KADDISH FOR PRESIDENT GARFIELD

Mordecai Myers

Throughout American history Jewish immigrants sought to identify with their new homeland and sought acceptance as Americans. When Charles Guiteau shot President James Garfield in 1881, Schenectady’s Jews held a special prayer service at Gates of Heaven, and when he died they joined with their fellow Americans in mourning his death, and owners of businesses on State Street, like Isaac Levy, wholesale liquor dealer, and Lewis Behr, tailor, draped their shops in black for the fallen president. In times of national tragedy, Jews showed their loyalty as Americans.
Public service provided another means of showing loyalty and their acceptance by non-Jews as Americans. Mordecai Myers, native born, got elected mayor as a Democrat in 1851 and 1854. Fifty years later, Louis M. King, the son of a German Jewish immigrant, served as City Clerk from 1899-1902. Members of the Jewish community, like S. Levy, got elected to the post of city councilman. By the early 20th Century, Jews were well integrated into the civic and political life of the city—even forming a Jewish Republican Club in the 1920s. Jews also served on school boards, hospital boards, and city planning commissions. Integration into the social life of the city was evident in the membership of the Odd Fellows.
Jews served in every war since the Civil War. During World War I, the local Jewish newspaper published a list of every Jewish resident who volunteered or was drafted for military service. Members of the community organized a Jewish Welfare Board to support men in service and help Jewish soldiers from outside the area stationed in South Schenectady during the war. Men from the area wrote they missed the baseball games sponsored by the Y with their co-religionists from Albany, another sign of the Americanization of the sons of immigrants. Similarly, in World War II, the Jewish Welfare Board was recreated in 1943 to help the troops and encourage women to assist in war related events, like bond drives. Members of the community served on civilian groups aiding the war effort, like the county War Council. In 1935, veterans of World War I organized a chapter of the Jewish War Veterans. In May 1948, the community dedicated a plaque to the Jewish men from Schenectady who died in World War II. Jewish War Veterans Post 106 conducted a special memorial service that month at Ohab Sholom-Bnai Abraham. This service reinforced the community’s identity as Jews and Americans.

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