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Trumans Jew2By BERNIE BELLAN We received the following email from Leonard Stone on December 26. In it Stone refers to an event that occurred here in October 2013 that was sponsored by the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada.

Leonard StoneDuring that event Stone gave a talk about something that happened in 1963, when Laurie Mainster, who was a central figure in B’nai Brith at that time, had asked Stone, who was then the executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and had a terrific reputation as a fundraiser, whether he could contact former President Harry Truman to see whether Truman might be willing to be the guest speaker at a B’nai Brith fundraiser in Winnipeg.
Also during that October 2013 event Dan Stone, former president of the JHCWC, preceded Leonard Stone’s talk (they’re not related, by the way). In his own talk, Dan Stone described the pivotal role that Harry Truman played in the birth of the State of Israel in 1948.

Here is the email we received from Leonard Stone:
Hello Bernie.
You will recall the evening I spoke at the Asper Center on the subject of Harry Truman, David Niles and the founding of the state of Israel (in October 2013). Subsequent to that presentation you wrote an article that reviewed my presentation and he material contained. I was so taken by your comments that I began thinking if I could translate my speech into a drama, which, I eventually did. I called it “Truman’s Jew.”
On December 11th, it had its world premier reading at the Beth Israel synagogue in Edmonton, and in behalf of the shul’s Education activities.
 I will make no comment on the review, but urge you to read it in the Edmonton Jewish News. It speaks for itself, and it occurred to me that since I am a Winnipeg native, and since the idea of the play flourished after reading your complimentary comments, that you might wish to contact Debra Schatz who wrote the review and see if it is something you would like to reprint. It was in their December 13th edition. The connection seems obvious . . . a playwright from Winnipeg; the germination of the idea – your fault for which I am grateful.
 Leonard Stone

In order to give readers a better understanding of the events to which Stone refers in his email we offer here some excerpts from an article I wrote about the JHCWC event, which took place on October 6, 2013:

Dan Stone, Professor Emeritus of History, the University of Winnipeg, and current president of the Jewish Heritage Centre, offered a powerpoint presentation highlighting Truman’s career with an emphasis on his relationship with American Jews…
Insofar as Truman’s support for Israel was concerned, Stone explained that “Truman was caught between his sympathy for the Jews and professional advice to the contrary.”
“Truman never explained why he came down on one side over the other,” Stone said. “Historians believe he did it because it was the right thing to do.”
Leonard Stone, a “north end boy”, as he described himself, and a former executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (along with five other symphony orchestras during the course of his long and varied career), demonstrated a fine talent not only for public speaking, but for historical scholarship that would have made any PhD candidate proud.
As it turned out this particular evening, Stone became obsessed with understanding what led an apparent “hick” from Missouri to lend such strong support to the creation of the State of Israel and this, moreover, in the face of fierce opposition from the professionals over at State.
Stone explained how he had been drafted into contacting former President Truman in an attempt to bring him to Winnipeg 50 years ago.
“Fifty years and five months ago,” Stone related, “Laurie Mainster called me and said we were going to have a major event for B’nai Brith and that they wanted me to invite Harry Truman to be the guest speaker.”
In Stone’s telling of the story, which he did in dramatic fashion, he set about attempting to contact Harry Truman. In those days, he explained, one had to rely on the assistance of the long-distance operator to contact someone.
So, Stone said, he thought he would first try to find out how he might contact President Truman by calling the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.
“I had the operator place the call. Ring, ring, ring, ring. A voice answered. I asked: “Is this the Truman Library?’
‘Yes, it is,’ I was told.
‘Do you know how I might be able to get a hold of President Truman?’, I asked.
‘Yes I do,’ came the answer.
‘Could you tell me how then?’, I further inquired.
‘You’re speaking to him,’ I was told.”
Eventually, Stone explained, as much as President Truman said he would love to come to Winnipeg, his health and other pressing matters would simply not allow it, he was told. (That explanation becomes the basis of the letter that Stone would unveil this evening and present to the Jewish Heritage Centre.) Truman, Stone noted, “knew everything about B’nai Brith.” In offering his regrets at not being able to come to Winnipeg, Truman said that he “regrets it more than you can know.”

In Stone’s narrative, which he related in a fashion akin to telling a mystery tale, trying to understand Truman’s eventual support for Israel is not an easy matter. He often used derogatory terms toward Jews, even going so far as to refer to his one-time business partner Eddie Jacobson, as that “kike”.
In fact, according to Stone, Truman was irritated by the constant Jewish lobbying to have the U.S. support the creation of the State of Israel, and was very reluctant to meet with Chaim Weizman, who was the best-known spokesman for the Zionist cause worldwide in 1948.
Eventually though, Truman did meet with Weizman in what became a pivotal meeting. During that meeting, according to Stone, Weizman said to the president: “The Holocaust was the world’s tragedy. The creation of the State of Israel can be the world’s redemption.” Weizman went on to tell Truman that, by recognizing the State of Israel, Truman could become the “Jews’ Lincoln”.
Finally, according to Stone, Truman agreed and said to Weizman: “Sham (Truman’s way of pronouncing ‘Chaim’), all right, I’ll recognize Israel.”
Of course, there has been much written about what led Truman to cast his support in favour of the creation of the State of Israel, including Truman’s need for Jewish support from the pivotal state of New York in that year’s presidential election, but the likelihood is that, despite the thousands of documents that have been studied by innumerable historians, we will never know for certain what led Truman to lean Israel’s way.

Fast forward four years later and Leonard Stone’s idea to turn Harry Truman’s friendship with David Niles into a pay achieved fruition. As Stone mentioned in his email to us, The Edmonton Jewish News reported on a reading of his play that was performed recently at an Edmonton synagogue. Here are some excerpts from two articles that appeared on the Edmonton Jewish News website describing first, what led up to the reading of the play by members of the Beth Israel Synagogue, followed by a euphoric review of the play’s reading on December 11 (to which Stone had referred in his Dec. 26 email):

This is from a preview of the play’s reading:
 On December 11, Beth Israel Synagogue will present a world premiere reading of Truman’s Jew, a new play that explores the intrigue and daring struggle that led to the UN partition of Palestine and American recognition for the modern state of Israel.
It is a production that has been decades in the making – perhaps not consciously, but certainly as a journey…
“I felt a connection to the history,” said playwright Leonard Stone…”But as I went through the materials, as I went through the archives, the story that unravelled was not the story I had been told. There was this mysterious, enigmatic man, who worked on Truman, and he was Jewish, and that’s the Jew in the title “Truman’s Jew.”
The man referred to in Stone’s title is David K. Niles an advisor to both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. Niles proved to be a significant and influential advocate championing the Zionist cause as a trusted member of Truman’s circle.
“Truman’s wife was a flagrant anti-Semite; his mother was a racist and an anti-Semite. Truman as a young man was even a member of the KKK. So why did this mysterious Jew turn to Truman of all people to help save the Holocaust survivors?” Stone postulated emphatically. “I didn’t want to talk about the history per se but about the mystery.”

And here is an excerpt from the review of the play’s reading:
Beth Israel Synagogue presented an exceptional evening with the world premiere reading of “Truman’s Jew” on December 11.
The play, written by Leonard David Stone, told the remarkable story of the events leading up to the 1948 United Nations vote to establish the State of Israel. The key figures in the story are US president Harry Truman , White House Advisor David K. Niles, Truman’s former business partner Eddie Jacobson and Secretary of State George Marshall.

The story unfolded beautifully with the introduction of the characters and the description of the political mindset of the times. It was an intense story whose outcome was familiar to everyone in the crowd but the events leading up to the declaration are not well known and Stone told the story very well. There was drama, intrigue, back-room dealings, double crossings, humour and guilt – all packaged neatly in a captivating reading.
Following the performance, Stone spoke briefly, explaining that this was his first ever play – sparked decades ago by a 20-minute phone conversation he had with then former President Truman. The personal experience ignited an interest in telling Truman’s story and the more research he did, the more compelling the story became. The role of David K. Niles is little known in history books, but Stone discovered that Niles’ personal writings were archived at Brandeis University and they were generously made available to the playwright.

As a final footnote to this story, our sometime writer (and permanent curmudgeon) Bill Marantz referred to Stone’s play in a column that appeared in our June 22, 2016 issue. Here is what Marantz wrote back then, referring to his friend, Leonard Stone (who, Bill noted, he was surprised to learn, was still alive):
At the age of 80, he was embarking on new career: playwright. He’d been interested in Harry Truman all his life and had now written a play, called “Truman’s Jew”, about a little-known advisor who had influenced Truman’s decision to recognize the State of Israel in 1948. He had sent it to Stephen Schipper, the Artistic Director of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, and Schipper had been so impressed that he had agreed to mount it next season. (Ed. note: As you will see, that wasn’t at all true.)

I asked Stone whether he had been in contact with anyone at the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. He said that he hadn’t, but that was a great idea and asked me for a contact, so I gave him Ari Weinberg’s email address. (Ari is the WJT artistic director.)
I also contacted Steven Schipper to try and find out whether what Bill Marantz had written was accurate. Schipper did say that there had been a reading of Stone’s play  at MTC in April 2016, but there was never any suggestion that the play would be performed by MTC the next season.
Schipper also said that he advised Stone to employ the services of a dramaturge (someone who works on a play to improve it). When I told Shipper that the play received an enthusiastic review in the Edmonton Jewish News he surmised that Stone had taken his advice.

One more thing that Schipper told me - and that came as even more of a surprise was that Ari Weinbeg had been present at the play’s reading in 2016.
Since “Truman’s Jew” was never mounted by MTC the next season (which would have been the 2016-17 season) I contacted Leonard Stone one more time to see what may be next in store for “Truman’s Jew”?
Stone responded: “Nothing came from the MTC exploration, and there are no plans for a Winnipeg staging. What transpired in Edmonton was a sophisticated reading (most readings take place sitting around a table) but the Edmonton experience was lit and amplified, with minimal stage direction. But, as the review in the Edmonton Jewish News says . . . . pretty darn good! The product that materialized in Edmonton will be the vehicle I will now shop around the theater world. Wish I was twenty years younger. Oh well.”

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