Should “Lincoln” have two L’s in Hebrew? Some of the Jewish world’s top scholars convened at a Jerusalem conference to discuss Abraham Lincoln — and that was one of the topics of conversation at the event.
During the conversation, held to mark the publication of a Hebrew translation of Jonathan Sarna’s “Lincoln and the Jews” and including Leon Wieseltier and Ruth Calderon, the participants dished on a variety of topics — including this pressing question.
Thea Wieseltier, sister to Leon Wiseltier, said at the gathering that publishing house Kinneret Zmora’s decision to remove the second ‘L’ in Lincoln’s name for the Hebrew edition was the most radical thing associated with the Hebrew translation. Hebrew speakers tend to pronounce the second “L,” silent in English and written with a “Lamed” in Hebrew, producing the mistaken “Lincollin.”
Sarna spun his own funny tale about Lincoln, relating to the audience a story from the ‘70’s, when he and his father encountered a Jerusalem man who thought that a city street named for the great man commemorated a big donor to the United Jewish Appeal rather than an American president.
But it wasn’t all laughs, as Sarna and Wieseltier said what Lincoln meant to the Jews and his relevance for our own time.
Sarna argued in his book and on stage that Lincoln was favorable to the Jewish community, having also been on good terms with a number of individual Jews. “Lincoln had Jewish friends,” he told the audience — hundreds in fact according to his tract. “And that’s important, because when you know people, then you don’t distrust them,” he added.
Wieseltier said for his part that Lincoln was crucial in shaping his Jewish identity, recalling his participation as a yeshiva student in a Thanksgiving play that featured Lincoln and shaped him as a child.
“If Lincoln were alive today,” he told the crowd, “he would be heartbroken about certain realities of American life, but ecstatic that his principles are still valid and constant.”
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.