2005-09-16—Humor: Jews and Presidents
By Bruce Lowitt
GEORGE WASHINGTON was the first President to write to a Synagogue. In 1790
he addressed separate letters to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, and to Mikve Israel Congregation in Savannah, Ga., telling their building committees to stop hounding him already.
THOMAS JEFFERSON was the first President to appoint a Jew to a Federal post. In 1801 he named Reuben Getting of Baltimore as Secretary of Corned Beef. Remarkably, three years later the Reuben Sandwich was invented by Ivan Chewski, who said he was inspired while watching his mother, Sara Krautski, a Russian, dressing.
JAMES MADISON was the first President to appoint a Jew to a diplomatic post. He was without his reading glasses when in 1813 he named Mordecai M. Noah ambassador to Tunis. Three weeks later he told a friend, "Tunis? Is that what it said? Morty's a mohel! What the hell is a tunis?"
JAMES MONROE was the first President suspected of having an affair in the White House. He liaised with Lena Zeitgeist in 1823, as part of his plan to claim that more than 100 years in the future he would be the great grandfather of Marilyn Monroe. His involvement in the Missouri Compromise of 1820 mostly had to do with Miss Zeitgeist letting him get to second base after he painted her kitchen.
MARTIN VAN BUREN was the first President to order an American Consul to intervene on behalf of Jews abroad. In 1840 he instructed the U.S. Consul in Alexandria, Egypt, to use his good offices to protect Sheila and Myron Goldfarb from an angry bureaucrat who complained they were trying to buy the Sphinx and turn it into a centerpiece for little Herbie's bar mitzvah.
FRANKLIN PIERCE was, for 147 years, believed to be the first President whose name appears on the charter of a Synagogue, the Washington Hebrew Congregation. A smudge on the 1857 document, only recently removed, proved conclusively that what Pierce had done was sign the contract to charter a stagecoach to the Synagogue for weekends of Bingo.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN was the first President shot in a temple.
ULYSSES S. GRANT was the first President to attend a Synagogue service. As a result of his $100 pledge to the Temple Ahavat Appomattox discretionary fund, the board named him head of the fundraising committee, after which no one ever spoke to him again. Grant's generosity was noted years later when the Senate voted to put Grant's picture on the $100 bill, but the House marked it down to $50.
RUTHERFORD B. HAYES was the first President to designate a Jewish Ambassador
for the stated purpose of fighting Anti-Semitism, and then to forget about it. In 1870, he named Benjamin Peyote Consul-General to Rumania, then went on a three-day celebration by smoking Benjamin's Rumanian Peyote. He also was the first president to designate Easter a Jewish holiday. "Hey," he said when awakened, "who doesn't like eggs? Make me a pastrami omelette and hold the rabbit."
JAMES BUCHANAN worked secretly with the United States Supreme Court in the
weeks before his inauguration in 1857 so that, two days after taking office, the famed Dred Schmed Decision was handed down, asserting that Congress had no constitutional power to deprive persons of their property rights— unless of course they were paying wholesale with
two pairs pants.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT was the first President to announce he was going to put
a Jew in his presidential cabinet. He was snickering when he said it. What he really did was lock stickball buddy Mendel S. Straus in a hutch.
WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT was the first President to attend a seder while in
office, in 1912, when he visited Providence, RI, and participated in the family seder of Col. Harry Cutler, first president of the National Jewish Welfare Board. Taft also was the first and so far the only President to eat an entire seder, leaving nothing for the other 27 guests except for the
shank bone - and even that would've been gone if Mrs. Taft and Col. and Mrs. Cutler hadn't joined hands and surrounded the President to perform a Heimlich maneuver.
WOODROW WILSON was the first President to nominate a Jew, Louis Brandeis, to
the United States Supreme Court. Brandeis later affirmed the constitutionality of the United States' being part of Wilson's most fervent dream, his major League of Nations initiative. But Brandeis rejected Wilson's plan to divide it into National and American Leagues of Nations and
stage a best-of-seven World War every October.
WARREN HARDING was the first President to sign a Joint Congressional
Resolution endorsing the Balfour Declaration. Simultaneously, Harding declared that Balfour was smoking "one freaking great joint" and resolved to share it with Congress.
CALVIN COOLIDGE was the first President to participate in the dedication of
a Jewish community institution that was not a house of worship when, on May
3, 1925, he helped open the Jerusalem House of Hooters owned by Ziggy "Cold
Hands" Lipschitz. "Boys, we can learn a lot from those shiksas," Coolidge said.
HERBERT HOOVER, President in 1929 when banks began to fail in what became
known as the Great Depression, was the first head of state to claim that the Jews owned the banks and therefore everything was their fault. Well, the first only if you ignore every head of state before Hoover, starting with Pharoah Ramses.
HARRY S. TRUMAN, on May 14, 1948, just eleven minutes after Israel's proclamation of independence, was the first Head of a Government to demand that the new State of Israel start returning the West Bank and Gaza to the British, who insisted it be held "until we can figure out how to invent a Palestinian." The President soon withdrew his demand when Israel threatened to cut out his tongue. Or maybe it was cut off his flanken.
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER was the first President to participate in a coast-to-coast TV program sponsored by a pseudo-Jewish organization when he called the play-by-play of the Jim Jones College-Liberty University football game sponsored by Jews for Matthew and Luke. The highlight of the halftime show was the President, not realizing his microphone was on, asking, "What the hell is that big, round, black thing at midfield?" Told it was a yarmulke formed by a marching band, Eisenhower replied, "What, they're not clever enough to make a tallis."
JOHN F. KENNEDY named to his Cabinet three Jews - Abraham Ribicoff as
Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Arthur Goldberg as Secretary of Labor and Marilyn Monroe as Secretary of Sex. Of the three, Miss Monroe was clearly his favorite because, unlike Ribicoff and Goldberg, the President, after reading Theodore Roosevelt's autobiography, locked her in his liquor cabinet.
RICHARD NIXON was the first President to be tape-recorded making anti-semitic comments in the Oval Office. He also was the first President to attempt to sneak out of a meeting with leaders of the Arab World by stapling peyes to his ears, wearing a smock smelling of whitefish, and trying to look casual while leaving the conference room. Nixon's ruse was
discovered when Yasser Arafat ordered an egg cream and the President asked, "How many eggs?"
GERALD FORD was the first President to trip over a Jew.
JIMMY CARTER persuaded Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel, to name the
peanut the Official Nut of Israel. Shortly thereafter, the Knesset voted unanimously to name Begin the Other Official Nut of Israel.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH approved U.S. assistance for "Operation Solomon," the escape of 14,000 Jews from Ethiopia. He later admitted to close friends that he thought "Operation Solomon" was Barbara Bush's plan to surprise him by building in Kennebunkport a replica of the magnificent temple at the summit of Mount Moriah.
BILL CLINTON planned to surpass President Taft's feat by eating a 35-guest Seder, but when he got heartburn from horseradish so hot you wouldn't believe, he fixed his attention on the hostess. Three days later the hostess introduced him to "my very nice niece Monica who, if you sort of squint, doesn't look so fat."
GEORGE W. BUSH is the first President since Herbert Hoover who has no Jews in his Cabinet at all. He does, however, claim membership in Temple Beth Syria, where Shabbat is celebrated by sipping from a goblet of oil brought to the bema in a Hummer.
Lowitt is a semiretired sports writer living in Florida with his wife and more than half a century of guilt.