5 American Presidents Who Loved the Jewish People

Stand for Israel  |  February 17, 2020

JFK and Golda Meir
JFK and Golda Meir

The United States and the Jewish state, Israel, have long had a strong and beautiful friendship. And much of that friendship can be seen in how American leaders care for the Jewish people. On this Presidents’ Day, learn how five U.S. Presidents showed that American cares for the Jewish state and the Jewish people. And then take our newest quiz to see how much you know about the unbreakable bonds between the U.S. and Israel!

Portrait painting of Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson (Rembrandt Peale, c. 1805)

1. Thomas Jefferson

The third President of the United States of America (and author of the Declaration of Independence) became the first President to appoint a Jew to a post in the federal government when he named Reuben Etting as the U.S. Marshal for the state of Maryland in 1801.

Portrait painting of John Tyler in a suit.
John Tyler (George Peter Alexander Healy, 1864)

2. John Tyler

You might remember the 10th President as the second half of the famous 1840 campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Or you might recall that after ol’ Tippecanoe (William Henry Harrison) died only one month after being inaugurated, Vice President Tyler ascended to the presidency. But perhaps one of the most important things Tyler did was to appoint a U.S. consul to then-Ottoman Palestine in 1844.

Warder Cresson, a Quaker who converted to Judaism, was the first American consul to Jerusalem, and established a Zionist farming colony there. Cresson is buried on the Mount of Olives (while Tyler is buried in his native Virginia, near the grave of President James Monroe).

Black and white portrait image of Teddy Roosevelt.
Teddy Roosevelt (George G. Rockwood, 1898/Library of Congress)

3. Theodore Roosevelt

The original Rough Rider and 26th President of the United States was also a friend of the Jewish people, one who put his money where his mouth was.

In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt was given the Nobel Peace Prize for helping put an end to the Russo-Japanese War that had lasted from 1904-1905. Roosevelt then became the first U.S. President to give his own funds to a Jewish cause when he donated some of his Nobel prize money to the National Jewish Welfare Board.

Black and white image of U.S. Army officers.
Eisenhower at Buchenwald (USHMM)

4. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower first made his name as Supreme Commander of U.S. forces in Europe during World War II. As the war ended, Eisenhower foresaw the way anti-Semitic conspiracy theories would again arise, in the form of Holocaust denial, and sought to combat such history-based hatred by insisting that what was left of the Nazi death camps be filmed and photographed for posterity, so that we would never forget.

Then in 1954, then-President Eisenhower became the first American leader to take part in a Jewish television program when he helped celebrate the 300th anniversary of the American Jewish community.

JFK and his cabinet standing behind him in the Oval Office.
JFK and cabinet (Robert L. Knudsen, 1962/National Archives and Records Administration)

5. John F. Kennedy

As seen in the photo at the top of this piece, JFK was close with the American-born Israeli stateswoman, Golda Meir. But he also showed his love for the Jewish people by naming two Jews — Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Abraham Ribicoff and Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg — to his cabinet. And after Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, the Jewish people reciprocated his love for them by renaming the Synagogue Council of America’s annual peace award “The John F. Kennedy Peace Award,” making him the only U.S. President for whom a national Jewish award has been named.