Tag Archives: Civil War

Jew of the Week: Abraham Jonas

The Man Who Made Lincoln President

Abraham Jonas (1801-1864) was born in England to a religious Jewish family. He moved with his brothers to Cincinnati in 1819, and they were the first Jewish family to journey west to the new frontier beyond the Allegheny Mountains. They were also the founders of the first synagogue in Ohio, Congregation B’nai Israel. Jonas married Lucy Seixas, the daughter of Gershom Mendes Seixas, the first rabbi born in America. After she passed away, he relocated to Kentucky, remarried, and opened a general store. Having been involved with the Freemasons back in Cincinnati, Jonas opened a new Masonic Lodge in Kentucky. He became its master in 1832. Around the same time, he was elected to the Kentucky State Legislature and served a four year term. After this, Jonas moved to Illinois and opened a new general store, as well as a carriage business, before going to study law. He and his brothers started a newspaper, and built another synagogue, Congregation B’nai Abraham. (Jonas’ law office was a room inside the synagogue.) In 1840, Jonas established Illinois’ Grand Masonic Lodge and was elected its Grand Master. Two years later, he joined the Illinois State Legislature, and there met Abraham Lincoln. The two became very close friends. When their Whig Party fell apart, both Abrahams were among the co-founders of the new Republican Party. It was Jonas who later inspired Lincoln to run for president, and campaigned on his behalf. Jonas was a noted abolitionist, and vehemently opposed the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act which allowed slavery in new Western states. In fact, Jonas chaired the committee which organized the now-famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates, where Abraham Lincoln made his case against slavery. In 1858, when leaders of the Republican Party were deciding whom to nominate as their next candidate for president, Henry Asbury suggest Lincoln, whom the others rejected immediately. At this point, Jonas spoke up and turned the tables. Still, at the party’s Illinois convention in May 1860, it seemed clear that William Seward would be nominated. Jonas stepped in yet again, and ensured Lincoln’s nomination. Less than a year later, Lincoln was president. He appointed Jonas as the postmaster of Quincy, Illinois. Jonas continued to support and advice Lincoln until his last days. Of Jonas’ five sons, two fought with the Confederate Army, which grieved him greatly. He fell terribly ill in the midst of the Civil War. As he lay on his death bed in 1864, his son Charles was captured and imprisoned. President Lincoln wrote a personal order to release Charles so that he could be alongside his father. Jonas died that same day. He played a critical role in ensuring the survival of Jewish life in America. He was also a key founding member of the Republican Party, and there is little doubt that without him Abraham Lincoln (who has been voted America’s greatest president by both citizens and political scientists) would have never become president. Not surprisingly, Jonas is the only person that Lincoln ever described as “one of my most valued friends”.

Was Abraham Lincoln Jewish?

Lincoln and the Jews: 10 Fascinating Facts

Words of the Week

The American Jewish community is wonderful. While you cannot tell them to do anything, you can teach them to do everything.
– The Lubavitcher Rebbe, to Herman Wouk

Jew of the Week: Barney Dreyfuss

The World Series

Barney Dreyfuss, creator of the World Series

Barney Dreyfuss, creator of the World Series

Bernhard Dreyfuss (1865-1932) was born in Germany to a Jewish-American family that had returned to Germany when the American Civil War broke out. When he was 16, Dreyfuss moved to the US to avoid being drafted into the German army, where conditions for Jews were not very good. Arriving in Kentucky, he lived with his distant relatives, the Bernheim family – famous for their ‘I.W. Harper’ bourbon whiskey – and soon played a key role in their family business. Meanwhile, Dreyfuss fell in love with baseball. He began organizing baseball tournaments for his co-workers, then moved on to organize baseball clubs in Kentucky. In 1889, he bought a stake in the Louisville Colonels, a pro team with the American Association. The following year, his team won the championship (against the Brooklyn team that became the LA Dodgers). After the American Association collapsed, the Colonels moved to the National League. By 1899, Dreyfuss had complete ownership of the Colonels, and also purchased a stake in the Pittsburgh Pirates, which went on to win three championships in a row. At the same time, the American League was becoming ever popular, igniting a “baseball war” between the two major leagues. In 1903, Dreyfuss put together a “peace treaty” between the leagues, and drafted a single set of rules to govern the sport. He also included a set of games that would determine the best baseball team of both leagues, and thus was born the World Series. Dreyfuss continued to play a key role in both the development of baseball, and in American business, until the very end of his life. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, and a monument in his honour still stands at PNC Park, the current home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Words of the Week

Your fellow is your mirror. If your own face is clean, the image you perceive will also be flawless. But should you look upon your fellow man and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering – you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself.
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov