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S American National Biography Online Monsky, Henry (4 Feb. 1890-2 May 1947), lawyer and Jewish communal leader, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Abraham Monsky, a fish dealer, and Betsy Perisnev Greenblatt, both of whom had been born in Poland. Monsky was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home; his father was a cantor and was active in synagogue and Jewish communal activities. After graduating from Central High School in 1907, he entered Creighton College of Law as a night student in 1909. There he demonstrated leadership and oratorical skills and in 1911 was president of the Omaha Hebrew Club, a group that had been founded by his father in 1892. He earned his law degree in 1912 and embarked on a corporate practice. He married Sadie Lesser in 1915; they had three children. Monsky joined B'nai B'rith, a major Jewish fraternal organization, in 1912 and was lodge president in 1913. A lifelong Zionist, he attended the first American Jewish Congress convention in December 1918 and supported the postwar relief of the American Jewish Relief Committee (1919), the Palestine Restoration Fund (1920), and the Joint Distribution Committee meeting. He longed to unite Jews to work for a common purpose. Monsky's wide-ranging concern for juvenile issues caused him to become a benefactor in 1917 of Father Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, an orphanage and home for troubled boys. His role is depicted in the film classic Boys Town (1938). His concern for the spiritual vitality of Jewish youth facilitated the transformation of an Omaha Central High School Jewish club in 1922 into the B'nai B'rith-sponsored Aleph Zadik Aleph junior order, a program for young boys. Soon thereafter Monsky encouraged the establishment of the Hillel Foundation on many college campuses. In 1923 he introduced Community Chest united fundraising to the Omaha Chamber of Commerce rather than ignoring urban social problems or tackling them piecemeal through multiple, competing, and fragmented charitable organizations. Monsky aspired to lead B'nai B'rith. An indefatigable fundraiser, he was elected the organization's international president in May 1938, becoming the first Eastern European to lead the group. He pledged all his energy "no matter what the sacrifice may be." Membership rose dramatically, from 45,000 in January 1936 to 82,860 in October 1939, spurred by continuous crises: Hitler's Nazi party, the Nuremberg laws, Kristallnacht, immigration restrictions, and World War II. By the end of the war B'nai B'rith had 300,000 members. Monsky's 1938 Rosh Hashanah article "A Jewish Inventory" (B'nai B'rith Magazine, Oct. 1938, p. 51) identified five outstanding problems facing Jews: (1) relief for refugees; (2) assistance to rebuild Palestine; (3) unswerving defense of Jewish rights; (4) loyalty to democracy in the face of subversive forces; and (5) building a "richer and more vital Jewish life." That same year Monsky attended a meeting of the "big four" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Together, B'nai B'rith, the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish Labor Committee created the General Council for Jewish Rights. Monsky served as vice chairman and repeatedly called for a "united front." When the British government vacillated in the 1930s on honoring the Balfour Declaration, which declared British sympathy with Zionist aspirations and had been signed in 1917, an Emergency Committee of Zionists--comprising Monsky; Dr. Solomon Goldman and Dr. Stephen S. Wise, both rabbis; and Louis Lipsky, an author and journalist--interviewed Sir Roland Lindsay, British ambassador to the United States, and the following day presented a plea to Secretary of State Cordell Hull requesting that U.S. pressure be brought on the British. Monsky sent Prime Minister Chamberlain a number of telegrams urging him to uphold the declaration. Monsky condemned communism, fascism, and nazism as equal threats to democracy. He fought anti-Semitism at rallies in Madison Square Garden, by supporting the Anti-Defamation League and lobbying elected officials. To his anti-Semitic enemies, such as the American fascists and nativists, he symbolized the "international Jew," part of an alleged Jewish conspiracy featured in the spurious Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Monsky involved B'nai B'rith in Red Cross and civil defense programs. President Franklin D. Roosevelt named Monsky to the National Volunteer Participation Committee in July 1941. B'nai B'rith raised over $135 million in war bond sales. On 25 May 1941 Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, met with New York governor Herbert H. Lehman, Monsky, Stephen Wise, and Louis Lipsky and others at New York's St. Regis Hotel. Weizmann and Monsky, realizing the fractiousness and disarray in organized American Jewish life, searched for a compromise agreement to establish Jewish unity to rebuild Palestine. As European Jewry's situation further deteriorated during the Second World War, American Jewry created numerous ad hoc committees and programs. Following the verification between June and November 1942 of Hitler's "final solution" and Jewish leadership's ineffectiveness in persuading Cordell Hull and President Roosevelt to take effective action, Monsky in December 1942 almost single-handedly convened the American Jewish Assembly, initially comprising thirty-two different and contending organizations. Subsequently renamed the American Jewish Conference, it concerned itself with European Jewry and Palestine. Monsky served as a delegate to the United Nations conference in San Francisco in 1945. After Monsky's first marriage ended in divorce in 1937, he married Daisy Hirsch, the widow of Albert Rothschild and a University of Chicago graduate and social worker who had one child, that same year. In 1947 he suffered a fatal heart attack while addressing the American Jewish Conference on the pressing need for unity. Monsky played a significant role in the B'nai B'rith, Omaha Jewish communal affairs, Jewish-Catholic relations, combating juvenile delinquency, coordinating private sector social welfare, and creating the internationally oriented American Jewish Conference, which disbanded in 1948. Through statesmanship and dedication to fundamental Jewish spiritual concepts, mediated by his midwestern experience, he attempted to bridge divergences and rivalries in Jewish life. Bibliography Henry Monsky: The Man and His Work (1947), by his second wife and B'nai B'rith secretary and longtime friend Maurice Bisgyer, was written and published within months of his death. Albert Vorspan, Giants of Justice (1960), contains a thumbnail biography, "Henry Monsky--Gambler in Futures," pp. 117-31. Max F. Baer, Dealing in Futures: The Story of a Jewish Youth Movement (1983), provides valuable firsthand information and intellectual analysis. More recent academic literature includes a study by Deborah Dash Moore, B'nai B'rith and the Challenge of Ethnic Leadership (1981), and a biographical treatment that carries Monsky's life to the eve of the Second World War, Oliver B. Pollak, "The Education of Henry Monsky--Omaha's American Jewish Hero," in Crisis and Reaction: The Hero in Jewish History, ed. Menachem Mor (1995). An obituary is in the New York Times, 3 May 1947. Oliver B. Pollak Citation: Oliver B. Pollak. "Monsky, Henry"; http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-01026.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Further information is available at http://www.anb.org.
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