Teddy Roosevelt and His Jewish Rough Riders

Stand for Israel  |  July 1, 2020

Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders
Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders

Teddy Roosevelt not only served our nation as its 26th President, he held many other positions, as well. Many of these offices helped shape Roosevelt’s lifelong relationship with the Jewish people.

A Friend of the Jewish People

While police commissioner of New York, Roosevelt noted the “excellent work needing nerve and hardihood” of “the Maccabee-type in the Police Department under me by police officers of Jewish extraction.”

As first president to appoint a Jew as a member of his cabinet, Roosevelt rewarded the service of a Jewish envoy and minister of a predecessor. Roosevelt also rebuked Russia for the Kishinev Pogrom. This anti-Semitic action left dozens of Jews dead, and helped spark the Zionist movement.

A Rough Rider, an American, a Jew

But, as we prepare to celebrate America’s birthday, we will look at a Jewish-American who served in Teddy Roosevelt’s famed Rough Riders.

The Spanish-American War raged just before the dawn of the twentieth century. With Americans fighting on multiple fronts – both in Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as Guam and the Philippines across the Pacific – Roosevelt mustered a regiment of volunteers known as the Rough Riders.

One of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders calling himself Jacob Berlin, actually grew up a Jewish cowboy named Jacob Wilbusky in Texas.

Only 16 when he volunteered for Roosevelt, Jacob would be the first Rough Rider to fall. Cut down as Roosevelt’s cavalry stormed San Juan Hill in Cuba. Many other Jews served in the outfit and received awards for their valor.

Roosevelt’s friendship with the Jewish people proved fortunate, as he successfully ran for governor of New York with many Jewish supporters. Roosevelt’s governorship led to the vice presidency. The presidency followed when William McKinley fell to an assassin’s bullet. Teddy went on to show his relationship with God’s children from the Oval Office. But the friendship showed long before, as the Rough Riders took San Juan Hill.