First Family Stories
By Clifton Truman Daniel
Seventy-five years ago today, on May 14, 1948, President Harry S. Truman made one of the most momentous decisions of his presidency: recognizing the new state of Israel just minutes after its founding. My grandfather is justly celebrated for providing the legitimacy this nascent democracy required to survive, but his WWI buddy and former business partner, Eddie Jacobson, deserves credit, as well. This installment of “First Family Stories” is dedicated to a friendship that changed the world.
“The Recognition of Israel”
One of Grandpa’s oldest and closest friends was Eddie Jacobson. They met in 1906, when Eddie was 15 and Grandpa, 22. Grandpa was a vault clerk at Union National Bank in Kansas City. Eddie deposited the day’s receipts for Burger, Hannah & Monger, a nearby dry goods store. Despite the difference in their ages, they saw something in each other.
They went their separate ways later that year and didn’t meet again until 1917 at Oklahoma’s Fort Sill, training to fight in World War I. With Eddie’s experience in retail and Grandpa’s in banking, they ran the only successful canteen in camp, earning “641 percent,” Grandpa joked. “Just like Standard Oil.”
The war over, they sailed home together on the same troop ship. Both were seasick, yet managed to hatch a business plan for a clothing store. When the post-war recession tanked Truman & Jacobson, Eddie become a traveling salesman. Grandpa went into politics.
Throughout Grandpa’s career as a county judge, senator, vice president, and president, Eddie rarely, if ever, traded on their friendship. Nor was he envious.
When Grandpa jokingly suggested he enter politics, Eddie said, “No, thank you. I’m going to make an honest living.”
When Eddie did ask a favor, it was always for someone else, never himself.
In 1948, with pressure mounting to recognize the nascent state of Israel, Grandpa was beset by both sides. The State Department, chiefly in the person of Secretary of State George Marshall, feared alienating the Arabs and their oil. Marshall, whom Grandpa greatly admired, went so far as to tell Grandpa that if recognition was granted, he wouldn’t vote for him in the coming election. On the other side were American Zionists led by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, a great orator and leader, but also aggressive and uncompromising. The story that he pounded on Grandpa’s desk in the Oval Office is untrue, though apparently he did everything but. As a result, the Zionists lost access.
In a panic, they turned to Eddie, imploring him to convince Grandpa to see Dr. Chaim Weizmann, former head of the World Zionist Organization and the movement’s spiritual leader.
For the first few minutes of that meeting, Eddie and Grandpa chatted amiably. Then Eddie brought up Weizmann and Grandpa became so annoyed that his former partner said it was the closest he’d ever seen his old friend come to being an antisemite. Sitting behind his desk, Grandpa swiveled in his chair, turning his back. In desperation, Eddie scanned the room and found a small statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback.
“Harry,” he said. “You have a hero, Andrew Jackson. I, too, have a hero, Chaim Weizmann. He’s the greatest Jew who ever lived. He’s an old and sick man and he’s traveled all this way to speak to you and you won’t see him. That’s not like you.”
At that point, Grandpa started drumming his fingers on his desk, which Eddie knew meant he was changing his mind. Finally, he swiveled back around.
“All right, you baldheaded son of a bitch,” he said. “You win. I’ll see Weizmann.”
At 11 minutes after midnight on May 14, 1948, the United States became the first country to recognize the independent state of Israel.
Grandpa bemoaned the fact that he was too emotional, but as far as I know, he was only seen with tears in his eyes three times—at the death of his childhood friend and press secretary, Charlie Ross; at the death of Eddie Jacobson; and when Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog, Israel’s first chief rabbi and the ambassador’s grandfather, told him that God had put him in his mother’s womb to help bring about the founding of Israel.
Eddie Jacobson’s daughter, Gloria Schusterman, tells a story about former Israeli president Chaim Herzog, the ambassador’s father and, of course, father to Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, and to the current ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog. In the early 1950s, then Major Herzog was defense attache for the Israeli Embassy. As such, he spent a couple of weeks at Fort Leavenworth, KS with a group of Israeli Army officers learning to use the Lance Missile system..
On the last Sunday, the group drove to Kansas City to eat lunch at Bretton’s, the city’s only kosher restaurant. Hearing that my grandfather was home in Independence, Major Herzog, who knew Grandpa, called Eddie and asked if they could visit. Eddie called back five minutes later and reported that Grandpa had a cold and that my grandmother wanted him to rest.
The group went back to their lunch. Eddie called again 30 minutes later. “Jump in the car and come get me,” he said. “We’re going over to the house. Mrs. Truman has gone to church.”
They drove around back and entered the house like family, through the kitchen. For 30 or 40 minutes they sat with Grandpa, chatting. But because he was under the weather, Herzog didn’t want to overburden him. He took Moshe Dayan into the house, but he left Yitzhak Rabin in the car.
Clifton Truman Daniel is the eldest grandson of President Harry S. Truman and his wife, Bess. He is the son of author Margaret Truman and former New York Times Managing Editor E. Clifton Daniel, Jr. Mr. Daniel is honorary chairman of the board of the Truman Library Institute, board secretary of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, and vice president of the Society of Presidential Descendants. He is the author of Growing Up with My Grandfather: Memories of Harry S. Truman and Dear Harry, Love Bess: Bess Truman’s Letters to Harry Truman, 1919-1943. In addition to portraying his famous grandfather on stage, Mr. Daniel gives a series of lectures on various aspects of the Truman presidency and U.S. and White House history. Learn more.
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