Named not in hubris but in honor and memory of Austin M. Wright, who taught me critical thinking, and his teacher, Wayne Booth, who coined the phrase.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The SS President Arthur: the Zionist Mayflower Part II: “The most prominent Jews of the world”

Judge Strahl announced the new shipping line in October 1924 when he returned from Palestine, “where he arranged for port facilities at Haifa for the first Jewish steamship line.” He promised, “When the President Arthur sails next March, she will carry more than 600 of the most prominent Jews of the world.” [i] At the end of November, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the officers of the American Palestine Line had gathered in the Brooklyn yard where the ship was being reconditioned to raise the “Jewish Flag” for the first time in history.[ii]
November 1924 Captain Breen & Judge Strahl

Not all publicity was free. On November 2, 1924, the Forward carried a full-page advertisement in Yiddish announcing that the American Palestine Line would link the two lands of America and Eretz Yisrael.[iii] The ad was both detailed and rhetorical. Prices ranged from $550 to $850 per person for first-class passengers, and $275 to $450 for second class, with deep discounts for children. In addition, special arrangements could be made through the steamship line for land accommodations. It also urged readers (in Yiddish):

The Forward, November 2, 1924
“Who among you will go up with me . . . with the modern Ezra the Scribe from our time to see our beautiful land, to see how our wonderful pioneers build the Jewish homeland for our millions of homeless brothers, who are spread over the entire world. To see how our colonies blossom, to see the newly founded modern Jewish city, Tel Aviv; to see the industrial enterprises; it is to see a lesson.”

Ezra the Scribe was Nathan Straus, who was prominently featured at the top of the ad. At the time, Straus was well known for his philanthropy, especially in Palestine, and his Zionist views. The implication of the copy was that Nathan Straus would be leading the children of Israel from America to Palestine. Straus apparently had issued his challenge at a reception in honor of educator and Hebraist and vice-mayor of Jerusalem David Yellin at the Hotel Astor on October 23, 1924.[iv]

Maxwell House Coffee
The ad was the first of many to run in the Forward over the next several weeks. In February 1925, a one-column display advertisement that was repeated weekly announced in Yiddish, “the only true direct ship” with “hundreds of the best Jews from America”; it would be “truly kosher with the supervision of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis.”[v] In late February and early March, larger ads in the Forward featured a drawing of the President Arthur in conjunction with products:  Horowitz Brothers and Margareten’s “Matzah with Taste” and Maxwell House coffee.[vi]

A glossy brochure for the maiden voyage also emphasized that prospective passengers would not be going to Palestine in the same manner they – or their parents – may have come to America. “ALL Cabins, both first and second class, are well above the water line of the vessel. It is planned to have assigned to full-tour passengers only such rooms as afford natural light by day.”[vii] Most importantly:  “The S.S. ‘President Arthur’ will carry no steerage passengers.” The refurbished ship, which previously had accommodated as many as 2,300 passengers, would carry 550 first- and second-class passengers only.[viii] (The October 10 New York Times article had said 675.)

Featuring a swimming pool that would be filled every day with ocean water, a gymnasium “equipped with the latest appliances for health-giving and body-building exercises,” and “lecture[s] on subjects pertaining to the land at the journey’s end,” not to mention “MANY of the world’s most noted Jews,” the ship’s maiden voyage promised “most unusual and inspirational” shipmates for the journey. [ix] “The passenger list for the March 12th trip,” the brochure promised, “already reads like a ‘Who’s Who in Judaism.’”[x]

[i]   “Zionists to Run a Fleet.”
[ii]   “Raise Jewish Flag on Ocean Liner,” JTA Jewish News Archive, November 27, 1924.
[iii]   “America with Eretz Yisrael,” Forward, November 2, 1924, 24. I am grateful to my husband, Rabbi Fred N. Reiner, for his assistance in translating all original materials we found in Yiddish and Hebrew.
[iv]  “Papa’s Diary Project.” The 1924 diary of Harry Scheuerman, transcribed and annotated by his grandson, Matt Unger. Scheuerman’s entry for October 23, 1924: “Attended a beautiful reception meeting for David Yellin from Palestine at the Astor, where I met countless friends.”  Accessed June 10, 2011.
[v]   Forward, January 18, 1925; February 1, 1925; Sunday, February 8, 1925.
[vi]  “When the ship … departs … [it] will have a shipment of our famous matzah products . . .” Forward, February 25, 1925, 8. “Maxwell House Coffee on the President Arthur,” Forward, March 11, 1925.
[vii]  “1925 American Palestine SS President Arthur Interiors” brochure, 7. Accessed March 18, 2009.
[viii]  Ibid., 4.
[ix]    Ibid., 3.
[x]     Ibid., 6.

No comments:

Post a Comment