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The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education

Jonathan B. Krasner

Publication Year: 2011

The first full-scale history of the creation, growth, and ultimate decline of the dominant twentieth-century model for American Jewish education Samson Benderly inaugurated the first Bureau of Jewish Education in 1910 amid a hodgepodge of congregational schools, khayders, community Talmud Torahs, and private tutors. Drawing on the theories of Johann Pestalozzi, Herbert Spencer, and John Dewey, and deriving inspiration from cultural Zionism, Benderly sought to modernize Jewish education by professionalizing the field, creating an immigrant-based, progressive supplementary school model, and spreading the mantra of community responsibility for Jewish education. With philanthropist Jacob Schiff and influential laymen financing his plans, Benderly realized that his best hope for transforming the educational landscape nationwide was to train a younger generation of teachers, principals, and bureau leaders. These young men became known collectively as the “Benderly Boys,” who, from the 1920s to the 1970s, were the dominant force in Jewish education—both formal and informal—in the United States.

Published by: Brandeis University Press


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pp. c-i

Series Page, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ii-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Upon reading my 2002 doctoral dissertation, which examines the representation of insiders and outsiders in American Jewish textbooks, Dr. Phyllis Deutsch, my editor at University Press of New England, wanted to know more about the people who had inspired, written, and published those books. Your analyses are interesting, she told me, but can’t you tell us a little more about the environment in which these books were written? Seven years later, this volume is my extended answer to...

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pp. 1-10

Long before Temima Gezari became a renowned Jewish arts educator she was Fannie (Fruma) Nimtzowitz, a Jewish education success story. Fannie arrived in the United States as an eight-month-old baby in 1906, and her family settled into a dilapidated room behind her father’s hardware store on Pitkin Avenue in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. In those days her family was so poor that she and her two older siblings slept on a bed made out of chairs. Yet Fannie’s home overflowed with the sounds and smells of Judaism.1...

Part I: Making Order out of Chaos, 1900–1939

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pp. 11-16

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1 The Making of the Master

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pp. 17-35

When Samson Benderly arrived in Baltimore on September 23, 1898, he was just another impoverished and exhausted immigrant pursuing a promise of opportunity. In Benderly’s case the dream involved a medical career. In his hands, he held the o≈ce address of Dr. Aaron Friedenwald, a professor of ophthalmology at Baltimore’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Three months earlier Benderly had met with Friedenwald when the doctor was passing through Beirut on his way...

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2 The New York Bureau and Its Critics

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pp. 36-54

‘‘I have heard great sighs from among those of us who miss the good old days, the years of exploding immigration, who cry and say those early days were better!’’ Israel Konovitz wrote in 1944. The wistful purveyors of such nostalgia conjured up images of ‘‘faithful and upright’’ Jewish immigrants, stalwart opponents of Jewish ignorance, profoundly ‘‘worried about the education of their children’’ and demanding ‘‘Torah from the teachers.’’ Invariably, these images were contrasted...

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3 A Few Good Men (and Women)

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pp. 55-90

Modernizing the largest existing Talmud Torahs was only one element of Benderly’s lever approach to Jewish educational reform. From his earliest discussions about the Bureau with Magnes, Benderly envisioned that a significant investment of time and resources would be devoted to the operation of one or two laboratory schools where curricula, methods, and textbooks could be worked out with the expectation that they would garner accolades and quickly spread to other...

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4 The Struggle for a Modern School System

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pp. 91-116

Samson Benderly’s research into the finances of the various Jewish schools convinced him that the Talmud Torah system constituted ‘‘the line of least resistance’’ to reform. Despite their precarious finances and historical association with the impoverished, the schools enjoyed communal support. They were generally governed by local boards of directors and supported through a combination of donations, charity benefits, and tuition collections. Some of the more prominent...

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5 The Organization of a Jewish Education Profession

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pp. 117-158

In 1917 the united states entered the First World War, and the Kehillah all but fell apart. News of the United States’ entry into the war hit the streets on Friday morning, April 6, 1917, as Benderly and his protégés were holding their usual breakfast meeting in his favorite East Side diner. As the sound of newsboys excitedly hawking their extra on the sidewalk outside interrupted their conversation, Benderly turned serious and declared: ‘‘We have lost more today than we can...

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6 Progress under Threat

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pp. 159-184

If Israel Chipkin was initially shaken by the stock market crash in the autumn of 1929, he did not mention it in his correspondence. Perhaps he was reassured by the public pronouncements of JEA leaders that the organization’s activities would not be curtailed by the economic downturn. ‘‘The Jewish Education Association is proceeding with its work in the unshaken faith that the men and women who make up its body of friends and supporters will not permit the stock market to act...

Part II: Jewish Learning for Jewish Living, 1910–1945

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pp. 185-190

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7 Education as Enculturation

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pp. 191-212

in the 1910s the basic curriculum in the New York Bureau of Education’s standard intermediate and preparatory schools was centered on cognitive learning, an indication that despite his commitment to diversify the curriculum, Benderly continued to view as core knowledge Hebrew and Judaism’s classical texts. The preparatory school curriculum was similar to the one worked out, with Benderly’s consultation, by the modern Talmud Torah principals’ group, with the major...

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8 The Jewish School Curriculum and the Limits of Progressive Reform

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pp. 213-236

When the Jewish Teachers Association (JTA) was created in 1914 by Bureau staff members with Benderly’s encouragement, it was meant to be a counterweight to the immigrant-dominated Agudath Ha-Morim Ha-Ivrim, the Hebrew Teachers Union of New York and Vicinity. By 1917 the JTA had about seventy names on its membership roll, mostly graduates of the Jewish Theological Seminary Teachers Institute. (Aside from country of origin and educational background, a standout...

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9 The Central Jewish Institute

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pp. 237-267

The educational experimentation at the New York Bureau and its laboratory schools found its fullest expression in the program of the Central Jewish Institute (CJI), which operated in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood between 1916 and 1944. The first modern Jewish educational center in the United States, it soon became a model for other schools and Jewish community centers in the New York area and beyond. At its helm, from 1918 until its demise, was Benderly disciple...

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10 ‘‘An Environment of Our Own Making’’

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pp. 268-322

Even before they reached home, Florence Kummel and her husband realized that they had probably overreacted to their daughter Rose’s homesickness when they gave in to her entreaties and fetched her from the Central Jewish Institute Camps, only a week into the season. Rose appeared healthy and in much better spirits than her letters would have suggested. Throughout the trip home, she could not stop talking enthusiastically about her bunkmates and the camp activities. But...

Part III: Between "K’lal Yisrael" and Denominationalism,1940–1965

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pp. 323-327

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11 Unity in Diversity?

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pp. 328-374

More so than any of its predecessors, the Jewish Education Committee of New York (JEC) strove to be a pluralistic service agency. Prior to its inception in 1939, central Jewish education agencies in North America typically funded only a single type of Jewish education, the communal weekday afternoon school or Talmud Torah. In a few instances, for example the Board of Jewish Education in Chicago, bureaus opened their educational services to congregational schools. But the notion...

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12 Rebuilding, Renewal, and Reconciliation in the Postwar Era

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pp. 375-408

The Jewish arrival in suburbia portended significant shifts in Jewish educational patterns. As early as 1950, sociologist Will Herberg proclaimed that a ‘‘religious revival’’ was underway: A synagogue building boom that dwarfed even the construction activity in the 1920s was in full swing; Jewish families were affiliating and sending their children to Jewish schools in significantly greater numbers than in the 1920s or 1930s; and the child-centered atmosphere that sociologist...

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pp. 409-420

Shortly before Benderly’s death in July 1944, Alexander Dushkin made a pilgrimage to his ailing mentor’s home in Godeffroy, New York. Years later he was still haunted by their conversation. ‘‘Dushkin, I do not know whether I did you boys any good personally by drawing you into the profession of Jewish education!’’ Benderly confided. Dushkin did what he could to reassure him, while internally lamenting: ‘‘What a sad summary this was for the beneficent life of a great educator...


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pp. 421-478


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pp. 479-500

E-ISBN-13: 9781611682939
E-ISBN-10: 1611682932
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584659662
Print-ISBN-10: 1584659661

Page Count: 512
Illustrations: 48 illus.
Publication Year: 2011