Herbert Hoover, president from 1929-1933 (and whose birthday is today), has a few less-than-cheery associations: Hoovertowns, the Great Depression, and his pre-presidency role as head of Food Administration during World War I, which involved food-rationing slogans like “when in doubt, eat potatoes.”.
What he probably isn’t known for is involvement with the Jewish community.
But Jews might have had a closer relation with Hoover than anticipated. One JTA archive article tells the story of a man named Frank Shoenberg who mobilized other Jewish communities to get Hoover into office — by praying. Surprisingly, it seemed to have worked.
Shoenberg, real estate agent and Hoover supporter, contacted numerous Jewish communities in cities like Scranton, Wilkes Barre, and Easton, asking rabbis and congregants to pray for Hoover’s election. He sent similar requests to Europe through cablegram, which in one instance produced a day of prayers and fasting dedicated to Hoover’s election led by a Chassidic rabbi in Prague.
“Mr. Shoenberg, who has been in this country about 30 years and has handled many large real estate transactions, has always believed in prayer,” the article reads. “When it appeared as though he was to suffer a reverse, he always sent a cablegram to his rabbi, asking the latter to pray for him. Mr. Shoenberg stated today that the prayers seldom failed to help.”
Though Herbert Hoover won the 1928 election–and Schoenberg received a thank-you letter from the new President, as well as a meeting with Hoover’s secretary–the Depression’s nearly 25% unemployment rate leaves one (if not Shoenberg) wondering whether President Hoover should’ve stuck to advocating potatoes.