Rabbi Hayim Tzvi Sneersohn, a great-grandson of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the “Alter Rebbe” of Chabad Hasidim, visited the United States in 1869 on a mission for the Jewish community of Palestine. He was received at the White House by newly inaugurated President Ulysses Grant.
The Washington National Intelligencer described the reception of Rabbi Sneersohn, wearing traditional Palestinian Yerushalmi costume, by the President of the United States.
Rabbi Sneersohn said,
“Mr. President: Permit me to give my thanks to the Almighty, whose mercy brought me here to behold the face of the chosen by the millions of this great nation… I come to your Excellency from the East, to entreat you in the name of G-d, who created all men equal, to listen to the prayer of your humble servant, standing before you to advocate the cause of his oppressed brethren in the Holy Land. The Israelites in Palestine possess no political or civil rights whatever, and oftentimes deprived of protection by the representatives of the civilized nations which the Christians enjoy, are exposed to violence and arbitrary rule. The only shelter the Israelites occasionally find is in the courts of the different European consulates, where one of their co-religionists is employed either as interpreter or deputy consul, who convey their grievances to the proper channel. This free Republic alone, whose banner covers the oppressed, whose foundation is based on equality, toleration, and liberty of conscience, has no Israelites employed near the consul at Jerusalem. I do pray, therefore, your Excellency, to turn your attention to the deplorable condition of my brethren in the Orient, that the principles of this government may be truly embodied in its representatives abroad; and I do further pray that your Excellency may show me that mark of favor which will enable my brethren in the Holy Land in the hour of need to seek refuge under the Stars and Stripes, that this free country and its exalted chief should be blessed on the sacred spot of our common ancestors.”
At the close of his address, the President, evidently deeply moved by the Rabbi’s sincere and feeling words, inquired with interest as to the circumstances affecting the Jews at Jerusalem which might be guarded by the American consulate; and replied, with his wonted quick decision, “I shall look into this matter with care.”
The Rabbi then closed the interview with the following fervent invocation:
“Before I part from you, Mr. President, allow me to offer my fervent prayer from the depth of my heart: Almighty G-d, whose dominion is an everlasting kingdom, may he bless and preserve, guard and assist your Excellency and your family. May the supreme King of Kings grant you a long life, and inspire you with benevolence and friendship towards all mankind.”
At its close, the whole crowd, who had forgotten each his own personal interest in the impressive scene which was passing, were seen to be affected, some even to tears; and from some lips a fervent “Amen!” was heard in response. The President replied, with evident feeling, “I thank you for your wishes and prayers.” While he was making a note for future reference, the Rabbi and his friends retired. Even office seekers seemed to say, “That man’s mission ought not to fail.” Of course, American sympathy will respond to such an appeal; and the American government cannot refuse so humble a request as that the Israelites of our own and other lands shall have in the American consulate at Jerusalem, an advocate whose voice will be heard throughout Christendom, as well as at the court of the greatest of the Mohammedan powers.
Rabbi Sneersohn and a large body of his friends in this and other countries look to our government to take the initiative in accomplishing for the Israelites of Jerusalem what they have secured for Germans in Germany and Chinese in China. The Holy Land is the “Fatherland” of the Israelites.
In May, 1869, Rabbi Sneersohn traveled to Cincinnati, where he told audiences that he felt he could discern the finger of G-d pointing to a day “not far distant, he hoped, when the great deliverance would take place and the land of Israel be restored to the Jewish people.”
This account of Rabbi Sneersohn and President Grant was taken from The First Rabbi by I. Harold Sharfman, Joseph Simon Pangloss Press, Malibu, 1988, p. 528-9. ISBN 0-934710-15-5. Used with permission.