Pool, David De Sola
- Marc D. Angel
Pool, David De Sola (16 May 1885–01 December 1970), religious leader and author, was born in London, England, the son of Eleazar Pool, a businessman, and Abigail Davis. He graduated from University College of the University of London in 1905. He had concurrently attended Jews’ College, where he pursued rabbinic studies. Continuing his studies at the Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, he earned in 1907 his doctoral degree from Heidelberg University. His thesis, a study of the Kaddish prayer, was published in English in 1909 and reprinted twice.
In 1907 Pool moved to New York, where he had been elected to serve as assistant minister to Dr. Henry Pereira Mendes of Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, which was founded in 1654. He continued to serve Shearith Israel as minister and minister emeritus until his death. In 1917 he married Tamar Hirshenson; they had two children.
Pool was a communal activist and became the foremost spokesman of Sephardic Jewry in the United States. During the first decades of the twentieth century, many thousands of Sephardic immigrants came to New York from Turkey, Greece, the Balkan countries, and Syria. The sisterhood of Shearith Israel established settlement houses on the Lower East Side to serve the needs of these Sephardic newcomers. Pool was deeply involved in this work, especially as it related to religious life and education for the youth. He also encouraged programs that brought downtown Sephardic immigrants uptown to his congregation on 70th Street and Central Park West to become active members of Shearith Israel. Pool urged existing Jewish organizations to turn their attention to the needs of the Sephardic immigrants, who were something of an enigma to the organized Jewish community in New York. While the overwhelming number of Jewish immigrants were Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazic Jews, the Sephardim spoke Judeo-Spanish, Arabic, and Greek. Their religious liturgy and customs differed from the dominant Ashkenazic Jewish community. Pool felt it was the historic responsibility of the ancient Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York to exert leadership in helping the new Sephardic immigrants adapt to American life. In spite of some tensions between the new immigrants and the old line Sephardic congregation, a spirit of cooperation and harmony generally prevailed.
Pool served in many positions of leadership in the Jewish community. He was president of the New York Board of Rabbis (1916–1917); field organizer and director of army camp work for the Jewish Welfare Board (1917–1918); regional director for Palestine and Syria of the Joint Distribution Committee (1920–1921); president of the Synagogue Council of America (1938–1940); and president of the American Jewish Historical Society (1955–1956). He was also founder of the Union of Sephardic Congregations in 1928 and served as its president for over three decades. He was a member of the National Youth Administration under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During World War II he was actively involved with the Jewish Welfare Board in providing chaplaincy services to military personnel.
As an author of many literary and scholarly works, Pool gained considerable distinction. He translated and edited the Sephardic liturgy, the prayer books published and distributed by the Union of Sephardic Congregations, which included Book of Prayers: New Year (1937); Book of Prayers: Day of Atonement (1939); Book of Prayers: Daily-Sabbath (1941); and Book of Prayers: Festivals (1947). All reprinted numerous times, they became the standard volumes used in Sephardic congregations throughout the United States and in other English-speaking communities. He also translated and edited the Ashkenazic prayer book under the auspices of the Rabbinical Council of America in one volume, The Traditional Prayer Book for Sabbath and Festivals (1960). His interest in the history of his congregation resulted in the publication of two important books: Portraits Etched in Stone (1952), and An Old Faith in the New World (1955), the latter volume coauthored with his wife. He published numerous articles and monographs on Jewish American history, contemporary religious life, Jewish history, literature and philosophy, education, Zionism, and Sephardica.
A man of aristocratic bearing and spiritual sensitivity, Pool maintained friendly relationships with Christian clergy, political figures, and leaders in cultural and intellectual life. When Shearith Israel celebrated its tercentenary with a testimonial dinner, Eleanor Roosevelt attended in honor of Pool. Because of a profound commitment to Zionism, in 1920 he left his position at Shearith Israel in order to work in Palestine for the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish organization dedicated to helping needy Jews throughout the world. This decision was taken against the wishes of the board of trustees of the synagogue and might have cost Pool his position at Shearith Israel. Upon his return to New York in 1922, however, he was again called to his position at the synagogue. He preached and worked tirelessly for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. When Israel was established in 1948, Pool’s enthusiasm continued unabated. In 1956 members of the Sephardic community in New York contributed toward the establishment of a Jewish settlement in Dalton, Israel, in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Pool. While pursuing his many literary and community activities, Pool continued to devote himself to the pastoral needs of his congregation. He died in New York City.
Pool’s papers are housed in the Archives of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City. A collection of his sermons and selections from his writings are found in Marc D. Angel, ed., Rabbi David De Sola Pool: Selections from Six Decades of Sermons, Addresses and Writings (1960). Among his published works not mentioned in the text are Mourners Handbook (1915; with Dr. H. P. Mendes); Capital Punishment among the Jews (1916); Why I Am a Jew (1957); and Is There an Answer? (1966; with his wife). Biographical information is found in Pool’s article “My Spiritual Autobiography” in Thirteen Americans (sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1953), and in his An Old Faith in the New World (1955).