Reflecting on the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Meir Soloveichik recalls another American politician’s visit to the city:
[T]he enduring connection of Jews and their city is something many Americans have understood, and they have revered the Jewish link to Jerusalem long before the modern Jewish state was born. In 1871, William Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s former secretary of state, journeyed on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As his travelogue recounts, “our last day [in] Jerusalem has been spent, as it ought to have been, among and with the Jews, who were the builders and founders of the city, and who cling the closer to it for its disasters and desolation.”
Seward spent several hours on a Friday afternoon at the Wailing Wall, admiringly observing the Jews who were “pouring out their lamentations over the fall of their beloved city, and praying for its restoration to the Lord, who promised, in giving its name, that He would ‘be there.’” Upon departing at sunset, he encountered a rabbi who begged him to attend kabbalat Shabbat, Sabbath evening prayers, at the Hurva synagogue—then the most magnificent Jewish house of worship in the Holy Land. (It was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948 and just recently rebuilt.)
Seward sat through the entire service, which concluded with a special Hebrew benediction. “The rabbi informed us,” the travelogue reports, “that it was a prayer of gratitude for Mr. Seward’s visit to the Jews at Jerusalem.” This was nothing less than what Jewish law calls hakkarat ha-tov—an expression of Jewish gratitude to any world leader who publicly embraces the Jews’ link to their eternal city.