A History Continued
These manufacturing businesses thrived during wartime as the world wars helped to transform the city of Columbus. In 1918, the US War Department created Camp Benning just outside of Columbus to provide basic training for new soldiers. Made permanent in 1922, Fort Benning eventually grew into one of the largest military bases in the country. Rabbi Rosenthal led services for soldiers at Fort Benning and served as president of the Jewish Welfare Board during the Great War. Many Columbus Jews hosted Jewish soldiers in their homes during the war. Local Jews would provide various entertainment programs for the soldiers, including parties at the Harmony Club. When large numbers of Jewish soldiers were stationed at Fort Benning in World War II, Columbus Jews responded with hospitality once again. The local Junior Hadassah Chapter hosted Friday night receptions each week at Fort Benning, while the Harmony Club hosted mid-week dances for the soldiers.
Columbus Jews also took part in national fundraising campaigns to help suffering Jews in Europe during World War I. In 1918, Rabbi Rosenthal, Leopold Loewenherz, and Morris Loeb headed the local Jewish War Relief Fund campaign, which aimed to raise $20,000 in Columbus. Seeking to solicit contributions from the gentile community, they asked prominent local businessman J. Homer Dimon
to be chairman of the committee. Several other non-Jews, including Christian ministers, served on neighborhood committees for the relief drive. In a letter published in the local newspaper, the committee stated that while Columbus Jews would take the lead, ”we request every citizen of the county to assist in this crying need.” The local newspaper editor endorsed the 1920 Jewish War Relief Campaign, which was kicked off at a mass meeting held at the First Baptist Church, by writing that since Columbus Jews had always given to local causes, that non-Jews in Columbus should support this worthwhile cause. Local gentiles donated over $1000 to the Jewish War Relief Fund in 1920.
Some Columbus Jews saw a Jewish homeland as the solution to the plight of Europe’s Jews. Noted Zionist Bella Pevsner came to Columbus in 1918, speaking to a capacity crowd at Temple B’nai Israel. Leopold Loewenherz, the former president of the Reform congregation, introduced Pevsner. The following year, another Zionist organizer, Samuel Blitz, came to Columbus and spoke at a mass meeting at a local auditorium. According to the Columbus Daily Enquirer, a “large number of Jews and Gentiles were present and listened with deep interest to the speaker.” In an effort to signal that Zionism was not incompatible with Americanism, the meeting opened with the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” During his speech, Blitz lived up to his name, excoriating Jewish opponents of Zionism as “traitors to the Jewish people.” The day after Blitz’s speech, Columbus Jews founded a local Zionist district affiliated with the Zionist Organization of America.
In many other southern cities, Reform Jews tended to oppose Zionism, but in Columbus, B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Rosenthal gave the invocation before Blitz’s speech. Still, most members of the new Zionist organization were immigrants from Russia and Poland and members of Sharis Israel. In 1945, Sharis Israel held a special service in honor of the 28th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which was Great Britain’s expression of support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. That same year, Columbus women formed a chapter of Hadassah, with the wife of Sharis Israel’s Rabbi Aaron Funk serving as president. Though it was started relatively late, Columbus’ Hadassah chapter eventually became the largest Jewish women’s organization in the city, attracting members from both congregations. It raised money for the Hadassah Hospital in Israel as well as local causes. They would hold annual musical theater productions as fundraisers. The Columbus Hadassah chapter later funded the library at the local Ronald McDonald House.