republicans—like the Democrats--were willing to appeal to Jewish voters on ethnic grounds. Today, we recognize that there is no conflict between being a proud Jew and a patriotic American. In the 1890’s, this fact was still contested ground.
In late October, 1899, the Lower East Side was flooded with handbills, printed in Yiddish, signed by "Jewish Members of the Republican State Committee." The flyers urged Jewish voters to cast their ballots for gubernatorial candidate Theodore Roosevelt, who the year before had led his Rough Riders in a courageous charge up San Juan Hill in Santiago, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War. The Rough Riders’ victory, combined with other American triumphs at sea and on land, led Spain to surrender her empire in Cuba and the Philippines.
The Yiddish flyers bore the title, "WHO TAKES REVENGE FOR US?" It’s opening sentence made the answer clear: "Every respectable citizen, every good American and every true Jew, must and will vote for the Republican gubernatorial candidate—Theodore Roosevelt." In the symbolic calculus of American ethno-religious politics, America’s victory over Spain was revenge for Spanish mistreatment of its Jews four centuries earlier, and candidate Roosevelt was the Jews’ leading avenger.
Roosevelt was an unlikely hero for Yiddish-speaking tenement dwellers. Descended from patrician Dutch colonial stock, Roosevelt was a wealthy, Harvard-educated outdoorsman. But American politics has a way of making interesting bedfellows. When Roosevelt campaigned for governor, the Republican party invoked the ghost of the fifteenth-century Spanish Inquisition to mobilize Jewish support for his candidacy.
The "Jewish Republicans" reminded (or educated) the Lower East side "greenhorns" that, during the Inquisition, Jews had been the victims of unjust persecution. "Our ancestors," the flyer noted, "were good and useful citizens."
They made rich Spain’s treasury; outfitted the ships which discovered America and gave Spain the power that made her a great nation. How did Spain reward them? Spain took away everything her Jews had, and she sent her Jews to the dungeons of the Inquisition and the fires of the auto da fe.
If this were not enough, the flyer reminded its Yiddish-speaking readers, Spain’s inquisitors pursued their Jewish victims to the New World--to Brazil, Mexico and especially Cuba—where, until the Spanish defeat in 1898, "there still rang in our ears the cries and screams of Spain’s brutality." When William McKinley, the Republican president, "gave the word that Spain should move out of the New World," Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt "worked day and night until he worked out all the plans for our navy" and then, "at his own, expense organized a Regiment of Rough Riders and went to the battle field to meet the foe. . . Under Roosevelt’s command there were many Jewish Rough riders. Roosevelt was like a brother to them. He recommended them to the president [McKinley] for promotions, and sang their praises to the world."
The flyer warned that, in this election, Roosevelt—and the war itself—now stood in judgment before the people of New York. Jewish voters, they made clear, had but one choice:
Every vote for the COLONEL OF THE ROUGH RIDERS is approval of McKinley and the War. Every vote for Roosevelt’s opponent . . . is a vote for Spain. . . .Can any Jew afford to vote against Theodore Roosevelt and thereby express his disapproval of the war against Spain? Vote for Theodore Roosevelt. Vote to express your approval of Spain’s defeat.
Roosevelt failed to carry the Lower East Side and lost New York City as a whole by 60,000 votes, but won election by sweeping the rest of the state by 80,000 votes. A year later, he accepted the Republican nomination for vice president and succeeded to the presidency after McKinley’s assassination in 1901. In 1904, when Roosevelt ran successfully for re-election, the Republicans once again appealed to New York’s Yiddish-speaking voters to support the hero of San Juan Hill [see the accompanying illustration taken from the American Jewish Historical Society archives].
It is the genius of America’s two-party system that, to win elections, the Democrats and Republicans must both provide "big tents" to accommodate diverse constituencies of voters. As the Jewish Republican campaign for Roosevelt illustrated, despite the pressures they put on immigrants to assimilate into the "melting pot," the need to build successful coalitions has eliminated the apparent conflict between retaining one’s ethno-religious identity and being a patriot.


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