By STEVE MAAS/JNS.ORG
When most people think of the refugee ship “Exodus,” the Paul Newman movie and Leon Uris novel come to mind. Not many know that one of the heroes behind the real-life Exodus was American businessman Dewey D. Stone.
Stone’s role in purchasing ships and weapons—under the nose of the FBI—and helping to orchestrate the founding of Israel
is the subject of a new documentary,
“The Dewey Stone Connection: From Exodus to Independence.” The film is the result of a five-year effort headed up by Walter M. Newman, who grew up a few blocks from Stone’s house.
Newman—a retired official with the Environmental Protection—was researching the founding of Israel and noticed that Stone’s name “kept popping up.”
Newman scoured the records at the American Jewish Historical Society office in Boston, where Stone’s papers are archived. The Stone that Newman recalled from his youth was a charismatic leader in the Jewish community, hardly the kind of person one would expect to be part of what amounted to a smuggling ring. “There were whispers around Brockton that he was somehow involved with the state of Israel, but nobody knew exactly what he was involved in,” said Newman.
Stone was swept up in the cause of the Palestinian Jews after hearing a speech in 1940 by Chaim Weizmann, the head of the World Zionist Organization and later the first president of Israel. Weizmann was in Boston drumming up support for a research university in a future Jewish state. After his talk, Weizmann invited Stone and a few others back to his hotel room, where they chatted until morning. The next day, Stone drove Weizmann to Harvard, where he was giving another speech. On the way, they stopped at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—the model of the university Weizmann sought to build.
“It was at that moment that the seed of hope that this dream might really be achieved was planted within me—sitting in a stationary car with a silent visionary,” Stone wrote, as quoted in the documentary.
After the war, Stone and Levine worked behind the scenes on both military and diplomatic efforts to forge a Jewish state. Suspecting that the FBI was tapping his phone, Stone made calls from his sister’s house to procure ships and surplus U.S. weapons.
Unlike in the 1960 movie, the real Exodus, carrying Holocaust survivors from France to Palestine in 1947, was rammed by a British destroyer just a few miles off the coast of Palestine, then under British control. Its 4,500 passengers were sent to a displaced-persons camp in Germany. Eventually, the majority of passengers settled in Israel. Meanwhile, worldwide outrage over the refugees’ plight helped bolster the push to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
But just a few months before Israel was to declare independence, the U.S. State Department persuaded President Harry S. Truman to reject its recognition. Weizmann, who was waiting anxiously in New York, expressed his frustration to Stone in a meeting on March 12, 1948. That night a visibly shaken Stone returned to Boston, where he was honored at a B’nai B’rith dinner along with Frank Goldman, the national head of the organization.
Hearing about Weizmann’s predicament, Goldman said he might have a solution. He had just attended a Kansas City B’nai B’rith event recognizing Eddie Jacobson, a partner with Truman in a clothing store business. Why not see if Jacobson would intervene with his old pal?
Goldman and Stone called Jacobson. After meeting with Weizmann, Jacobson hopped on a train to Washington to meet with Truman. The president agreed to see Weizmann, provided he came in the side door.
After hearing out the Zionist leader, Truman did an about-face and recognized Israel.
After the war, Stone, who died in 1977 at age 77, continued to support Israel. He served as chairman of the board of governors of the Weizmann Institute from 1949 -1970 and encouraged David Ben-Gurion, the founding prime minister, to issue Israel bonds for financing the fledgling nation.
Steve Maas, a freelance writer based in Brookline, Mass., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.