In honor of Presidents Day, Jewish Treats presents a quick look at the relationship of President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) and the Jews.

Wilson’s most famous connection to the Jewish people is his appointment of the first Jewish Justice on the United States Supreme Court, Louis D. Brandeis. During the nomination process there was a great deal of reluctance, indeed outright opposition, to the appointment of a Jew to the Court. Wilson, however, worked many political angles to push people beyond their prejudices to pass the nomination.

A lesser known piece of history was Wilson’s approval of a proclamation of a National Jewish Relief Day shortly before the United States entered World War I.  National Jewish Relief Day was born of the efforts of the Central Committee for the Relief of Jewish Suffering (also known as Central Relief Committee). The proclamation recognized that within the countries waging war in Europe there were “nine million Jews the great majority of whom are destitute of food, shelter and clothing.” With the proclamation of the day (January 27, 1916) in hand, the Jewish relief agencies of the Central Relief Committee were able to rally other organizations to work for the cause and were thus able to create a highly successful campaign.

It has also been recorded that after the outbreak of World War I it was brought to Wilson’s attention that the Army Manual of Instructions for Medical Advisory Boards included the statement: “The foreign born, and especially Jews, are more apt to malinger [in order to avoid service] than the native-born.” When the Anti-Defamation League brought this manual to President Wilson’s attention, he ordered the manual recalled and revised.

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