How Jews loyal to the Union mournedApr 20, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 30 • By MEIR Y. SOLOVEICHIK
As America prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death on April 15, fresh insight into the events that occurred a century and a half ago can be gleaned by seeing that entire week through the eyes of America’s Jews, and especially of those Jews who attended America’s oldest and most historically distinguished congregation.
On Sunday, April 9, 1865, Generals Grant and Lee met in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Lee surrendered, and the Civil War came to an end, with 360,000 Union and 260,000 Confederate soldiers dead. The news broke all over the United States on April 10, which, in the Hebrew calendar, was the morning before the eight-day holiday of Passover was to begin. We can imagine the elegant symmetry that those Jews sympathetic to the Union cause saw in the advent of their Festival of Freedom, commemorating the Israelite exodus from slavery, coinciding with the Confederacy’s defeat. Thinking of their own relatives, who like other Americans had fought, bled, and died for several terrible years, we can imagine their finding a double meaning at their Seder tables that Monday evening, as they uttered the immortal words of the Haggadah: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
It was four days later, on Friday evening, when the president ventured out into a joyful, festive Washington for an evening at Ford’s Theatre, that he was shot. Carried to a boarding house across the street, Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on Saturday. It is often told that all those crowded around his deathbed turned to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who said simply, “Now he belongs to the ages.” As the writer Adam Gopnik has noted, these words are the best-known epitaph in American history, and probably the finest: “They seem perfectly chosen, in their bare and stoical evocation of a Lincoln who belongs to history alone, their invocation not of an assumption to an afterlife but of a long reign in the corridors of time, a man now part of eternity.”
Conveyed by telegraph, the news soon reached the rest of the country. Jews heard it from their fellow Americans on the day of the celebratory service held on the Sabbath during Passover. Bertram Korn, in his American Jewry and the Civil War, describes the scene:
Jews were on their way to synagogue or already worshipping when tidings of the assassination reached them. . . . Jews who had not planned on attending services hastened to join their brethren in the sanctuaries where they could find comfort in the hour of grief. The Rabbis put their sermon notes aside and spoke extemporaneously, haltingly, reaching out for the words to express their deep sorrow. . . . Samuel Adler of Temple Emmanuel in New York began to deliver a sermon but he was so overcome that he could not continue. Alfred T. Jones, Parnas of Beth El-emeth Congregation of Philadelphia, asked [the well-known Jewish scholar and writer] Isaac Leeser to say something to comfort the worshippers; he did, but it was so disconnected that he had to apologize: “the dreadful news and its suddenness have in a great measure overcome my usual composure, and my thoughts refuse to arrange themselves in their wonted order.”
Because the president died on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, the first utterances from the pulpit in response to the assassination were heard in synagogues, as Isaac Marken explains in Abraham Lincoln and the Jews. One of the most striking—and indeed, controversial—moments took place in Congregation Shearith Israel, in New York, the oldest Jewish congregation in America. There, Marken recounts, “the rabbi recited the Hashkabah (prayer for the dead) for Lincoln. This, according to the Jewish Messenger, was the first time that this prayer had been said in a Jewish house of worship for any other than those professing the Jewish religion.” This seeming deviation from tradition in Shearith Israel—known to this day for its fierce devotion to preserving religious and liturgical tradition—was noted by many, and defended by the aforementioned Isaac Leeser, who also edited American Jewry’s most prominent newspaper:
Happy birthday, Mr. President.1:51 PM, Feb 12, 2015 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
On Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which really does merit a federal holiday, it’s worth noting that there is no federal holiday called “Presidents’ Day” — nor should there be. The lone federal holiday in February is “Washington’s Birthday
The scholarly achievement of Harry Jaffa.Jan 26, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 19 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
When an admirer once asked Harry Jaffa, the political philosopher who died earlier this month at the age of 96, what led to his interest in Abraham Lincoln, he answered without a moment’s hesitation, in a ferocious bark: “Plato!”
The fight for Georgia Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
In the summer of 1864, the Union cause rested with Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. They commanded the most formidable armies ever seen on the continent, yet neither had been in uniform four years earlier, when the war began. Both were West Point trained and had served, without distinction, in the regular army. One had left the army in disgrace; the other in frustration.
Israel after Sharon and his generation.Jan 27, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 19 • By YUVAL LEVIN
Although he has, in most respects, been gone from the scene for the better part of a decade, Ariel Sharon’s death this month has nonetheless hit Israel hard. His military career was among the most exemplary in a nation that has seen far more than its share of great warriors. And by the end of his political career (if not at every point throughout it), Sharon was widely respected and admired. The sudden end of his premiership in 2006 left many in Israel with a sense of missed opportunity and unexplored possibility.
The Gettysburg Address at 150.Nov 25, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 11 • By GARY SCHMITT
November 19 marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—rightly judged to be the greatest speech in America’s history. And while there have been innumerable books and articles written about the content, language, and rhetorical sophistication of Lincoln’s remarks, far less has been written about why he chose the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, some four and a half months after the battle itself, to deliver the speech he did.
Obama: "I never compare myself to Lincoln."11:06 AM, Dec 30, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
NBC host David Gregory asked President Barack Obama this morning, "Is this your Lincoln moment?"
The question came up after Obama invoked the movie Lincoln when talking about Republicans and Democrats coming together to work out a deal on the "fiscal cliff.
6:05 PM, Dec 19, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
Senate majority leader Harry Reid has adjourned the Senate to allow for a viewing of the Hollywood film Lincoln.
Hundreds of thousands rally in Washington. 5:55 PM, Aug 28, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Radio and television personality Glenn Beck today hosted hundreds of thousands of rallying citizens from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In what was an amazingly apolitical rally, Beck and his fellow speakers focused on three themes: faith, hope, and charity.
Curbed enthusiasm.12:00 AM, Feb 11, 2010 • By GARY ANDRES
I first encountered the word Zugzwang in a 1985 New York Times Magazine column by the late William Safire. It’s a chess term that means “compelled to move, but imperiled by doing so.” The word’s political implications are profound.
For the past 25 years, I’ve regularly witnessed the repercussions of that hard-to-pronounce term. During the 1990s, my friend Arne Christenson (who served as chief of staff to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) and I would lament some thorny political problem faced by Republicans or Democrats and how being “compelled to move” would cause unavoidable collateral political damage. Arne would just shake his head and say, “Zugzwang.” We both knew exactly what he meant.
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