(Communication to the Editor)
In the “Jewish Daily Bulletin” of today I note that they quote from an article published in your current issue as follows: “that Judaism was of secondary moment, and that duty to the state, even if this carried with it disloyalty to God and his people came first. It was this thought that led a one-time Secretary of Commerce and Labor to go to his office on Yom Kippur and the presence of an Episcopal bishop as one of the officiating ministers at his funeral.”
As this reference is very evidently to my father, the late Oscar S. Straus, I feel it my duty to write you about it. It is quite true that father’s Judaism was second to his Americanism, but second to nothing else; he had a great love and affection for his religion which he inculcated into me, and which I have endeavored to put to practical effect by my active support of organizations for religious education. etc.
I remember the Yom Kippur incident you mention very well, although I was a boy at the time, father often told me about it. The circumstances were these: At the time father was Secretary of Commerce and Labor the immigration law was such that it was almost wholly discretionary upon the part of the Secretary as to whether or not a great many cases under the “likely to become a public charge” should be admitted or not. You will remember the years father was Secretary was the period when the pressure and hostility of the Russian Government against the Jews was at its height, and thousands were flocking to our shores to escape this persecution. My father made it his duty to personally and promptly go over all recommendations for deportation with the most minute care, no matter what other business might be at hand.
The afternoon before Yom Kippur father received word that there had been a large number of Jews held at Ellis Island and that an unusually large number of cases were about to be referred to him for decision. On Yom Kippur morning, just as father was about to go to the temple with mother, he received a message that these deportation papers had arrived from Ellis Island. Father afterwards told me that when he received this information he immediately visualized the terrible anxiety of these people who had been told that the question of their future depended upon his personal decision, and that he felt immediate action which would advise them upon this, the Yom Kippur day, what their fate was to be would be the best expression of his religious teaching, even better than attendance at Services. In this particular case he went to his office on Yom Kippur not because it was a question of serving the state but to relieve the mental anguish of his co-religionists. I do not for a moment doubt that if father had felt that it was essential for the interests of the state for him to work on Yom Kippur he would have done so, just as many thousands of our co-religionists in this and other countries served their state during the war, but the incident you mention does not come under this heading, and I for one am perfectly willing to abide by the decision my father made at the time as to which was showing a greater love and respect for his religion, to go to the temple that day or to go to his office.
As to the statement that an Episcopal Bishop was one of the officiating ministers at my father’s funeral. I can only state that you are mistaken. The only non-Jew who could be mentioned as “officiating” was George Foster Peabody, who is not only not a Bishop but a layman. I asked him to say a few words because he was a boyhood friend of my father’s as he and father were brought up together in Talbotton, Georgia. Mother and I felt that besides the religious service both at the temple and the cemetery it would be appropriate for father’s oldest friend to say a few words.
Very truly yours.
ROGER W. STRAUS.
New York. June 3, 1929.
Mr. Straus’s communication is a copy of a letter he addressed to the “Jewish Guardian,” New York Orthodox weekly, whose editorial concerning the matter was quoted in the “Jewish Daily Bulletin” in the issue of June 3.
The “Jewish Daily Bulletin” is glad to publish Mr. Straus’s answer so that the record of the great American Jewish statesman and the chronicle of his service to his country and his people may be freed from criticisms such as those voiced in the Orthodox organ-(Ed:)