(The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle published this column on May 1, 1998.)
‘Ol’ Hickory’ and the state of Israel
April 30 is Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the Israeli Independence Day, celebrating Israel’s proclamation of independence from British rule.
Jackson County joins in the international celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.
As you know, two Jackson County residents played important roles in the founding of that state: Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson. Their friendship was detailed in the excellent article by Michael Levine in the Feb. 27 issue of The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle.
But those of us who are versed in Jackson County history didn’t need to read that article to be reminded about their friendship and the role it played in the building of Israel.
That’s because Jackson County employees have a reminder every day sitting in our own front yard.
It’s the Andrew Jackson statue, which stands directly in front of the Jackson County Courthouse at 415 E. 12th St.
What does “Ol’ Hickory” have to do with the state of Israel?
The answer can be found in “Truman,” David McCullough’s biography of the president. Andrew Jackson was a boyhood hero of Harry Truman, and Eddie Jacobson must have known that. Truman and Jacobson knew a lot about each other in a relationship which spanned more than 50 years.
Truman first met Jacobson in 1905 when Jacobson was a 14-year-old stock boy and Truman a 21-year-old bookkeeper at the Union National Bank. Later, Jacobson and Truman became reacquainted in 1917 during World War I, when Truman was a junior first lieutenant in the battery to which Jacobson was assigned.
After the war, in 1919, they opened Truman & Jacobson’s Gents’ Furnishings in downtown Kansas City. Even after the business failed, the two stayed in touch with each other.
In 1948, the president was besieged from all sides about the Palestine question. Hundreds of thousands of postcards from Jewish organizations were flooding the White House mail.
If Truman was going to back the creation of a Jewish state, he would have to defy both Britain, a long-time ally, and the man whom Truman respected more than any other member of his cabinet, Secretary of State George Marshall.
Over their opposition, in 1947, Truman directed the U.S. delegation to push the United Nations to approve the partition of Palestine.
“The Jewish pressure on the White House did not diminish in the days following the partition vote,” Truman wrote years later. “Individuals and groups asked me, usually in rather quarrelsome and emotional ways, to stop the Arabs, to keep the British from supporting the Arabs, to furnish American soldiers. … I can say that I kept the faith in the tightness of my policy in spite of some of the Jews.”
By early 1948, Truman was so exasperated by the bitter attacks of some overzealous Zionists that he told his staff “that all Zionist spokesmen be denied further access to him.”
That led Chaim Weizmann, the 74-year-old president of the World Zionist Organization, to ask to talk to Truman. The White House refused. On Feb. 21, the president of the national B’nai B’rith phoned Jacobson to plead his case. The White House wasn’t interested.
Finally, on March 13, Jacobson arrived at the White House without an appointment to see Truman. He could do so because of their long-time friendship. But he was warned by Truman’s secretary not to discuss Palestine.
Jacobson ignored the warning. Truman became tense and grim, and abruptly told Jacobson he would not talk about it, and complained how “disrespectful and mean” certain Jews had been to him about it. Jacobson tried arguing back, but to no use.
All seemed lost, and then, Jacobson saw on a table, against the wall, one of Truman’s prized possessions; a model of the Andrew Jackson sculpture at the county courthouse. Jacobson remembered that it was Truman who, during his years as Jackson County Presiding Judge, commissioned sculptor Charles L. Keck to create the bronze statue.
And Jacobson remembered what Jackson meant to Truman.
Jacobson turned to his friend and said: “Harry, all your life you have had a hero… I too have a hero, a man I never met, but who is, I think, the greatest Jew who ever lived … I am talking about Chaim Weizmann. He is a very sick man. Almost broken in health, but he traveled thousands of miles just to see you and plead the cause of my people. Now you refuse to see him just because you are insulted by some of our American Jewish leaders, even though you know that Weizmann had absolutely nothing to do with these insults, and would be the last man to be party to them. It doesn’t sound like you, Harry, because I thought you could take this stuff they have been handing out…”
According to McCullough’s biography, “…Truman began drumming his fingers on the desk. He wheeled around in his chair and with his back to Jacobson sat looking out the window into the garden. … (There was a long silence.) Then, swinging about and looking Jacobson in the eye, Truman said … ‘You win, you baldheaded son-of-a-bitch. I will see him.'”
On March 18, Truman met with Weizmann, and assured him that the U.S. would support partition of Palestine. Truman was able to convince Weizmann of his commitment to the Jewish people, a commitment that became undeniable about two months later.
On May 14, only 11 minutes after Israel declared itself an independent nation, the United States became the first nation in the world to officially recognize it.
At the time, critics called giving official national recognition to this state (which many thought wouldn’t last the year, much less a half-century) a foolish, reckless gesture. But today Truman’s action is seen as an act of foresight and courage.
True, our county’s statue of Andrew Jackson played a very small role in the creation of the state of Israel. But it is a reminder of how art can inspire, how art can remind us of our heritage, and how that memory can inspire us to push courageously toward our goals.
“One man with courage makes a majority” is a saying sometimes attributed to Jackson.
One statue with history can inspire us all.
Congratulations, again, to the state of Israel.