(March 14, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) Eddie Jacobson’s life-long friend Harry Truman was hardly known for fulsome praise. So when Truman described him “as fine a man as ever walked,” it was a tribute not to be taken lightly. Humble and unaffected, Jacobson did not seek out a high place in the world. However, when given the chance to act nobly, he did.
The son of a milkman, Jacobson grew up in Leavenworth, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo. He first met Truman at the age of 14, but the two didn’t become friends until 12 years later, when they underwent basic training together at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Their success in running an army canteen inspired them to open the Truman-Jacobson Haberdashery in Kansas City after the war.
In the post-war slump, the store went bankrupt, leaving both men with sizable debts. Determined to repay their creditors, they spent decades doing so. During this time, Truman rose as a political leader, and Jacobson took on a career as a traveling salesman. Despite their failed venture, they remained the closest of friends throughout their lives.
Jacobson had free access to Truman even after he became president. During his visits, the two would discuss the situation in Europe and what could be done to rescue European Jewry. On many occasions, Jacobson brought along Zionist leaders like Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld and attorney A.J. Granoff to meet Truman, underwriting their trips to Washington.
By March 1948, Truman was weary of the solicitations from Jewish leaders regarding Israel. Unsure of how to respond to requests for recognition of the Jewish state, he even refused to meet with Chaim Weizmann regarding the issue.
That was when the future UJA leader Dewey Stone and then B’nai B’rith president Frank Goldman called Jacobson from a Massachusetts payphone. Stone had spent the day with a frustrated Weizmann. Goldman mentioned to Stone that he had just given a B’nai B’rith award in Kansas City to Jacobson for his various good deeds. Together, they beseeched Jacobson to meet Weizmann. The future president of Israel in turn asked Jacobson to intercede with Truman.
A mere six days later, Jacobson appeared unannounced at the White House. He explained to the president that Weizmann was “the greatest Jew alive” and begged him to speak with him once more. Truman agreed.
At their meeting, Truman promised to work for the establishment of the Jewish state. Not quite four weeks later, on May 14, 1948, America became the first country to recognize Israel.