Essay: How the Sinking of the Titanic Changed Israel Forever

The children that lost their lives that April 15th were never to grow up and have families of their own. Men and women were widowed, lives changed forever.

On a chilly night in the mid-Atlantic, the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic 100 years ago cemented itself as the most iconic maritime incident in history. Everyone from historians to pop-culture junkies know about the Titanic. Over 1,500 people lost their lives, but like a butterfly effect, there’s no telling how many lives were affected in some way or another. The children that lost their lives that April 15th were never to grow up and have families of their own. Men and women were widowed, lives changed forever.



If we were to tell you that the 1912 sinking of the Titanic had a significant impact on Israel’s history, you’d probably think its quite a stretch. After all, the modern State of Israel didn’t formally exist until 1948, so how could a British passenger liner in the Atlantic decades earlier have any impact? Oh, and you can also throw Macy’s into the mix.

Flashback to 1912. Nathan and his brother Isidor Strauss were well to do New York City businessmen and philanthroposts who became co-owners of R.H. Macy department store. In 1912, Nathan Strauss along with his brother Isidor and his wife visited the Land of Israel, in what was then still controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Nathan fell in love with the country, which was growing substantially due to the Zionist movement and Jewish immigration. Isidor and his wife headed back to New York, passing through England on the way. Unfortunately, they boarded the RMS Titanic, and perished when it sunk that April night.

Had Nathan Strauss been on board with his brother and his wife, he surely would have lost his life. According to written accounts, Nathan was deeply affected by this loss, but believed his life had been divinely spared. He dedicated the rest of his life to philanthropy, giving away two-thirds of his life fortune to helping build the young country. Among his contributions to Israel included a science school for girls, as well as hospitals, soup kitchens and other facilities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

An ardent Zionist, Nathan Strauss was as beloved a public figure in New York City as he was in Israel. In 1923, Nathan Straus won an opinion poll asking New Yorkers to name the individual who had done the most to promote the city’s public welfare during the previous quarter century. One of Israel’s largest cities, Netanya, was in fact named after Nathan Strauss in 1927!

In Jerusalem, “Rehov Straus” or “Strauss Street” was inaugurated in 1930. While it was renamed by the British in 1931 “Chancellor Avenue,” it was restored to Strauss Street after 1948.

There’s no doubt that Nathan Strauss was one of the most important supporters of Israel and philanthropists in the early 20th century. As the world looks back at 100 years of history following the sinking of the Titanic, there are countless stories to tell, countless waves that were formed from that one ripple in time.


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