From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rabbis at US presidential inaugurations

Rabbi Nelson Glueck (Public Domain)
According to Wikipedia, Harry S. Truman was the very first US president to include a rabbi at the inauguration main ceremony. Rabbi Samuel Thurman of the United Hebrew Congregation of Saint Louis, Missouri led Truman's inaugural prayer on January 20, 1949 (think of the historical context and what this might have meant to World War II Holocaust survivors).  This occasion also marked the first time that African Americans – in this case Lena Horne, Dorothy Maynor and Lionel Hampton – performed at an "inaugural gala." (The Afro-American of January 19, 1949 reported that "Hampton's first number was a Jewish hymn, 'Eli, Eli.'")

On January 20, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower followed suit by having Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver lead an inaugural prayer (Eisenhower himself led a second one).  Wikipedia reports that Rabbi Silver was "a key figure in the mobilization of American support for the founding of the State of Israel."  He was also "an early champion of rights for labor, for worker's compensation and civil liberties…"  Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, the Conservative Jewish Talmud scholar who served as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1940 until 1972, led a
prayer at Eisenhower's second inauguration in 1957.

Rabbi Nelson Glueck, whose "pioneering work in biblical archaeology resulted in the discovery of 1,500 ancient sites," gave the inaugural benediction (the first rabbi to ever do so) at John F. Kennedy's 1961 ceremony.  Rabbi Edgar Magnin, often called "Rabbi to the Stars," led one of three prayers at Richard M. Nixon's 1969 inauguration.  Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, who lost "dozens of family members in the The Holocaust," led a prayer at Ronald Reagan's inauguration.  Gottschalk's connection with Reagan is especially touching in that Gottschalk partially learned English from watching Reagan's films after fleeing to America from Nazi Germany.


Copyright January 16, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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