Making a Kiddush Hashem / Chillul Hashem: Changing The Course Of History


I received in the mail an article from someone who thought I might be interested in reading a fascinating story about someone who had the same last name as mine. To the best of my knowledge, I am not related to the family discussed in the following account. The article is entitled “The Shabbos Goy,” by Zev Roth.

It goes like this: In a small Midwest town in the mid-1880s, Jacob Viner and his wife attempted to bring up their children in accordance with Jewish tradition. [They lived in] their Missouri village, located just outside Kansas City. One of the few advantages of living in such a setting was the presence of a large stock of people who could be used as a “Shabbos Goy.” When it was required, it was the Viners’ young neighbor Harry who was usually called upon. Harry frequently visited the Viner family to help light a fire to warm the house in the frigid midwest winters.... Whenever he came, the Viners made sure to reimburse Harry with a small token of their appreciation – a piece of kugel or gefilte fish was always offered. Harry was particularly fond of matzah.

When Harry returned from duty in World War I... he tried his hand at politics and performed a number of favors for the Jewish community.... The Viner family no doubt took tremendous pride in the friendship they had shown their Missouri neighbor. But in their wildest dreams they could not have imagined how far the dividends of their kiddush Hashem would extend.

Harry’s political aspirations were only beginning. In 1934, he was elected to the United States Senate, serving for two six-year terms. In 1946, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt inexplicably dropped his vice president, Henry A. Wallace, in favor of a then-unknown Missouri senator, Harry S. Truman. Shortly thereafter, Roosevelt passed away and Truman became president of the United States.

One of the major problems for the Truman administration following the end of World War II was the United States’ policy in regard to the proposed State of Israel. There were many pro-Arab officers within Truman’s cabinet who were vehemently opposed to supporting the proposed state. In spite of this, Truman immediately supported the State. [He wrote in] a personal note: “I recognized Israel immediately … against the advice of my own Secretary of State, George Marshall, who was afraid the Arabs wouldn’t like it.... But I felt Israel deserved to be recognized and I didn’t [care] whether the Arabs liked it or not.”

To this day, historians debate exactly what influenced Truman toward the newly founded State of Israel, a policy of support and aid which has been in place more or less for the past fifty [now sixty] years....

The earliest experiences an individual has are often the ones which form the crux of his views for the rest of his life. Is it inconceivable that this stance was ingrained in a young Harry Truman from the Viner family in turn-of-the-century Independence, Missouri?

That a shomer Shabbos family in Missouri might have had an impact on the American policy of support for Eretz Yisrael highlights the importance of leaving everyone we meet with a warm and positive impression of Jews and Judaism.

However, this is not the end of the story. My grandfather, who lived in Washington, D.C., was very involved in the Vaad Hatzolah during World War II. The Vaad helped save countless Jewish lives during and after the Holocaust. HaGaon HaRav Aaron Kotler, zt”I, toiled on behalf of the Vaad with superhuman effort in an attempt to save Jewish lives. The Rosh Yeshivah came to Washington often and stayed at my grandparents’ home for weeks at a time. At one point, Rav Aaron asked my grandfather if he could arrange an appointment with Vice President Truman. As a businessman and not a politician, my grandfather did not have access to the vice president, and, to complicate matters, the vice president was under pressure from President Roosevelt and the State Department not to involve himself too heavily with the “Jewish problem” in Europe.

Despite the uphill battle, my grandfather immediately attempted to set up a meeting with Vice President Truman. I never received a clear answer about how he was able to bring this historic meeting to fruition, until I read “The Shabbos Goy.”

It is quite possible that a message reached the vice president’s secretary that a certain Mr. Viener wanted to schedule a meeting. It did not matter that my grandfather had absolutely no relation to the Mr. Viner from Missouri, whom the vice president had not seen for many years. Mr. Truman was eager to see an old friend from his youth – and the rest is history. That meeting helped save many, many lives.

It is remarkable to see the yad Hashem that may have enabled someone with a similar last name to reap the benefits of a positive impression made decades earlier. A very “small” kiddush Hashem made by treating others with respect helped shaped history.

We all have the responsibility to utilize every opportunity to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim. The opportunity is constantly within our reach; let us seize it with enthusiasm.

By Rabbi Yosef Viener
Rav Khal Shaar Hashomayim

Reprinted with Permission from Art Scroll