“Make way for the rabbis.” It was probably the first time the station master at
's Union Station had shouted these words. But the crowd before him was unlike any ever seen in the nation's capital. Four hundred rabbis converged on Union Station two days before Yom Kippur, 1943, in a stirring display of unity to rescue Jews from Nazi extermination. Washington, D.C.
The march was the brainchild of 33-year-old Hillel Kook (b. 1910), a Jerusalem-born nephew of Abraham Isaac Kook, former chief rabbi of
Palestine, who arrived in the in 1940. For reasons known only to him, once here, Kook took the Americanized name Peter Bergson. Purchasing full-page ads in American newspapers criticizing British limitations on the number of Jews who could emigrate to United States Palestine, then under British rule, and pleading for Allied action to rescue European Jewry, Bergson and his associates known as the Bergson Group - used the mass media to rouse public interest and influence the Rooseveltadministration to intervene against Hitler. Most provocatively, Bergson called for the formation of an international Jewish army, which would fight under Allied auspices to liberate European Jewry.
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Gaining access to the Orthodox rabbinical leadership was no simple task for the uninitiated. The elders of the Orthodox community in the 1940s were mostly European-born Talmudic scholars who spoke little English and were generally unfamiliar with the political ways of the
New Worldto which they had emigrated. Few were accustomed to receiving national press coverage. But Bergson and his associates used their fluent Yiddish and Bergson's family connections to win the trust of rabbis in the Hasidic and general Orthodox communities.
It states that Peter Bergson didn’t reveal the reasons for his name change, but I have to wonder if it was a form of code switching a topic we’re talking about now. It is notable that he sought support for his initiatives within the immigrant class of Jewry at the time in that there was a tension happening that is similar to what is going on in the greater conversation on race around Trayvon Martin. People among the more established portion of American Jews held great apprehension that the efforts to fight for increased Jewish immigration would ignite greater anti Semitism in