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A Brooklyn Rabbi Supports the New Deal

In September 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a letter to clergyman across the United States, asking them whether conditions in their communities had improved since the start of the New Deal. He was particularly interested in people's thoughts on Social Security, the new program passed in August 1935 to provide guaranteed payments for the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled. This was one of over 100,000 responses he received. This letter was reproduced with all of the author's original spelling, syntax, and grammar.

Dear Mr. Roosevelt:

....For about two years now I have been the supervisor of a project first in Work Relief and then under the Works Progress Administration. In addition during the last month I have acted as secretary to furnish free seats for a bureau conducted by Temple Emanuel and other congregations to furnish free seats for the Jewish holidays for those who could not afford to pay. This has brought me into direct contact with the very people for whom the Social Security Legislation and Works Program has been intended. I wish that those who are opposing such a program could meet these people. I could furnish instance after instance of old people who have worked hard all their lives, only to face desperate need in their old age; of middle-aged workers cast adrift not through their own incapability, but of those who employed them; of young people who have just completed their education and find that the working world has no place for them. I have found some shirkers and cheaters, but they are a very small minority; and the thing that has impressed me is the eagerness with which the unemployed seek for work, even the most difficult, in order that they may do their part in the community.

It goes then without question that I heartily applaud the work that the government has done in this direction and that I feel that it must continue as long as the necessity exists. I do not believe that government should assume full responsibility for employment--there is danger there. But as there is a social need which private business cannot or will not meet, it must be met by the American people as a whole, as a worth-while investment in its own citizens. While there is a distinct improvement in conditions as compared to the time when you assumed office, the emergency is still not over...

You have no doubt received many letters from clergymen and others all over the country on this same subject. Some will contain expressions of disagreement and even abuse. Do not be afraid of what is written by those who are afraid of a change, by the rich and their toadies, or by those who are offended because you do not act upon their own pet peeve. The masses of the people are still with you and you are their hope. Go on in the path that you have set out for yourself and you will ever enjoy the admiration and gratitude of the American people. With all good wishes, I remain,

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Simon Cohen
587 East 8th Street
Brooklyn, NY
October 27, 1935

Source | Simon Cohen, "Letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt," 27 October, 1935; from The New Deal Network,
Creator | Rabbi Simon Cohen
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Rabbi Simon Cohen, “A Brooklyn Rabbi Supports the New Deal,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 18, 2021,

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