Federation and the State of Israel – 1948-1958

By Barbara Sheklin Davis

Editor’s note: To mark this milestone, we are printing a series of 10 articles highlighting each decade of the Federation’s work with and for the community. We hope you enjoy this look backward as we continue to work to ensure a thriving future.

06-IV. We are One for Chapter IVWhen the State of Israel was born in 1948, Syracuse Jewry reacted with the same exhilaration as did Jews everywhere. The 1948 Federation campaign proclaimed, “This is the year of destiny for the Jews.” The campaign raised more than $1 million for the UJA.

But Israel was not an easy sell. A major challenge was laid out at the inaugural rally of the 1948 Syracuse Jewish Welfare Appeal. One of the speakers told the Syracuse audience of 1,500 of the indomitable will of the Jews of that nation to fight to the death, if necessary, for their liberty and freedom. “I want to allay some misunderstandings,” he told his audience. “I don’t want the people of Syracuse and of America to think for a minute that, because of some diplomatic expediencies, we Jews of Palestine are ever going to give up our fight. Our people have been let down many times in their history,” he stated, “but we will survive now and, we will win this war. There is not a single Jew in Palestine who believes we will lose.”    

At a campaign rally two years later, a Syracuse businessman, just returned from Israel to provide a first-hand account of conditions there, called the people of Israel “miraculous.” He described the present generation as “fertilizer working to plow itself under so that its children may grow.” He named immigration and housing as the major problems of Israel, saying that “thousands of persons in rags have poured into Israel from 40 countries. It’s anticipated that 150,000 will come this year. But immigration really depends upon how many Jews are driven out of Arab-controlled countries,” adding that “the Arabs are forcing Jews to go to Israel to put greater burden on the new state and break her by economic war.” Former Assistant Secretary of State Major John Hilldring, whose United Nations work helped produce the free Jewish state, also addressed the capacity audience, “I don’t understand this worry about another war in Israel. Don’t worry about the people of Israel on the battlefields. They can take care of themselves. Instead of tackling phantoms, friends of Israel should do something about the immigration problem. Most of all they should send money. Only because of the shortage of a few dollars, 100,000 people who have reached the Promised Land are still spending long and weary days. For a few dollars they could be happily resettled.”

Another speaker asked, “In this tragic hour, in this year of our need, what are you prepared to do?” He continued: “We have made two mistakes. At first, we feared too little and hoped too much. Then we overestimated our supposed friends. Don’t let us make the third mistake of caring too little. We Jews must do our share. We must do it soon enough and in a big enough way to answer the call of our people in Europe and in Palestine. We must emulate in spirit those Jews of the Holy Land who would rather die on their feet rather than live on their knees. Their destiny —and the destiny of those haggard souls in the DP camps—is our challenge.”

With those ringing messages before them, the Jewish community of the city promptly made plans to set a record goal for the annual Federation fund-raising campaign.           

Throughout the decade, Federation emphasized the urgent need for funds for the young state. In 1955, it informed contributors that “the people of Israel, with all their resourcefulness, their energies and their dedication, are racing against time. Their economy must be stabilized, their irrigation projects completed, their immigrants of various cultural backgrounds integrated as quickly as possible. In a critical hour when the Arab nations refuse to lessen their hostility toward Israel, Israel’s people know that tomorrow’s tasks must be accomplished today.” 

In 1959, the Federation launched a special fund drive to address what was called “the greatest immigration crisis in a decade,” to provide for transportation, initial absorption and settlement of immigrants to Israel. Federation’s Women’s Division worked particularly hard on the project, believing that “only the swiftest and most substantial response on the part of all the Jewish women in the community will make it possible for Israel to meet the new demands.” “ANSWER THE CHALLENGE, WOMEN OF SYRACUSE!” they exhorted. To emphasize their determination to succeed, they announced a citywide house-to-house solicitation to reach every Jewish woman in the community for her individual contribution.

Barbara Sheklin Davis is co-author, with Susan B. Rabin, of A HISTORY OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF SYRACUSE, published by Arcadia Press.” This series of articles is sponsored by Helen Marcum.

In a nod to Syracuse Jewry’s ties to Israel, Federation’s 1976 annual campaign theme was “We are One!”