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It would appear that many social organizations had philanthropic interests although reference to charity in their charter or bylaws may only have been a rationalization for indulging in a game of poker. Many societies did in fact engage in some form of charity; they helped the sick and relieved the poor. No matter what their avowed purposes, there were few social groups that did not at some time give aid to Jews and even Gentiles.

Social welfare is a very broad almost vague concept. It has come to imply the well-being of society as a whole. In its all-inclusive sense it set out to supply food, clothing, cash, schooling, and religious instruction for the needy; for example, practically all these services were rendered children in an orphans’ home. Helping others was the concern of most Jews. The tradition of giving was thousands of years old, drawing its authority and its practice from the Bible and the later rabbinic codes. Provision for the distressed was a divine imperative. Some synagogs continued to give aid even after the establishment of philanthropic agencies and the rise of the federated charities. In the new post-Civil War communities the synagog was still the chief social-welfare institution though it may well have delegated its relief work to a male or female benevolent society recruited at least partly from its membership. However, as it has been pointed out in an earlier volume, the tendency was to divorce the giving of charity from the synagog and to assign it to a particular society or to several societies. There were many of them, called into being to respond to the needs of the constantly increasing stream of immigrants. The newcomers who insisted on helping themselves created mutual-aid associations. These self-help organizations were patterned on pious associations already established back home or on older American models, both non-Jewish. One thing was certain: the Jews were going to make provision for their own needy as many churches did. The forms that help could take were many. Somewhat untypical—but only in its combination of different types of welfare—is the Hebrew Beneficent Society of Cincinnati, a mutual-aid society that provided sick and death benefits for its members. But it was more than a self-help sodality. In addition it lent money out of its surplus, charging 6 percent interest; it maintained its own cemetery, doled out aid to non-members, and sent money to the distressed both here and in the Holy Land.1


Harassed by intolerant Slavic nationalism, Russian Jews began coming in larger numbers to the United States in the early 1880’s. Actually the Russians, Poles, Galicians with others had been drifting in for decades. American Jews were very much concerned about their European fellows who were often abused; practically all of the Jewish immigrants already resident here had experienced disabilities in their former Central and West European homelands. Something had to be done for the unfortunates still languishing in the transatlantic lands as well as those who came to make new lives here. Jews on this side of the ocean, a bare 300,000 or less, were not prepared to take care of relatively large numbers of impoverished newcomers. Because the best solution of the difficulty was to keep them at home, American Jewry always worked to emancipate their European coreligionists, but it accomplished precious little. But, reasoned the American Jew, if the sufferers were determined to emigrate then let them go to more civilized European lands. Let them not come here to confront American Jewry with almost insurmountable social-welfare and cultural problems. Let them go to Palestine! Isaac M. Wise saw no reason why they should not return to their ancient homeland as agricultural colonists although he saw no need for a separate Jewish state. Long before Herzl he expressed his disapproval of any form of political Zionism. The feeble attempt of American Jewry to divert the mainstream of East European refugees to Palestine and non-Slavic European lands failed. The Central and West Europeans and their Jewries, like the United States and its Jewry did not want these hordes descending upon them although a substantial number did settle in Germany, Austria, and England. Most of the emigrating East European Jews persisted in coming to the United States; there was no future for them in semi-arid Palestine under the Turks; America was the golden land offering political freedom and economic opportunity.

The native American Jews and the established Central European immigrants did not welcome the newcomers. The Germans here looked upon the East Europeans as an uncouth uneducated lot; America’s decorous Orthodox were not accustomed to a less-decorous East European Orthodoxy; Russian and Polish political mavericks, socialists and anarchists, were disliked; the new Palestine nationalism and Zionism of the 1880’s and 1890’s was summarily rejected. Zionism would only raise the specter of dual loyalties. The new European Judeophobia, anti-Semitism, already visible in the America of the late nineteenth century, would inevitably be exacerbated by the incoming Russian and Polish Jews. So the natives here thought. Always apprehensive, many American Jews feared for their status, their image in the eyes of a Gentile America.

Not all Jews here dreaded the coming of these new refugees. There were many who were sympathetic. The Jews who were fleeing were fellow Jews, persecuted; they had to be helped. This was Jewish law, tradition. As early as 1876 Moritz Loth, then president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, urged his fellow Jews assembled in convention in Washington to open negotiations with the leading European Jewish welfare agencies and seek their aid to put oppressed Jews on the soil here in this country. And when the Jews started coming in large numbers their coreligionists here dared not throw them on to the public charities. What would the Gentiles say! Men like Michael Heilprin were determined to help the newcomers and the European Jewries were also fully conscious of their obligations after the riots of 1881. They knew that the Jewish community here—less than 4 percent of World Jewry—could not alone meet the needs of the new immigrants. Jews in Berlin, Vienna, London, and Paris, working through their chief defense-welfare agencies, aided and encouraged many impoverished Jews to migrate to America. The French Alliance Israélite Universelle went even farther, for it made an effort to colonize some of the refugees on American farms.2


Why put the Jew on the soil? It is difficult for a generation on the eve of the twenty-first century to realize the preoccupation of late nineteenth-century Jewry with the hope of settling Jews in agricultural colonies. It was an obsession that was to beset Jews well into the twentieth century. It influenced Zionism, the Jewish farm settlements in Soviet Russia in the 1920’s, and fostered American Jewish colonization fervor. The colonization movement had many supporters. The Alliance financed a number of the American Jewish colonies of the early 1880’s, albeit not very generously, and its agrarian dreams were heartily seconded by American Jewry. A Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society was founded in New York City in 1881 to assist the newcomers materially and to colonize them, and when in 1883 this HEAS folded, it was succeeded by the Montefiore Agricultural Aid Society. In Chicago local Jewry established the Jewish Agriculturalists’ Aid Society which put individuals on farms in the midwestern states and in the Dakotas. Various farming settlements were sponsored by local communities, by Washington, D. C., by Baltimore, and by Cincinnati which established the Kansas colony of Beersheba. Individual donors were often active and generous in setting up close farming settlements in different parts of the country.

Many Jews throughout this country believed for generations that the solution to the problem of the overly-visible immigrant was colonization, especially in far off areas. Out of sight, out of mind? Possibly. Jewry here did not want the Jewish masses to remain in the cities; the leaders feared overcrowding and the successful American Jewish businessmen dreaded lest they be surrounded, overwhelmed by these alien newcomers. The Eastern metropolitan Jews carried a large share of the burden of resettlement; they did not hesitate to shift some of the responsibility and expense to the Jews in the backcountry. In short, one of the most favored solutions for the problem of the new arrivals was dispersion on the land. Colonization was deemed good economics, excellent apologetics. Colonization was also romantic; it appealed to those touched by populist notions of freedom and independence, by a belief in the constructive, productive nature of farming; many, very many were subconsciously influenced by anti-Semitic and possibly Marxist concepts of the trader as a parasite. Because most would-be colonists, Russians and Rumanians, had little or no means they were aided by European and American sponsoring groups. Over a dozen colonies were established in the 1880’s; others came into being in the early 1900’s. The earliest were in Louisiana, Arkansas, southern New Jersey, Dakota Territory, California, and Oregon. Kansas alone sheltered at least seven. All American Jewish colonies, with one exception, were short-lived.3

There were many reasons why the colonies failed. Most of the settlers knew nothing about farming; they had little capital; the lands they bought or on which they homesteaded were bad, too wet or too dry; the cost of money at the bank was inordinately high; nature beat them down with floods, fire, hail, insects, drought, malaria, and yellow fever. The farms were remote from towns, railroads, and markets. The financial depressions of the 1880’s and 1890’s were long and cruel; leadership, management, was bad; internal dissension was rife; social and cultural and religious opportunities were often missing. Farming on a small scale was on the decline in industrial America.


The one successful agricultural enterprise was the South Jersey complex of colonies. Alliance (1882), Carmel (1882), and Rosenhayn (1882), three neighboring settlements, managed to hold on well into the twentieth century. Alliance, named in honor of the Alliance Israélite Universelle received support in its early days from the AIU and the London Jewish Mansion House Fund group. The Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society of New York was also generous to these colonies, as were the Jews of nearby Philadelphia. Transportation was good; markets were close. But the real reason for their survival was that they were agro-industrial settlements; the settlers were almost never full-time farmers; during the winter months they could, if necessary, work in the garment shops in New York or Philadelphia or bring work home. On and off these settlements and their sister colony in Woodbine sheltered a series of factories and canneries. Equally important is that they enjoyed an active cultural and social life and after a while such modern conveniences as running water and electric light. They had libraries, halls for lectures, theatricals, dances, good schools, manual training, domestic science courses for the youngsters, and a kindergarten, the first in the county. They could boast of public bathhouses and volunteer fire brigades, synagogs and Hebrew teachers, lodges and clubs. Compared to many other colonists and settlers they were farmers deluxe.

When help from the AIU and English Jewry ceased they could and did turn to the Baron de Hirsch Fund (BdHF), to the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), and to the Baron himself. Baron Maurice de Hirsch (1831-1896) was a German Jew who made a vast fortune building railroads in Southeastern Europe. Because he had no surviving children he made humanity his heir; he was most generous in his gifts to World Jewry. In 1891, the year that thousands of Jews were expelled from Moscow, the Baron finally realized that he could not solve the problem of the Jew in Russia because the Russians wanted no equitable solution—they refused to integrate the Jew as long as he remained Jewish. He established the JCA to colonize the emigrating masses in the Argentine and set up the BdHF in the United States, endowing it with a capital of over $2,000,000. He knew that the United States was the most attractive asylum for the émigrés. The Fund was America’s first large Jewish social-welfare foundation. Supplemented by help from the JCA the Fund envisaged an almost all-inclusive program. The newcomers here were to have settlement houses, trade and agricultural schools; colonies were to be established; loans were made available to farmers; immigrants were to be encouraged to move on to distant towns where they were to be helped with adequate housing. They were to be trained in the language of the land, spurred on to become citizens, and given every opportunity to Americanize themselves.4


The BdHF did establish a colony in New Jersey south of Atlantic City. This was Woodbine, one of the last of the formal Jewish colonies founded in this country (1892). Like the South Jersey colonial triangle it, too, was an agro-industrial settlement, a little town ringed by Jewish householders who farmed to a greater or lesser degree. It lasted and prospered moderately for years, the only truly Jewish town in the country, for all of its officers were of the faith, but by 1940 the Jews constituted less than one-half of Woodbine’s inhabitants. It was here that the Fund established the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School in 1894 to train Jewish public school graduates to become practical dirt farmers. By 1917 the school had closed. The National Farm School at Doylestown, Pennsylvania opened its doors in 1897. It was founded by Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf, an ardent advocate of the return of the Jew to the soil and a great admirer of Leo Tolstoi. This national “nonsectarian” Jewish farm school, which admitted only high school graduates, carried on its work for decades before becoming a secular college. In its day it trained over 1,000 graduates.5



Most of the heavily subsidized colonies had already passed from the scene in 1900. It was obvious that agrarian colonization was a failure, but this did not deter Jewry from continuing to make heroic efforts to put Jews on the soil as farmers. There had been Jewish farmers and plantation owners in America ever since colonial days. This was inevitable in an economy that had been overwhelmingly agrarian. Urban Jews of the 1880’s were enthusiastic in their drive to settle incoming Slavic immigrants on farmsteads. Even before the East Europeans started arriving in substantial numbers the Reform Jewish leaders were urging all young Jews to learn mechanical trades, or to become yeomen. There was talk of establishing an agriculture college of their own in some western state. This recommendation was largely the brain child of Moritz Loth of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Because the country was immersed in a deep economic depression the delegates at the 1876 convention were warned that mercantile pursuits were hazardous. But this they themselves knew full well. And as the laymen in convention assembled urged the younger generation to leave the counter and to follow the plough they ignored the fact that in a free economy the artisan and the petty tradesman could survive economically, could perform a useful function in society, and on the whole enjoy a much better social life than the isolated small farmer.

The wealthy, devoted, social workers who controlled the BdHF were not discouraged by the decline and disappearance of the older colonies or the ephemeral character of the newer ones that emerged sporadically in the early twentieth century. In their determination to put Jews on the soil they created the Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society (JAIAS, 1900). The JCA was prepared to provide additional funds when the need arose. Like the B’nai B’rith, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the early federations, the JAIAS envisaged an ambitious broad program. Patterning itself on the mother organization, the BdHF, it set out to help immigrants by lending money to mechanics and by encouraging ghetto denizens to move their industries to smaller towns. It was ready to aid immigrants buy their own homes in better neighborhoods. Farmers, too, were given loans and supported in their efforts to establish cooperative creameries and canneries. The struggling South Jersey colonies were taken under its wing.

Gradually the JAIAS deemphasized the industrial aspects of its work and concerned itself almost solely with the fate and future of the farmer. It put people on farms and organized credit unions though they were not particularly successful. The tillers of the soil apparently refused to make the distinction between a credit union and a free-loan society. The JAIAS encouraged cooperative buying and selling, helped set up a cooperative fire insurance company, urged young men to take jobs on farms in order to learn the business, and, through an itinerant instructor, advised the farm owners how to improve their holdings. Ambitious young men were given scholarships to attend short courses in agriculture; the importance of sanitation in the home was stressed; synagogs and community centers were financed. The farmers had their own Yiddish paper, The Jewish Farmer (1908) which circulated in every state of the Union and even abroad. Thousands read it.

The Jewish husbandmen set up local farm associations in order to cultivate their social life and to discuss their problems. This was not new in American life; lodges, clubs, and grange associations had been established by their Gentile farming neighbors since the late 1860’s. By 1917 there were about fifty Jewish farm societies; eight years earlier these groups, aided by the JAIAS, had created a National Federation of Jewish Farmers which met annually in the rooms of the Educational Alliance and proudly displayed the products of its members in an agricultural exhibition. The Federation urged and helped the Jews to create cooperative institutions particularly in the area of credit, cooperatives which their Christian neighbors were also invited to join. By 1922 the JAIAS dropped the words “industrial” and “aid” to emerge as the Jewish Agricultural Society.6


Though farming was never to become a numerically significant Jewish trade, there were always individuals who were eager to return to the land. This was particularly true of the East Europeans, for a number had been close to the soil or farmers in Russia. The Russia May Laws of 1882 drove them out of the rural districts. By 1900 a few of the Slavic newcomers who had drifted into the small towns and villages of New England bought up old farms with the aid of loans from the BdHF and later the JAIAS. After these pioneers gained a foothold their example encouraged others to join them so that in the course of time Jewish settlements began to make their appearance. They were not planned and very few were subsidized. Such enclaves rose in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, the Dakotas, and elsewhere. A group of immigrants from St. Louis settled in southern Illinois; fifteen families joined together and homesteaded in Wyoming; two settlements rose in the Far West, in Washington state. These farmers usually turned to general farming; on occasion some would specialize in dairying, poultry, truck, and fruits. The Connecticut farmers near Hartford grew and cured tobacco; the New Yorkers in the foothills of the Catskills and the Michigan settlers near Chicago took in boarders; the northern Ohio farmers, near Cleveland and Youngstown, grew grapes. By 1899 there were 600 Jewish farm families in New England, mostly in Connecticut; by 1912 there were about 1,100 Jewish men, women and children on the soil in North Dakota. That same year, so it was thought, there were about 4,000 American Jewish farming families numbering 18,000 souls, owning about 440,000 acres.

Most of those who stuck to their holdings liked the life; they savored the thought of being on their own, living out in the open. Life was not easy for them; like their Gentile neighbors they were exposed to the calamities of nature, constantly recurring economic depressions, backbreaking hard work, low prices. Rarely could they afford expensive farm machinery; few ever attained any degree of affluence. Simon Fishman (d.1956), a western grain grower was often cited as an example of the successful agricultural entrepreneur. This immigrant who had come here as a lad from Russia peddled in Indian Territory and Texas, clerked and kept store, and finally grew wheat in a number of the states of the prairies and the High Plains. All told he developed hundreds of thousands of acres of virgin soil. He served Kansas as a representative and senator in the state legislature and was flattered when his village of Tribune declared October 10, 1923, Fishman Day, a local holiday, as a tribute to him for his contribution to his community and the commonwealth. In 1930 Fishman told L. W. Baldwin, president of the Missouri Pacific, that Greeley County, Kansas, would produce a million bushels of wheat. To which Baldwin retorted: “If Greeley produces a million bushels, I’ll give you and your family a free trip all over the United States in a private car.” Fishman made good and Baldwin kept his promise. Years later when the drought turned this inland empire into a dust bowl Fishman, like a host of others, was ruined.7


A different type of success was documented by a number of men, some of whom had grown up on the farm. For example Jewish scholars began to teach in agricultural schools, to work for state and federal farm bureaus, and to carry on scientific experiments. The two brothers, Jacob and Charles B. Lipman, were notable soil chemists, and there were others, equally distinguished, who were plant pathologists, bacteriologists, and entomologists. Joseph A. Rosen, who had been a superintendent of the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School, introduced Rosen rye into the United States. It is important because it would grow on soils that were not very fertile. In the 1920’s, after the Communists had come to power in Russia, Rosen was chosen by the leaders of the Joint Distribution Committee to settle Jews on the soil in the Ukraine and the Crimea. Under the supervision of this American trained agronomist about 250,000 Jews were resettled on millions of acres of farm land. Nevertheless it finally dawned on the Jewish leaders that farming was certainly not American Jewry’s golden opportunity. It was manifest even to the elite that the trend in this country was away from the land and toward the urban centers where there was less manual labor, better pay, and a better life. And despite the urban amenities of Woodbine and the South Jersey colonies, the children there started leaving the farm lands for the cities with their larger cultural and economic allurements.8


Colonizing settlers and putting families on the soil are aspects of dispersal out of the cities and ghettos. Another aspect of removal to which the American Jewish leaders were most devoutly committed was to dispatch and divert immigrants to the hinterland, especially the New Southwest. Yanking newcomers out of the port towns and ghettos was a favored policy of the East Coast leaders as far back as antebellum days. A real push was made in 1901 to scatter the immigrants who were congregating in large numbers in the big city ghettos of New York and other metropolises. That year the JAIAS and the JCA established the Industrial Removal Office (IRO) to help diminish the numbers in the urban centers and to normalize occupational distribution. The Jewish masses were to work at the same type of job as the Gentiles and thus achieve economic invisibility. The pioneering families in the backcountry were to serve as nuclei around which Jewish settlements would agglomerate. By 1907 the North German-Lloyd line began to play a part in removal. Its ships which set out to pick up cotton at Galveston had no load on the outward westbound voyage. A load of immigrants on every outbound trip would certainly help the company. American Jewry approved heartily of the diversion of shiploads of immigrants from New York to Texas and thus Galveston became a port of entry. The 1907 Galveston Movement worked through a Jewish Immigrants’ Information Bureau which was supported generously by Jacob H. Schiff.

The new bureau also received support from Israel Zangwill and his Territorialists. Zionism in those days was at the crossroads; Herzl was dead. The World Zionist Congress had refused to accept Uganda (Kenya) as a substitute for Palestine. Discouraged, many Zionists were ready to settle the Russian Jews, refugees from the pogroms, in almost any land where they could live a life of their own. The American Southwest would do very well and with Rabbi Henry Cohen in Galveston to welcome them Jews were shipped to Texas from where they were to be scattered anywhere in the South, Middle West, and West. Those emigrants who nursed strong Zionist empathies could always hope that the American hinterland would serve only as a temporary asylum till a Jewish state could be reestablished in the ancient land of their fathers.

The Galveston Movement did not fulfill its promise. It is possible that the insecure Jews in the small towns, like their brethren in the urban centers, looked with disfavor upon the coming of these strangers, foreigners. In addition bureaucrats in Washington and Galveston had never been sympathetic. Most important of all, however, was the reluctance of the immigrants themselves to fit into the program of dispersal. The removal movement as a whole, which of course predates the shipments to Texas, had to cope with the disinclination of the ghetto newcomers to move. They preferred to remain in the big cities of the East; they had no desire to leave friends, synagog, familiar surroundings, and a total Jewish environment for a strange new world among Gentiles. World War I which started in 1914 resolved all doubts and difficulties. The war brought immigration almost to a halt which was not unwelcome in an age that was increasingly intent on immigration restriction. The new anti-immigration sentiment made itself clearly heard in Congress. A member of the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization of the House of Representatives complained that the immigrants who came here left after they had saved some money. Nathan Bijur, the jurist, speaking on behalf of the immigrants, remarked that they had built the subway, and when the congressmen complained that they had gone back to Europe with their earnings, Bijur retorted: “But they left the subway behind them.”

The Galveston Movement died and with the abatement of immigration, “removal” in general began to fade away. Without a steady influx of newcomers the ghetto problem was resolving itself; the economically mobile Jews were moving to new sections of the city; they had begun the long pleasant trek to the suburbs. All told about 10,000 Jews may have debarked at Galveston. The Industrial Removal Organization, it is estimated, dispatched about 74,000 individuals to about 1,700 towns. These men, women, and children were the nuclei around which later Jewish communities grew. In this sense removal was not a failure. Yet on the whole the dispersion effort was a defeat. In a way the rank and file of Jewish craftsmen and petty businessmen knew more about business, economics, than the fabulously successful Jacob H. Schiff. These humble men and women recognized that the future of the United States lay in the larger towns, in the factories and shops. American Jewry was always urban and was destined to remain so.9


Since the newcomers were fated to remain in the big cities it behooved them, insofar as it lay in their power, to create institutions that would help them survive spiritually, physically, and socially. They were a frightened people and if at times they seemed brash it was because they were insecure. They were aliens in an alien world. They insisted on the security of their mother tongue, their own institutions, synagogs, their own way of life. They were not paupers but they had very little. Though often without choice they did not want to turn to the Jewish charities; they believed—they knew—that the natives, the Germans, looked down upon them. The disdain of the Germans for the newcomers was matched by the scorn of the “Russians” for the Germans. The proud East Europeans looked askance at the established settlers who urged them to disregard their traditional mores; the Germans and the native born were “goyyim,” Gentiles. Thus it was that the newcomers, often treated arbitrarily, if not shabbily by the established Jewish charities, attempted to shift for themselves. In this they were encouraged by the “Germans” whose reserves were often depleted.

For new immigrants the synagog was often the first line of defense. Like the synagog of the Germans a half-century earlier it was also a relief agency. A congregation would often see to it that a newcomer was fed, lodged, and provided with a basket of notions on credit. In those towns where the East Europeans were the pioneers, as in Wilmington, Delaware, for instance, they established the basic relief agency which looked after the impoverished and even made special provision for consumptives. In the larger cities they succeeded in establishing numerous charitative societies, male and female, often along ethnic and even regional lines. They established Hebrew schools, created orphanages where the dietary laws would be observed and Orthodoxy cherished, set up hospice-hospitals where the patient or wanderer could be sure of a kosher meal and a comforting word in Yiddish. They even found some money for the needs of others: they raised funds for Palestine. These new people persisted and finally built their own modern type hospitals. The one in New York, Beth Israel, was opened in 1890. In Boston they started modestly—some women contributed but 25 cents at a time—but by 1917 they had a hospital which patterned itself in name and scope on Beth Israel of New York. Through a 4,000 member auxiliary the women kept it alive despite the fact that the elite of the federation ignored it even though there was no other Jewish infirmary in town. By the 1920’s the Boston federation had recognized the new institution which was in later years to become a research hospital of note.

Among the charities the Slavic émigrés set up were hospices offering temporary shelter for immigrants and transients. No attempt, apparently, was made to deny help to the professional mendicants. Like their European prototypes the hospices were anything but attractive. In those days the leaders of the “Russians” were indifferent to the palliative or non-palliative nature of a night’s lodging. Free burial and free loan societies were founded; national hospitals for consumptives were opened; bourgeois and Marxist-oriented fraternal orders were chartered. Some of them were large; the B’rith Abraham was ultimately to enroll more members than the B’nai B’rith; the Arbeter Ring (Workmen’s Circle) and the Jewish National (Workers’) Labor Alliance of America made their appeal to shop workers and socialists. All these fraternal associations were essentially mutual-benefit organizations. The most popular form of such self-help was the landsmanshaft, the home-town society. By 1918 there were over 2,000 of them in New York City alone. They were important, very important, for they offered aid in the hour of need, friendship, a sense of well-being. They were the bridge tying the old-world village to the overpowering megalopolis.

One of the East European institutions that was destined to last was the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of America (HIAS). This was a merger of the Hebrew Sheltering House Association of New York and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The former was established in the 1880’s, the latter, in the early 1900’s. As its name makes amply clear the HIAS helped immigrants, East Europeans primarily. It established bureaus on both the East and West Coasts and during the days of World War I set up an office in the Far East for those exiles who were moving on to America via Siberia and China. HIAS represented the newcomers at hearings at Ellis Island, stopped deportations, provided temporary shelter, food, and clothing. It helped them locate their relatives, aided them when necessary to find a job, encouraged them to leave the big city, and extolled the virtues of life on the farm. All immigrants were exhorted to naturalize themselves. In the effort to push the new arrivals on to the backcountry and the rural areas the society reflected the ideologies and the physiocratic philosophy of the acculturated Jewish citizenry. In paying allegiance to the physiocratic theory which postulated the thesis that land is the source of all wealth, the Jews who were an urban commercial class, were servilely obedient to a concept which was diametrically opposed to their own politico-economic philosophy and practical activity.10


In order to help themselves East Europeans here built a modest philanthropic apparatus, one that was altogether inadequate for a large group of immigrants who had not yet found themselves economically. Recognizing their obligations to fellow Jews, the older community realized it had no choice but to help the newcomers. Some of the old-timers, immigrants themselves, were paternalistic in their approach, moved by noblesse oblige; still others, concerned that Jews must always put their best foot forward, wanted to draw the immigrants speedily into the compass of American culture. For these and other reasons every effort was made to initiate programs of occidentalization and integration. The leaders of New York Jewry were determined to Americanize the religion of the new arrivals. Rebuffed by the Reform leaders in Cincinnati who failed to realize what was at stake, the “establishment” set out to effect a harmonization of Americanism and Orthodoxy, throwing financial and moral support behind the young but already moribund Conservative Movement. This new religiocultural synthesis was ultimately successful; by the mid-twentieth century the Conservatives were America’s largest Jewish religious denomination.


Integration was, of course, more than a synthesis of Americanism and Slavic Jewish religious Orthodoxy. The émigrés had to be made a part of the American complex of politics, economics, and culture. The new arrivals, petty traders and craftsmen, hailing from a primitive agrarian economy, tightly wedded to Orthodox belief, had to be assimilated into an advanced, sophisticated industrial metropolitan economy and into a culture that was on the whole critically secular. Some of the institutions which the Jewish establishment employed to effect this integration were motivated by broadly conceived social-welfare concepts. If these institutions were effective—so the elite believed—there would be less need later to invoke charitative aids. Thus it was that “Ys” and settlement houses were encouraged and vocational schools were established.

Why vocational training? The Jews here believed that a vocation was a prophylactic against delinquency, that peddling offered no future. Condemnation of peddling was interesting seeing that many, very many, of Jewry’s notables had started life with a pack on their backs. The new Jews were to be horny-handed sons of toil to deflect vicariously anti-Jewish attacks on the emerging white-collar class. By the 1880’s a number of towns had already established vocational schools to train or retrain the newcomers. New York had a Hebrew Technical School for Girls no later than 1880. It was called into being, even before the onset of mass migration, to provide for the East Europeans who were already arriving in ever-increasing numbers. In a relatively short time three other training schools were opened in New York: the Hebrew Technical Institute for Boys, the Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls, and the Baron de Hirsch Trade School. YMHA’s, settlement houses, and federations urged the newcomers to acquire skills; manual training was then the American vogue. Men and women, boys and girls were taught to use their hands, to learn a trade; courses were given in stenography, sewing, domestic science, even in art and music. Vocational training was often accompanied by lectures on morals; the Protestant ethic was making itself felt, making a virtue of a necessity. By 1905 the United Hebrew Charities of New York City was pioneering in a department of vocational guidance.11


The YMHA, as it has already been pointed out, was a cultural-social organization but with the coming of the East Europeans its leaders, concerned with the welfare of the newcomers, began to introduce Americanization programs, to establish employment bureaus, and at times even to dole out relief. Vocational training, first included in the 1870’s, was now stressed. The “Ys” and the settlement houses had much in common but with this difference: the “Ys” were primarily Uptown institutions; the settlement houses were located Downtown, devoting themselves to the Jewish ghetto dwellers. The first settlements were under the auspices of non-Jews who were broad-visioned reformers, Christian in the universal non-creedal sense. It was their hope that they could bring rich and poor, the cultured and uncouth together, integrate them, and raise the quality of the slum neighborhood. They had an almost euphoric love for humanity. Influenced by this concept, Lillian Wald went down into the ghetto, lived there, and initiated her nursing program.

The goals of the Jewish welfare leaders were not in consonance with those of their Gentile contemporaries. Concerned Jews from Uptown, Jews with a social conscience, were much more realistic than the non-Jews who had moved Downtown to live in the settlements. These Jews could not say with their ancestor, “I seek my brethren” (Gen. 37:16). With the exception of Lillian Wald they remained where they were; even a Felix Adler and a Stephen S. Wise never took up residence on Delaney or Ludlow Street. True, the Jews wanted to get the Jewish lads off the streets and out of the pool parlors; they were certainly interested in improving social conditions in the ghetto, but their primary goal was the Americanization of the newcomers. In this hope the elite had the hearty if unwittingly support of the younger ghetto dwellers. In the minds of all the Jewish old-line leaders was the hope that they could devise effective means to control the inchoate masses socially; some of the elite hoped even to dominate them politically. Their announced goal was the intention to raise the intellectual and moral level of their clients. Many of the East Siders who patronized the settlements may have been interested in parks and playgrounds, better housing, and better government; like the socialists they were often opposed to Tammany and in 1912 thousands rallied around the Progressive Party. In all these reformist hopes the Downtown Jews, both within and without the settlement houses, had considerable support from Uptown Jewry. However, and this must be stressed, the relation of the typical client of the settlement to it, particularly the youth, was essentially utilitarian. For the new generation the ghetto itself, like the settlement house, was but a temporary haven to be left behind as its denizens moved up the socioeconomic ladder. It was for them an institution of transition, a Nachtasyl, on their way up. The typical Gentile ghetto reformer and his Jewish fellow-traveler wanted to change society, the total ecology of the ghetto; the typical Jewish ghetto dweller wanted to change his address.12


The programs of the settlement houses were derived largely from the YMHA’s, the non-Jewish settlements, and Christian clubs. The Jewish settlement house provided camps for children, cultural and social clubs for the youth, instruction in civics and English. There were kindergartens and day nurseries for the very young; Sunday Schools and Hebrew classes for the teenagers, libraries of English and Yiddish books, and a scattering of vocational courses.13


As no two settlement houses programs were exactly alike so no two Jewish settlement house workers were alike. Best known is Lillian Wald whose memory and achievements are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Less, much less is known about another social worker, Lizzie Black Kander (1858-1940). This Milwaukee girl joined the Ladies Relief Sewing Society which repaired old clothes for immigrants; later she became its president. Because of her ardent interest in helping her fellowman she would rise at 5 o’clock in the morning, finish her housework, and then spend the rest of the day doing social work. She soon became something of an expert on “friendly visiting” among the poor and was a founder of the Milwaukee Jewish Mission, a society that gave children vocational training in which the fine arts were included. It was this “Mission” that in 1900 fashioned the Milwaukee Jewish Settlement House in conjunction with the Sisterhood for Personal Service. Kander served as its president from 1900 to 1918. As a member of the Milwaukee School Board she helped introduce vocational training and domestic science into the public school system. The Jewish Settlement which she led had its clubs, night school classes in English and in history, and a Sabbath School. It provided its clients with public baths and a gymnasium. The girls and their mothers were taught cooking. Out of the cooking classes there came forth in 1901 The Settlement Cook Book: The Way to a Man’s Heart. Over forty editions totaling more than a million copies have been sold; the proceeds have been used to support the Settlement. The present edition includes typical Jewish foods such as blintzes, matzo balls, kugel, kreplach, knishes, and kishke. A melting pot in itself, The Settlement Cook Book has imposed Jewish culinary pluralism on a grateful America.14


The institutions which have been described above were social welfare in nature, supportive, directional, not eleemosynary. The habitués of the “Ys” and the settlements were poor but not impoverished. Among the hundreds of thousands of Jews who landed here there were some who sought and needed charity. Why? Most of them came with little and when calamity struck they had even less to tide them over. Alcoholism was no problem but the loss of a job in the dull season or during a protracted depression was serious. They were paid so little it was difficult to save anything. Sickness, tuberculosis, the death of a breadwinner, left the family in trouble. Thousands of husbands, fathers, deserted their families. Mendicancy was not uncommon. Like the poor, the mendicants never failed from the land. Among the Jews—and probably among others too—begging was not an aspect of impoverishment; it was a business. The professional schnorrers started on a “Jewish” business street and went from store to store. There were always would-be Jewish philanthropists who never turned a suppliant away; they enjoyed playing the part of Lord Bountiful. The truly pious never forgot that giving was a mitzvah, both a divine imperative and a religious opportunity:

                        Careless their merits or their faults to scan,

                        His pity gave ere charity began.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries schnorring flourished only to fall on evil times with the rise of professional social workers who could almost smell out cheats. Ultimately they were eliminated by the transportation rules of the organized social agencies and a generous use of the telephone to check on fakers.


On the whole individuals responded liberally to appeals for help during the recurrent anti-Jewish crises beginning in 1881. In 1882 when a trainload of Russian refugees landed in Cincinnati, Isaac M. Wise made an appeal in his synagog; he emptied his purse into his hat and asked the worshippers to do likewise. In every town there was always a tiny handful of men and women who devoted themselves to the care of the needy. Dr. Abram Lincoln Weil of Buffalo bragged of his Russian Jewish clientele: “I have a very interesting practice, the poor and the poorer.” Many were never charged; those in desperate straits were given money to pay their coal and light bills. In Baltimore few women were better known than Betsey, Mrs. Moses Wiesenfeld, daughter of Jonas Friedenwald. For some thirty years or more she reigned over the Hebrew Ladies’ Sewing Society which provided garments and food for the impoverished. She and her fellow laborers, over 500 strong, rallied to help the victims of the 1871 Chicago holocaust; she took care of the children of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum after another disastrous fire, opened a pesthouse during a smallpox epidemic, fed the Russian refugees who came to Baltimore, watched over the colonists who had settled near Middlesex, Virginia, raised money for the local Jewish hospital, and made shrouds for the dead. She was a federation in herself and one may venture the assertion that she was a threat to any scientifically motivated charity administrator.

Generous givers and doers like Betsey Wiesenfeld and Abram L. Weil were not rare. There were many others; among them were very wealthy Jews who gave not only of their money but also of their time to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes, especially in the postbellum period when wealth increased perceptibly. Jews who made money built beautiful synagogs and established numerous social-welfare institutions. They learned to give, albeit hesitatingly for a long time; cautious giving was typical of Jewry in the second half of the nineteenth century. Yet, relatively speaking, the Jews were more liberal than their Gentile peers. Carl Schurz maintained in the 1880’s that the Jews, outnumbered four to one by the German Gentiles, gave three times as much. That was the day of the marble plaque in which the names of the dear departed were incised accompanied by a record of the amount donated by testament or by the family. When young Henrietta Szold visited the tiny Hebrew Union College chapel in 1883 she was somewhat taken aback to note that the plaque honoring a local notable was placed above the name of God on the Ark.

Michael Reese, who died in 1878, was a philanthropist sui generis. This German who had come here at the age of nineteen lived and worked in Baltimore, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. In his time he had many jobs; he was a tanner, a laborer in a quarry, a peddler, storekeeper, importer, real-estate speculator, moneylender, banker, and stock speculator. More so than Touro he was a reluctant giver; he was notoriously parsimonious. Like Touro he had no family; unlike Touro he had a girl friend whom he had to pay off after a breach of promise suit. In his later years he untied his purse strings somewhat. He gave and left money to the University of California and bequeathed substantial sums to a Christian hospital, to a Jewish orphan asylum, and to Mt. Sinai of New York City. He left $200,000 in trust to his family to be given to such worthy causes as it saw fit. His heirs used some of this money to establish the hospital in Chicago which now bears his name. Michael Reese is today one of the great hospitals of the country.15

Jacob Schiff (1847-1920), of course, was deemed to be America’s most distinguished Jewish philanthropist. This he was, not because of the amount he gave—others very probably gave as much or more—but because he was generous with his time. He was an active worker, a fundraiser for many good causes. When only a clerk and but six years in the land he gave a substantial gift to help the new Mount Sinai Hospital and during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 he gave freely. The incoming East Europeans, the Montefiore Hospital and Home for Chronic Diseases—his favorite charity—the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Jewish Publication Society, the Hebrew Union College, the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Welfare Board, the YMHA, all had good reason to rise up and call him blessed. He gave, too, to the Haifa Technical School and other Palestinian institutions though like Rosenwald he had no interest in a Jewish state. This is the measure of the man.16

Schiff’s influence is reflected in the life of his son-in-law, Felix Moritz Warburg (1871-1937), who was also active in many fields of Jewish social welfare. Warburg was interested in art, music, the YMHA, settlement houses, hospitals, the Jewish Welfare Board, the Joint Distribution Committee, war sufferers, the New York City federation of Jewish philanthropic societies, and even in the Jewish prisoners at Sing Sing. He was eager to help them secure a festive Passover meal. He, too, was no Zionist but he did give money to Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the outstanding protagonist of the modern Hebrew language then being introduced into Palestine. He was interested in the Harvard Menorah Society and at the suggestion of Julian Mack gave a grant to a student then studying at that university. This was Harry Austryn Wolfson, later to become one of the colleges most distinguished scholars; his salary was partly financed by this banker. Warburg was a cultured gentleman, generous to a host of Jewish and non-Jewish philanthropies. On his desk stood a version of the sentence attributed to Stephen Grellet, the Franco-American Quaker missionary:

                        I shall pass through this world but once,

                        Any good thing, therefore, that I can do,

                        Any kindness I can show to any human being,

                        Let me do it now.

                        Let me not defer it nor neglect it,

                        For I shall not pass this way again.17

Among the Jews who made huge fortunes in the early twentieth century was Julius Rosenwald. He and other very wealthy Jews could not help but be impressed by the princely generosity of men like Carnegie and Rockefeller. Though no Jew could match them in wealth or largesse a pattern had been set. Rosenwald was one of the first of the twentieth-century big givers for Jewish causes though most of his benefactions were directed to non-Jews. He gave to Jews not because they were his people but because they were needy or their institutions merited support. Though a confessing, a practicing Jew, he was not an ardent ethnicist. Rosenwald did, however, offer a prize for the best essay on the place of Judaism in the modern world. Out of this contest came a fine book, Mordecai M. Kaplan’s Judaism as a Civilization (1934). Like Warburg and Schiff, he, too, was no Zionist but he gave to Palestine Jewish educational and agricultural institutions. Chicago Jewry received substantial grants from him but his major Jewish gifts, huge sums, were devoted to the task of settling the Russian Jews on the soil of their native land.18



Millions were spent by generous individual Jews to help the immigrants, but they could not carry the burden alone. Financially and administratively the job had to be done by organizations. The Jews here had realized this as early as 1783 when the Philadelphians, the year the Revolutionary War came to an end, set up an Immigrants Aid Society. This eighteenth-century association managed to survive for over a decade. Nineteenth-century welfare organizations were often short-lived; created to meet a special situation they faded away when the immediate crisis had passed. When conscription, brutal military service, cholera, famine, and hard times induced the Russian Jews to come here in the late 1860’s, a Hebrew Emigration Aid Society (HEAS) was founded in New York City. A similar organization was called into being at that time in distant San Francisco. Even in those pre-pogrom days the newcomers who sought refuge here were relatively numerous. It has been estimated that about 30,000 East Europeans landed on these shores in the years between 1869 and 1880. In order to meet their needs a pattern was established that was to persist till today: agents met them at the ports, gave them shelter, advice, and, if necessary, some financial aid.

The year 1881 brought another crisis, another wave of newcomers, and when the New Yorkers again found exiles on their doorsteps they reconstituted a Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society. Similar groups with the same name were set up in a number of other cities, for the established older relief agencies of the American Jewish communities were not geared, in resources or in personnel, to cope with large numbers. In some towns as in Cincinnati local ad hoc societies were quickly created to provide the Russians with clothes, sick-care, and vocational training; one synagog opened a religious school for their children. Wise wanted to colonize them on public lands; out of this and similar suggestions came the ill-fated Kansas enterprise. The Moscow expulsions of 1891 brought a new wave of refugees; once again the emigration societies in ports and in inland towns were resurrected for the third but not the last time. The Easterners alone could not, would not, carry the burden.19


Like the older welfare agencies the new special emigrant societies also proved inadequate to cope with the problems that faced them. Thus the older societies were expanded or their place was taken by new congeries which carried on the same type of general relief work. Antebellum New York had dozens of eleemosynary groups; after the war they were numbered by the hundreds and after the turn of the century by the thousands if the mutual-aid sodalities are included. Some towns had a society for every seventy-five Jews in town. In the decade before 1904 the United Hebrew Charities of New York City dealt with 70,000 cases, certainly a total of over 200,000 individuals. Certain new emphases began to characterize this relief work. The immigrants had to be prepared for a world of large-scale commerce and industry; there were more overt attempts to hasten the process of Americanization. Much of the philanthropic activity was directed toward helping immediate arrivals rather than the underprivileged of earlier waves. The slums of the Lower East Side presented hazards with which the Jewish agencies also had to cope. In one particular square mile there were, it is said, about 350,000 inhabitants. There were problems of tuberculosis, desertion, juvenile delinquency, prostitution. “Is it our fault,” complained an American Jewish lad who needed aid, “that we are living in New York and are not persecuted?”20


In many of the small and middle-sized towns the benevolent society served as the principal family relief agency. Even in the large cities synagogs still sponsored special relief associations. Through the decades these “benevolent” organizations tended to respond to the changing need of the generations. Thus the Charleston Benevolent Hebrew Society originally busied itself with alleviating distress caused by yellow fever; later it helped Russian immigrants, and in the twentieth century it provided scholarships for tuition at the University of South Carolina. These charities were not necessarily particularistic; they gave to Jewries in other towns and in other lands and were generous to fellow Americans, wherever they were found, who had been struck down by disease or by the disasters conjured up by a capricious nature. As in the smaller cities so in the postbellum metropolis there was nearly always one welfare agency that was more important than the others. The number of specialized societies was usually in direct ratio to the size of the community.21

Many charity guilds were, it would seem, devoted to one or two types of activity; actually, however, these also improvised and ventured into other areas of social service when the need arose. No two organizations were exactly alike even when dedicated to the same task. This only they had in common: their expressed desire to aid the impoverished. The catalogue of charity institutions and services of that day is most impressive, the variety startling. There were hospitals and dispensaries, homes for orphans, delinquent children, working girls, transients, and the aged. There was nursing for the sick, aid for consumptives, and an array of vocational schools, including provision for training nurses in the Jewish hospitals; some of the Christian sectarian institutions would not accept Jewish girls as nursing trainees. Employment agencies were common. Some Jewish bureaus hesitated to provide work for pious Jews who would not work on the Sabbath. There were settlement houses, YMHA’s and YWHA’s, sisterhoods, fraternal orders, and free loan societies. These latter lent money for medical bills, house repairs, school tuition, and of course advanced small sums to men who wanted to start a business of their own. One woman in the 1890’s suggested that relief societies were superfluous; cooperative loan associations would do a much better job.

There were sewing societies that clothed the naked. This business of making garments for the poor goes back at least to the first century of the common era (Acts 9:36-42). There were even societies, not many to be sure, that sewed and prepared trousseaux for impoverished brides, and there was at least one guild in this country that dowered them. Fuel and coal societies helped the poverty-stricken through hard winters; others supplied milk and ice for babies, the sick, the aged, the tubercular. Matzos associations provided Passover food for the poor, and in order to fight the bakers who tended to monopolize the production and sale of unleavened bread, temporary groups were formed to bake their own stocks. Supervised work shops for impoverished widows and deserted women were set up; Hebrew schools, “parochial” schools, and libraries were created; free baths were made available, prisoners were aided, an arbitration society was organized in Baltimore; agents were stationed at the ports of New York and Philadelphia to greet the immigrants.

Free burial was an important aspect of communal welfare ever since colonial days. When in the late eighteenth century the first permanent American Jewish sodality was created in Charleston, burial of the poor was very probably one of its most characteristic deeds of “loving kindness.” This Charleston association of 1784 was a mutual-aid society that assured the members of a ritually proper funeral. There is reason to believe that some nineteenth-century burial fraternities also provided free burial for the indigent. No later than the 1850’s the synagogs of the country, Orthodox for the most part, had established their own “Holy Society” to inter their members according to hallowed Jewish custom. Such confraternities had been in existence for centuries in Central and Eastern Europe. By the next decade, free burial societies had been called into being by the “Germans”; these new organizations often were attached to a congregation and were not communal in origin. The Troy, New York, German Jewish synagog of the 1870’s integrated burials into the life of the congregation; it functioned also as a burial fraternity, for it offered sick-care, sewed shrouds, buried the dead, and held services during the prescribed period of mourning. The Slavic immigrants, rooted deep in the common European Jewish tradition of taking care of the dead, hastened to establish free burial societies of their own. By 1918 there were six such East European societies in the New York City-Brooklyn area. The magnitude of their work is reflected in their reports; one of these pious associations, about the year 1917, buried 932 people without charge. With the rise of the professional undertaker these societies, both pay and free, began to decline.22


Child and health care like the concern for burial were important aspects of welfare. Next to the general relief societies the most important associations seem to be those making provision for children and for health. Impoverished mothers were provided with prenatal and obstetrical care; infant welfare stations were established to mitigate the high mortality rate. The welfare agencies were of the opinion that they had been successful in reducing the infant death rate. Nurseries for wage-earning mothers were opened and by the early twentieth century the charity leaders had begun to evince an interest in milk stations and cheap luncheons for children. Because of the threat of free Christian missionary schools, the Jews felt impelled by 1896 to open kindergartens for the children of the needy. After the turn of the century poor and sickly children were sent to summer camps supported by the philanthropic agencies. The mid-nineteenth century witnessed a drive to take dependent children and orphans out of the almshouses and to put them into well-regulated children’s asylums. Jews like their neighbors were eager to stretch out a helping hand to children in need. Most young Jewish dependents came from broken homes; a few were half-orphans; still fewer had no parents. There were many widows in those days—often with a brood of children—for life expectancy was much shorter than it is today. American Jews had started early to provide for their helpless young. Influenced possibly by the Bethesda, Georgia, Orphan Society of the mid-eighteenth century and the Charleston Orphan Care Association of 1790, Charleston Jewry established a group of its own in 1801 to make provision for dependent children. The school that the enterprising Jacob S. Solis thought to build in Westchester County, New York, in the 1820’s was to be a haven for orphans.

Nineteenth-century Jewry was very much aware of the need to accord special attention to the children of the underprivileged. Jewish communal leaders knew of the efforts to put an end to child labor and to insist on compulsory school attendance. They had already begun to remove the impressionable youngsters from Jewish hospice-hospitals, separating them from the aged, the infirm, and the diseased. The first congregate home for children was opened in 1855 in Philadelphia; this was the Jewish Foster Home. The communities were not quick to establish institutions for children of the indigent. Let it be borne in mind constantly that these immigrants were just getting on their feet. Most of them were not affluent. By the time Philadelphia opened its first asylum there were almost seventy-five non-Jewish children’s institutions in the United States. But by the fourth quarter of the century there were Jewish orphans asylums in the major cities of the land, helped often by a women’s auxiliary society. In those towns where there was no orphan home women’s organizations were called into being to provide local care or to help ship the children to the nearest regional asylum. By 1904 New York City sheltered three homes; one was for infants. In the early 1900’s there were already 600 non-Jewish children’s institutions in the United States; there were at least sixteen asylums for young Jews. Cincinnati Jewry was so far advanced in its care of the young that by 1920 it had established a psychopathic study institute for the care of children.23

Regional Asylums

Every asylum served not only a local but also a regional clientele who contributed to its support. The San Francisco home of the 1870’s looked after the children of the Pacific Coast, and in the early twentieth century the Los Angeles asylum served the southern end of the state. Baltimore, New Orleans, and Atlanta ministered to the South at various times; Cleveland, to the upper Middle West; Rochester, to western New York, though Orthodox Jews refused to entrust their children to this home because the kitchen was not kosher. Ultimately the East Europeans, committed to tradition, made their presence felt almost everywhere. By the second decade of the twentieth century the outstanding orphanages of New York City were serving kosher food with the hope, a vain one, that they would elicit Orthodox support. For better or for worse, the newcomers took care of their own. After a generation in the land they had made good and had acquired the means to establish children’s asylums which they controlled. Numerous of the children’s homes were given substantial support by the B’nai B’rith which was always looking for a job do to in the realm of philanthropy or in the field of civil rights, both here and abroad. On rare occasions orphan asylums, too, offered help to the indigent. The minutes of Charleston’s Hebrew Orphan Society for the year 1871 announced that it had “extended the bounty of the society to the hearth of the widow and the desolate abode of the poor.”24

The Programs of the Orphan Asylums

The Philadelphia Foster Home which Rebecca Gratz was instrumental in establishing was to be a substitute for a real home for the children of oppressed refugees. Who were these exiles of the 1850’s? Germans from Central Europe, Poles from the Russian Empire. This pioneer Jewish institution gave some vocational training and taught the children cleanliness and manners. Miss Gratz was hopeful that the Home would inaugurate a new era in the history of Jewish charity. Programs in the other Jewish asylums that were now being opened throughout the country did not vary much. The boys were given physical training and taught crafts or indentured to a trade; the girls learned to cook and sew. Secular studies were sedulously pursued in the schools on the premises; in some there were courses in French, German, and music. The very bright youngsters were given a higher education; a few were sent to the National Farm School or the Hebrew Union College to become rabbis. Some of these rabbinical graduates who were later to become very eminent men never referred to their asylum origins; they had sprung full blown from the brow of Jehovah. Judaism and Hebrew were of course taught at all the homes; there was confirmation for both boys and girls; bar mitzvah for the boys only.25

It was obvious that New York City would have the largest Jewish orphanage. Established in 1860 this Hebrew Orphan Asylum had sheltered at least 9,000 children by 1920; at a charity fair in 1870 over $10,000 was raised to support it, an enormous sum for that day. The programs here were elaborate. There was a choir, a glee club, a band, and a string orchestra. The craft rooms included a battery of Singer sewing machines. At one of the public exhibitions held in a large New York City hall 400 of the boys appeared in military uniform and drilled with Springfield rifles loaded with blank cartridges. The audience was entranced; no one could say that the Jews were not a heroic people! By and large discipline was strict. In Baltimore some of the children ran away though they were discouraged by a stone fence capped with glass fragments. Flogging was not uncommon. For a time the children in the New York school were not permitted to talk at the table; in some asylums the inmates were compelled to wear uniforms. In the New Orleans home and certainly in others, discipline was often tempered by picnics, theatre, and visits to the circus.26


Discipline implies that some of the children were refractory; to a certain extent this was true. There was generational conflict between foreign-born parents and their native-born children. A certain amount of criminality was inevitable; this is true when children, tom between two worlds, reject the moral restraints of older traditions. Beginning with the 1880’s juvenile wrongdoers became a problem in the large city ghettos. A generation later Commissioner Bingham was not altogether wrong in maintaining that criminality was a real problem among the Jews of New York City. As early as the turn of the century the attempt was made by concerned leaders to address themselves to this question. To a degree at least the settlement houses were established to cope with this issue. By 1904 Protestant Christians in New York had begun to organize a National Big Brother Movement to meet this challenge; by 1909 the Jews of the city had created a Big Brother association of their own. About the same time the Jews of Cincinnati had also organized a Big Brother society that was very successful. Young Cincinnati Jews of competence and culture established close relations with the children of the new immigrants, worked with the youngsters in sports, aided them in getting jobs, and sent the bright ones on to college. The percentage of Cincinnati’s “little brothers” who secured a university education was unusually high.

Apparently there were so many Jewish problem youngsters, male and female, that the New York philanthropies had to establish reformatories and a home for unmarried mothers. The leaders felt that these Jewish offenders could be helped as Jews; in a public institution this would have been very impractical. A reformatory for boys was set up at Hawthorne, New York, in 1907, one for girls in 1913; this was the Cedar Knolls School. Wherever there was a juvenile court, the Jews worked to rescue, to salvage Jewish youth. Toward the end of the second decade of the century the Jews working with “little brothers” and “little sisters” began to emphasize preventive work.27

Congregate or Institutional Care Versus Home Care

By the first decades of the new century people began to question the value of institutional care for children. Many believed that it was wiser and better to keep the home intact and not to deny children a mother’s love. It was cheaper to subsidize a mother than to keep a child in an asylum. And when the home could not be preserved it was deemed better to turn to substitute homes; children were boarded out. Actually, home care had been preferred by some, over congregate care, ever since the earliest days, especially where the inmates were few in number. In their long history of child care the pioneering Charleston Jews had housed their own young clients only once for a very brief period. Shortly before the Civil War they did gather their charges together and even wrote a song for them:

                        Home, home, the Orphans’ Home,

                        There is no place like home, the Orphans’ Home

All through the nineteenth century when the dominant opinion supported institutionalization of dependent children there was always a vocal minority that opted for care in private homes. In 1868 Rabbi Samuel Hirsch of Philadelphia established the Orphans’ Guardian Society (Familien Waisen Erziehung’s Verein) which insisted on boarding out the youngsters. Those who maintained that the congregate care system was better than a boarding-out system believed that home training was not necessarily as constructive as that of a well-run institution especially if the mother neglected her young. But by 1909, after the White House Conference on Child Welfare, it was the consensus of leading social workers that children should be kept at home and that the mother should be pensioned. Cincinnati Jewry was subsidizing some of its dependent mothers no later than 1892.28



The all-embracing Jewish relief agencies made provision for the sick poor; some even sent physicians into the homes. In 1847 a number of Jewish institutions in Cincinnati combined together, communally as it were, to hire an attendant and a physician to visit the indigent sick. This was a miniature federation organized to provide medical care for the impoverished sick. The cholera epidemic of 1849 induced the Cincinnati Jews to establish a hospital, the first Jewish institute of its kind in the United States. Christian hospitals had long been established in the country. As it has already been pointed out Jews of means preferred to remain in their homes when they were ill; general hospitals had a bad repute, for their mortality rate was high and their clients often included not only the poor but some of the worst elements in the city. Even the poor Jews would not patronize them. Around the year 1878, Bellevue Hospital of New York sheltered hundreds of patients; only one was a Jew. The new Jewish hospitals that were now established were for the homeless sick, youthful peddlers, and the indigent. Jews wanted a place where they would be exempt from the religious importunings of evangelical Protestants and Catholics, nurses and clergy. In a Jewish hospital they could hope for a religious atmosphere, kosher food, and spiritual comfort for the sick and the dying. Here they could enjoy religious services on the Sabbath and Holy Days in a chapel of their own. Here there would be no postmortem dissection. Each sect, Jews believed, must provide for its sick. If there were no Jewish hospitals what a reflection this would be on the Children of Israel. It was important that they maintain their repute as a charitable people. In a later generation Jews were convinced that it was incumbent upon them to provide hospitals for Jewish physicians who were not welcomed in sectarian and even in municipal infirmaries.29

The earliest American Jewish hospitals served also as a hospice, a refuge for the sick, poor, infirm, the chronically ill, widows, dependent children, the aged. They were modeled on the traditional European Ashkenazic hospice (hekdesh) and the American poorhouse, which was sometimes referred to as a social cemetery. The Touro Infirmary which opened its doors in the 1850’s is a classical example of an all-embracing shelter for poor families, widows, orphans, the aged, the infirm, and stranded itinerants. This hospital also dispensed charity.30

The 1850’s saw the founding of hospitals in Cincinnati, New York, and New Orleans. These embryonic hospitals were simple affairs manned by a superintendent or steward, some attendants, and a physician who was hired to come in and keep an eye on the sick and the aged. Cincinnati employed as its medical man, Dr. Abraham Bettmann who also used to make visits into Kentucky where he served as a physician for the family of Henry Clay after the death of the statesman. Bettmann was paid $10 a month for his Jewish Hospital work; he returned almost half of it in gifts. As late as 1890 this infirmary could report but 142 annual admissions, of whom 31 were housewives, 28, peddlers, and 11, clerks. The cost to the hospital was less than $2 per person per day. The prosperity of the Civil War and the postwar period was shared by the Jews; in the years 1866-1868, hospice-hospitals were built in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Baltimore, but even in those days there were dissident voices questioning the need for a Jewish hospital, among them Rabbi Bernhard Felsenthal. This was a question that was to be raised again in the 1970’s.31

Every hospital was a distinct independent institution or corporation supported by dues or gifts or fees and aided by an auxiliary. The women helpers not only provided garments and dressings, but also comforted and visited the sick and the dying. The members of these adjunct social-welfare societies were coopted from the Jews of the entire community; in a way therefore the hospital was a communal institution. By the early 1880’s there were Jewish hospitals in a number of major cismississippi towns. New York in 1884 opened its Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids. Associated with Schiff on the board were such notables as a Seligman, a Solomons, an Isaacs, a Straus, a Bloomingdale, and Adolph H. Sanger. The latter was a Louisianian who had moved north and had taken a degree at Columbia. He was a successful corporation lawyer, an active politician, a protaganist of the public library system, president of the Board of Aldermen, acting mayor of the city at times, president of the B’nai B’rith district, vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and vice president of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites. He was a typical American Jewish metropolitan communal leader.

From the 1890’s on with the huge increases of the Jewish population in the United States, hospitals sponsored by the Orthodox newcomers began to make their appearance. By 1920 there were over a dozen such infirmaries in New York and Brooklyn that ministered almost solely to these immigrants. Before the 1880’s hundreds of Jews were annually housed in the Jewish hospitals of this country; after that time thousands turned to them for healing.32

The Rise of the Modern Jewish Hospital

It is evident that the Jewish hospitals, like their sister Christian institutions, were originally particularistic in origin and admissions. For financial and apologetic reasons this changed rapidly. In 1866 when Jews’ Hospital in New York changed its name to Mount Sinai, it made no distinction between Jewish and Christian patients in its admission policy. The Philadelphia institution opened that year announced its willingness to accept the afflicted of every creed; a woman, a Quaker, had just given it and the Jewish orphan home a generous sum of money. When only a few years later the growing hospital was rebuilt, the dedicatory ceremonies were conducted by the Masons aided by Jewish and Christian clergymen. More and more, non-Jews turned to this new house of healing where people were accepted without regard to creed, color, or nationality. In this humanitarian approach the Jews were but following in the footsteps of Europe’s Jews who, under the influence of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, had begun to admit Gentiles into their hospitals (1793). By 1880, 35 percent of Mount Sinai’s clients were Gentiles. As the Jewish hospital developed it ceased to be an almshouse; the indigent sick and the aged were removed and given quarters of their own. In Baltimore, however, the final change was not effected until the early twentieth century. Even affluent Jews began to patronize the Jewish hospitals; more and more of the people admitted paid their own way.

Modernity in the Jewish hospital was not an overnight growth. Jewish boards are anything but impetuous. In 1881 the Cincinnati Jewish institution, still down in the heart of the city, decided not to put in a telephone; it was not needed. In 1895, now in the suburbs, the board did install one but took that one out of the adjacent Home for the Aged. In 1882 the hospital started to use germicides on a trial basis; female interns were still not tolerated.

At the turn of the century the older Jewish hospitals were secularized, divorced from synagog and Judaism; very few still maintained Jewish chapels, and in some provisions for circumcision (the berit) were woefully inadequate. During the Christmas season the vestibules in some Jewish hospitals were brilliantly lighted; menorahs for Hanukkah were distinguished by their absence. Public hospitals like those in New York City were often served by Jewish chaplains, but there were none for the Jewish hospitals. At first the staffs in the Jewish institutions were largely Gentile but in the course of years, as Jews came out of the better medical schools both here and abroad they insisted, successfully, on becoming staff members. Ultimately they predominated. This was an age when discrimination against Jews in hospitals, both church and university institutions, was strong. As the staff improved the physicians began to make daily rounds, the hospitals themselves were now administered by competent technicians, and in some scientific research was encouraged. It was not to be long before these Jewish institutions of healing were ranked among the best.

By 1881 Sinai of New York had a school for nurses, an avenue of employment for the Jewish young women; before the century had come to a close nurses were being trained in practically all the Jewish hospitals. Dispensaries and ambulatory clinics were opened where diagnosis, dental, and pediatric care were offered. In 1879-1880 about 40,000 indigents in Sinai of New York were given medicines without charge. The medical services that Detroit offered the Jewish community were probably not untypical. Strangely enough there was to be no Jewish hospital till 1953, but there was an outpatient service since the early days of the new century. The first patients of the Detroit dispensary were treated gratis by a physician in his office; a visiting nursing service was also set up, and those in need of hospitalization were sent to a general hospital where the bills were paid by the City Poor Commission. The outpatient medical treatment was under the auspices of the Ladies’ Society for the Support of Hebrew Widows and Orphans, familiarly known as the Frauen Verein. The prescriptions for which the Ladies’ Society paid averaged about thirty-five cents.33

Maternity cases were not at first welcomed in the hospitals proper. It was not until 1882 that the Cincinnati Jewish hospital admitted its first lying-in woman; New York’s Ladies’ Benevolent Society had been offering aid and relief to pregnant women since antebellum days; after the Civil War in a single year this association helped close to 400 women as they were about to give birth. Philadelphia Jewry opened a maternity home with a staff in 1873 and during the 1890’s sent some of the new mothers to convalesce in a home which it had established in Atlantic City. In New York—and in other towns too—maternity societies and convalescent homes increased in numbers, particularly among the recent immigrants. Gradually American Jews reached out to assist unfortunates who had too long been neglected. Agencies banded together to befriend handicapped children, the deaf, deaf-mutes, and the blind. By the second decade of the twentieth century there was a school for deaf-mutes in New York, and two congregations for the hard of hearing were established in that city. In some cities of substantial size the hospital with its adjoining sister institutions, outpatient clinic, lay auxiliary services, home for the aged and infirm, constituted a social-welfare complex making for Jewish solidarity and the furtherance of a sense of community.34


When the hospice-hospital broke up into its component parts there emerged three separate agencies: hospitals for the sick, asylums for orphans, and homes for the aged. The institutions offering shelter to the aged were the least important; as children rose in the world financially, they made provision for their parents. Indigents with little choice had to enter asylums. There was one in Philadelphia in the late 1860’s and one in New York in the next decade, but by 1900 they were to be found in most large towns. Smaller towns like Richmond solved their problems by boarding or pensioning their aged clients. The Orthodox of the metropolises went their own way. They did not feel at home in the asylums established by the natives or the acculturated Germans; if there was kashrut they distrusted it. Occasionally a common home gave shelter to all aged pensioners in town; more often the Slavic Jews set up their own establishments. Thus Chicago had two such homes, both endowed in part by Abraham Slimmer. When the German home was dedicated in 1893 Slimmer came to the dedication, bypassed the ceremonies, put on his boots, went out into the garden and started to dig. Around the turn of the century the new immigrants in New York City began to establish old-folks homes in different parts of the city, in Brooklyn, on the East Side, in Harlem, and even northward to Mount Vernon.35


Two homes for the aged, one in Cleveland, the other in Yonkers, were built by fraternal orders in the last quarter of the century. Though the fraternal orders were multipurpose, in essence, however, they were immigrant mutual-aid societies. They were exceedingly important for they had huge followings; every immigrant needed and sought some form of social, economic security. In their day the “Germans” set up a dozen such orders; by 1920 at least twenty fraternal orders had come and gone; a number catered to East Europeans or were established by them. It is interesting to note that in some of the southern states there were no benefits from July 15 to October 15, the period of the prevalent yellow fever. Not all of the brethren were satisfied with the subsidies received or in prospect. A Grand Master who was visiting a Free Sons of Israel lodge in the early 1900’s was chided by an old man who had been paying dues for forty-five years. “What has the lodge ever done for me,” he asked the Grand Master only to receive this laconic answer. “Why don’t you die and find out?” For Jews at least, the rise of scientifically conducted commercial insurance companies and the cessation of immigration put an end to this type of social insurance. The orders could not compete.

Determined to survive, the B’nai B’rith devoted itself to the welfare of Jewry in this land and abroad, emphasizing cultural and philanthropic goals, not that these emphases were altogether new. As early as the Civil War period, if not earlier, this order realized the importance of a broader humanitarian program. By the dawn of the twentieth century B’nai B’rith was well on its way to becoming an all-inclusive American Jewish service organization in a fraternal setting. It was a forward looking order, often opportunistic in the best sense of the term. The local lodges were ready to relieve their distressed members above and beyond their contractural obligations, and needy non-members were often assisted. In 1874 a Philadelphia lodge had already sponsored a local benevolent association and when the Leadville, Colorado, Jews established a lodge one of its prime goals was to lend a helping hand to all needy Jews. The Cincinnati lodge of the United Order of True Sisters aided the blind, succored needy mothers with infant children, helped out as volunteers in dispensaries, and rendered other services to Jews in distress.

The different lodges and orders did more than supplement local relief needs. They aided Jews in the agricultural colonies, intervened for immigrants with the authorities in Washington, established and supported homes for orphans and the aged, hospitals of various types, vocational, Sabbath, and night schools, employment bureaus, and free loan societies. Newcomers were assisted in settling in the backcountry, and the National Council of Jewish Women was encouraged in its settlement house work. During World War I the lodges befriended dependents of servicemen and joined with the Jewish Welfare Board in helping men and women in the armed forces. Through its leaders the B’nai B’rith labored to maintain or assure religious and political equality for Jews both here and abroad. Isaac M. Wise poked fun at the ritual which he looked upon as so much mumbo jumbo, but he admitted that the fraternal orders did much good work in combating poverty and crime. The B’nai B’rith never failed to point out that its motto was: benevolence, brotherly love, and harmony.36



In its search for worthy causes one of the institutions which B’nai B’rith aided was the National Jewish Hospital in Denver. Started by local communal workers the hospital only opened its doors in 1899 when the Order came to its rescue financially. Before long as funds began to come in from all parts of the land the hospital assumed the status of a national institution. Though the incidence of tuberculosis was probably not as high among Jews as non-Jews, American Jewish social agencies, very concerned about this dread disease, were determined to combat it vigorously. It is by no means improbable that some East Europeans, because of their environment back in Russia and Poland, were susceptible to tuberculosis; certainly the ghetto and the sweatshop increased their exposure to its ravages. By the 1870’s American Jews were shipping their consumptives to Denver to the dismay of the local Jewish community which by the next decade was talking of the need for a hospital for the tuberculous. Rabbi William S. Friedman and Mrs. Frances Wisebart Jacobs (1843-1892) worked in the early 1890’s to build a hospital. Jacobs was probably Colorado’s outstanding woman volunteer social worker. The prime efforts of this native Kentuckian were in the area of the general charities, for she was a founder of the Charity Organization Society but she did play a part, too, in the Jewish eleemosynary field. Because of her interest in the proposed new hospital for Jews suffering from lung diseases the building originally bore her name. After her death the name was changed. The National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives became a recognized center for the treatment and the control of this sickness; stricken Jews from the East flocked there and before long there was a very substantial community of Slavic Jews in the mile-high city. The sanatorium soon became a free nonsectarian institution blazoning its slogan across the land: “None may enter here who can pay; none can pay who enter.” In the Far West, the Los Angeles Jews succeeded in building a national tuberculosis treatment center at Duarte; they called it The City of Hope.37

Home Treatment of Tuberculosis

Even while the National Jewish Hospital was finally opening in 1899 and before the “Russians” had fashioned their own sanatoria for tuberculars, the Jewish charities in the eastern cities were turning to treatment at home. In this they were no doubt influenced by the open-air therapy pioneered in the Adirondacks in the 1880’s by Edward Livingston Trudeau. The new attack on the disease adopted by the Jewish charity federations was to be so exemplary that it was in part adopted by the non-Jewish charities, at least in Chicago. By 1901 the New York Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids had established a sanatorium not far from the city. In some towns the urban afflicted family was moved out into the suburbs and the cure pursued in the new home. The family was taught to take care of the patient; husband, wife, and children were kept together. Aftercare was stressed for fear of relapse. Proper employment was secured; sheltered workshops opened, ex-patients relief associations were called into being, and discharged patients were aided generously in order that they might reenter society.38

The Desertion Problem

Consumption was only one of the hazards the immigrants and the charities had to face. As an uprooted people the Jews had to cope with difficulties in almost every area of life and thought. One of the problems, the oldest, was that of the itinerants. Hobos, tramps, mendicants, wife deserters went from town to town preying on the Jewish charities. In order to weed out the undesirables and to aid the worthy, a National Union of Jewish Sheltering Societies was formed in 1911. Wife desertion became such a serious matter that it was attacked on a national basis. Not all deserters were ne’er-do-wells; many of them were frustrated men who had slunk away when they failed to establish themselves; some were husbands out on the road looking for jobs. There was also a very specific cultural problem: the husband who often had preceded his wife to these shores had assimilated American standards of dress and manners; his newly arrived wife was in his eyes uncouth, dowdy, alien; he was ashamed of her. Because there was no social control here it was not too difficult for the husband to take refuge in flight. But let there be no misunderstanding: most of the deserters were no good.

Desertion became a real problem as early as 1880 and continued to increase for several decades. The percentage of Jewish deserters was high though it is a moot question whether the rate of absconding husbands was higher among the non-Jews. It is estimated that among the Jewish women seeking relief about 11 percent of the applicants were deserted women. In St. Louis the rate was as low as 7 percent; in Baltimore as high as 16 percent. One of every four children in the orphan asylums had come from a home where the father had fled. Something drastic had to be done; it was not sufficient to bar itinerants from the hospices or to refuse them a meal or a night’s lodging. In 1905 the New York Jewish agencies helped make desertion a felony; deserters were now compelled to provide for their families. The United Jewish Charities of Cincinnati refused to support deserted women hoping that husbands would hesitate before leaving their wives and children helpless. Every effort was made to stop the errant spouses wandering from town to town. A very effective innovation was the “rogues gallery” inaugurated by the Forward in its Sunday edition. Pictures and descriptions of missing husbands delighted a generation of Yiddish readers who attempted to identify the “rogues” among their acquaintances. In 1912 the National Deserters’ Bureau was founded to halt this plague. The Bureau was probably effective; deserters were tracked down even when they fled to Canada. Reconciliations were made; arrangements for support effected. Here, too, the techniques refined by the Jews in dealing with this problem were adopted by some of the general agencies. By 1920 the numbers of deserters began to abate. It seems that it was essentially an immigration problem and as the stream of immigration diminished and as the children grew up, it solved itself in large measure.39



The unhappy East European wives who were abandoned suffered doubly; their misery was aggravated by rabbinic law which made divorce very difficult for them. The initiative in divorce was entirely the prerogative of the husband. Yet the lot of the American Jewish woman, native or immigrant, was constantly bettering itself because the status of women in general was improving steadily. The example of the emerging American woman prompted Jewesses to disregard or to emancipate themselves from a tradition that did not accord them equality. In the order of things, therefore, Jewish wives and mothers began to play a larger part in their own religiosocial community. They had of course always been important in the area of charity. It was they who often carried the load; they did the work. In some places the women’s eleemosynary organization was the first in town; in other places it was the only charity in the Jewish community. The New York City of the mid-nineteenth century had at least eight women’s relief societies; Richmond Jewry, a much smaller group, could count three Jewish women’s charity and beneficial associations in the year 1877.40


Philanthropy in the nineteenth century became increasingly a woman’s job because the men were busy making a living. From the 1880’s on, as Europeans began to pour in, new societies were created to relieve their wants and to help them survive. The women were taught to sew; employment was found for them; workshops were opened; clubs, kindergartens, and Sabbath schools were established. In the tiny community of Des Moines of the 1890’s there were three women’s charities, two of them founded by the East Europeans. The three separate charities in that town helped make it a paradise for the professional schnorrer—beggar—who could exploit all of them. Detroit, a much larger community, had only two women’s relief organizations but they exchanged lists of their clients.

The Jewish women’s charities were like all other Jewish associations: each society had a pattern all its own. Some were of a mutual-benefit nature; others were “benevolent” associations serving the impoverished, and some combined features of both. There were still others that functioned in the main as congregational auxiliaries. They aided congregations in a variety of ways for they provided the ritual silver, carpeted the floors, repaired the organ, helped the choir, decorated the sanctuary at Pentecost, assured the children of entertainment in the Sunday Schools, and lent money to the synagog. Though frequently attached to a synagog the ladies’ benevolent societies engaged in social-welfare programs that were anything but parochial. These women’s associations aided yellow fever victims and flood sufferers in other towns, dispatched funds to Jerusalem, and collected money for the oppressed Jews in Russia. They contributed to the local and regional general hospitals, asylums, and homes for children and the aged, financed, on occasion, a student at the Hebrew Union College, and even assisted struggling farmers. The Quincy (Illinois) Hebrew Ladies’ Society lent a woman cigar maker money to buy a supply of tobacco. The ladies aided lying-in women, visited and nursed the sick, bought a wheelchair for an invalid, took up a collection for a deaf-mute, supplied coal, food, and clothing for the impoverished, and offered a helping hand to itinerants. The tenderhearted women of the German-speaking Hebrew Ladies’ Society of Pittsburgh (1868) would take the children into their homes when a mother was sent to a hospital. The Detroit Ladies’ Society for the Support of Widows and Orphans went into homes, taught cleanliness, and found the means to assist a woman and her five children for thirteen years rather than break up the family by shipping the youngsters to an orphan asylum. The Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society of Birmingham thought it would be a good idea to give a cow to a poor family with children who needed milk. There were few good causes which the Jewish women ignored.41


As the immigrants kept streaming in, the increasing work load facing these traditional ladies’ benevolent societies was overwhelming. Alongside them new women’s groups rose with new approaches; in some instances these sisterhoods began to replace the older ladies’ organizations. Influenced possibly by the New York Association for the Improving of the Condition of the Poor there now appeared Sisterhoods of Personal Service. There was one such association in Temple Emanu-El in the late 1880’s. In the large cities, where these sisterhoods made their appearance in the 1890’s and on, the area of work was divided into districts. In New York, for instance, different sisterhoods worked in the various districts from the New Bowery north to Harlem and even beyond that. By 1918 New York women’s groups were so numerous that they formed a federation of their own with over thirty affiliates.

What did the Sisterhoods of Personal Service do? Wherein did they differ from the older Ladies’ Benevolent Societies? Was it “the same old gal with a different veil?” Was the new sisterhood another phase of the attempt of a native generation to break away from the older patterns and controls? The benevolent societies always emphasized “personal service” to a fault. Was the new emphasis on personal service a reaction to the apparent impersonality of a new breed of social workers? The sisterhoods that now appeared at the turn of the century were different. The new acculturated American Jews reflected the social consciousness of the emerging American clubwomen. These women were making a transition from the old-fashioned German Jewish benevolent society to the modern charity mindful not only of the needs of Jewry but also of the cultural and welfare demands of the larger America.

Some of these women were more rooted in American than in Jewish mores. One worker was disturbed to see an impoverished client eating fish and cake on a Friday night, not realizing the importance, the sanctity of the Sabbath meal in the life of a traditional Jew. In various towns, particularly in New York City, sisterhoods were miniature social agencies. They opened kindergartens, nurseries, and work shops; offered vocational guidance, some training in music, and sought employment for their clients. They set up club programs, founded libraries and religious schools, ran summer camps, provided recreation for their people, and worked closely with the Jewish proto-federations then being established. In accord with the demands of the newer welfare philosophies they laid less emphasis on the palliative. They attempted to teach their clients how to budget their modest means, how to work out their own salvation. Obviously the sisterhoods were influenced by the “Ys,” the settlement houses, the National Council of Jewish Women, the few institutional synagogs, and the exemplary programs set up by Christians who were working with the proletarian and lower-middle classes. Often the sisterhoods became an arm of the proto-federations doing much of their work for them until gradually these volunteer workers were squeezed out by the professional case workers. This was about the year 1920.

The new type of sisterhood social worker at her best is exemplified in the life of Hannah Bachman Einstein (1862-1929), who was for many years the president of New York’s Emanu-El sisterhood. She was a far cry from the German Jewish hausfrau who sewed shrouds for the Holy Society. Einstein studied sociology and criminology at Columbia and modern theories of social welfare at the New York School of Philanthropy. Like other notable New York Jewish women she was very eager to secure pension legislation for dependent mothers so that they might remain at home and rear their families. She was a trustee of New York’s United Hebrew Charities, an important figure in Mount Sinai’s nursing school, a friend of the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives, and a founder of New York’s Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations. As an outstanding volunteer-professional, she was typical of the new breed of Jewish women who labored to introduce the type of social-welfare legislation that found its classic expression later in the New Deal.

By the second decade of the twentieth century the Union of American Hebrew Congregations had perfected a national organization of the women’s auxiliaries of the Reform temples (1913), the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS). These auxiliaries were geared to serve the synagog; they limited themselves almost exclusively to religious work, supporting the Union, the Hebrew Union College, and the Sunday schools. Following in the wake of the NFTS, the Conservative congregations founded the National Women’s League of the United Synagogue (1918). Unlike the personal service sisterhoods neither of these synagogal auxiliaries was in any sense a social-welfare organization in its formative years. Broadening its program in later years the NFTS began to work for social betterment.42


Clubwomen of the Hannah Bachman Einstein type were concerned with society at large as well as with Jewry. Jewesses of this genre began to make their presence felt on the American scene in the 1890’s although Rebecca Gratz early in the century was a prototype. Following in the path pioneered by Gentile women who began to assert themselves in mid-century, these women used the medium of the club. Through it they built a new way of life so that their personalities might come to flower. These women forged an endless series of clubs that ranged through the fields of the arts, the social sciences, and diverse realms of philanthropy. Their goals were far-ranging; some of them pushed for social service and civic reform: equal suffrage, the abolition of child labor, control of crime and alcoholism, better government, international peace. They wrestled with the problems that had risen in or had been exacerbated by the new unrestrained industrialism. The American club movement was no small thing; by 1907 the General Federation of Women’s Clubs had hundreds of thousands of members. By 1920 women suffrage was the law of the land; women were here not only to be seen but to be heard.43


Obviously the intelligent well-educated American Jewish woman was not unaffected by the appearance of the postbellum clubwoman. A few women of the Jewish elite, not many to be sure, were already members of the general clubs. They had already begun to emerge from behind the curtains socially as well as religiously. In the eighteenth century, the women of New York’s Mill Street Synagogue were relegated to a gallery where they were almost concealed in a sort of hencoop. As late as 1800 some members were still insisting that unmarried women not be permitted to sit in the front row of the gallery even though they could not be seen. Two decades later although the women still graced the gallery they now could see and be seen. Reformers of the Charleston group granted more rights to women in the 1820’s; Emanu-El in the 1850’s adopted the family pew system; wives, husbands, and children could sit together. Einhorn believed in “woman’s perfect religious equality with man.” During the second half of the nineteenth century, Jewish women continued to make gains in achieving religious equality and greater community participation.

The Civil War gave the Jewish woman in the South an opportunity to vent herself vigorously, if not frenetically. Like many of her Christian sisters she became a hyperpatriot. The Philadelphia Rabbinical Conference of 1869 sought a larger role for the bride in the wedding ceremony. Ever since 1850 Isaac M. Wise had worked to let women play a part in the synagog service for he had encouraged them to sing in his choir. Over the years he urged that they be permitted to become members of the synagog and its board. He introduced confirmation for girls in Cincinnati’s B’nai Yeshurun and allowed them to read from the Torah. During the 1876 centennial year meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in Washington there was considerable talk of founding a woman’s college, a Young Ladies’ Hebrew Seminary, where the girls of the new generation would be taught the humanities, the fine arts, and Hebrew, too. “Mothers in Israel” were to constitute the board; nothing came of this proposal. Wise spoke out for women but moved with great caution.

In 1892, the Central Conference of American Rabbis granted women equality in the temple. However, one suspects that the Conference refused to meet the issue head on; the resolution adopted was little more than a pious wish. Reform Jews carried on a running battle against Orthodox practices which sharply impaired the rights of women who sought to remarry. In 1896 Kaufmann Kohler urged the members of the National Council of Jewish Women to preach and teach through the pulpit although he discreetly said nothing about women studying for the rabbinate. A year later Hannah G. Solomon was invited by Emil G. Hirsch to occupy his pulpit; she served, too, as a member of the board of this prestigious synagog, Sinai. With the dawn of the new century Mrs. Solomon Schechter was accepted as a member of the executive council of the United Synagogue of America, the Conservative religious union, despite the fact that it still maintained an Orthodox stance on the position of women.

The consideration accorded women in the Reform synagogs reflects the inescapable logic of their modernism and the spirit of America to which Reform Judaism genuflected: the women wanted a place in the sun. By the 1890’s the Jewish clubwoman was arguing that she was as good as her Gentile peers. Did she argue that she was as good as a Jewish man? Jewish women must have the courage to effectuate their convictions; they struggled to emancipate themselves and their societies from male control. Men often played the dominant role in the women’s charities; the men made the policy the women were supposed to implement. Women were deemed helpless. Very untypically the Natchez Jewesses reversed this process by stating that men could join their group but could neither vote nor hold office. When the federations came into being in the late nineteenth century some women’s societies refused to go along; they did not want to be swamped by the men. The B’nai B’rith reluctantly permitted women to establish auxiliary lodges in the 1890’s after rejecting them as members. The East European women began to play an increasingly important role in the garment unions after 1900. Whether their assertiveness was derived from Russian radical tradition rather than a reflection of America thinking is unclear.44

The growing consciousness of self on the part of the cultured American Jewish women eventuated in the creation of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). These women wanted their own organization because often they were not welcomed in the women’s city clubs. Gentile clubs were never devoid of a social character and hence were frequently anti-Jewish. The 1890’s in particular was a decade of anti-Jewish prejudices. Thus it was that the NCJW came to birth in 1893 at the World’s Parliament of Religions that met then at the Chicago Columbian Exposition. The Gentile women who invited their Jewish counterparts to set up a religious program looked upon them as a separate group. Hannah Greenebaum Solomon (1858-1942), a member of the exclusive Chicago Women’s Club was asked to call together a Jewish Women’s Religious Congress which would prepare a program of its own. This was probably the first congress of Jewish women in the United States.

Hannah Greenebaum Solomon

Hannah G. Solomon was a member of the Chicago Greenebaum clan, people of substantial means and influence, important in cultural and musical circles. Hannah herself had studied under Carl Wolfsohn and was a fine pianist. She came from a family of doers; her father Michael in 1853 headed a mob of citizens who rescued a fugitive slave from the hands of a United States marshal. Her parents gave her a good education and because of her linguistic ability she served as an interpreter for Susan B. Anthony when both were delegates in 1904 at the Berlin International Council of Women. Reflecting the Jewish environment in which she was reared this Reform Jew wanted no Jewish state although she welcomed Palestine as a haven of refuge and praised the achievements of its colonists. After she resigned as head of the Council (1905), she became a very active social-welfare leader in Chicago and in the state. Among the institutions to which she devoted herself were the Illinois Industrial School for Girls, the state Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Council of Women of the United States. While serving on a civic committee Solomon made an inspection of a garbage dump dressed in a trailing gown of white cotton lace, clutching in her white gloved hand a matching parasol. But she never floated on cloud number nine; this diminutive creature, considerably shorter than five feet, knew exactly what she was doing.45


When Hannah Solomon called the NCJW into being she realized there was no future for the typical American Jewish woman in the better civic and sociocultural clubs. As a committed religionist she wanted to establish a sorority where Jewish women could express themselves without let or hindrance. She herself said she wanted to get the woman out of the kitchen; actually of course women of her class had already emancipated themselves from the kitchen stove. The new Jewish fellowship that now emerged was patterned in name at least on the National Council of Women of the United States. This umbrella organization was created in the late nineteenth century to unite women who were working for worthy causes, particularly in the area of equal rights. Hannah Solomon was a fervent advocate of the vote for women.

Solomon was not the sole founder of the new national Jewish society. Associated with her was Sadie American (b.1862), who did most of the organizing work. She was a brilliant capable executive, an important figure in the general social-welfare world of Chicago and New York, probably more influential in Chicago’s charitative realm than any other Jewish woman in the city. She had worked in the Maxwell Street Settlement, taught Sunday School for Emil G. Hirsch, and had even preached in churches and temples. She later moved on to New York City where she was active in at least 100 civic and philanthropic associations. She may well have been the outstanding Jewish clubwoman of her day in the United States. The new society, the NCJW, owes as much to her as it did to Hannah Solomon. Both women had strong personalities and it is not strange that on occasion they clashed despite the fact that Solomon was the “boss.” When some Orthodox women in the Council attacked Solomon for not consecrating the Sabbath in a traditional manner, her devastating answer was: “I consecrate every day of the week.”46

Goals, Fields of Work, Programs, and Achievements of the NCJW

What did the NCJW set out to do? What were its programs, its goals, its accomplishments? Influenced by the women’s club movement and the political and religious reformism of an Emil G. Hirsch it was inevitable that the founders of the new organization would envisage social-welfare changes on a local and national scale. Their concern for the larger world about them is reflected in the second half of their organization’s motto: Faith and Humanity. Hannah Solomon and Sadie American were well aware of the challenge of the time, yet they could move no faster than their members. It was not until the second decade of the twentieth century, years after Solomon and American had retired, that the Council really began to reach out. It was then that it worked for slum clearance, low-cost housing, better public schools, child labor laws, juvenile courts, mother’s pensions, uniform marriage and divorce laws, civil service reforms, public health, legislative remedies for social evils, and international peace. Its caution in moving to the left is reflected in Council relations with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The NCJW would not adopt a resolution recommended by the WCTU to condemn Turkish persecution of Armenians. The National Council suspected that the Christians in Turkey were engaged in missionary work, and it feared, too, that any Jewish protest would endanger the lives of the country’s Jews.

For approximately the first twenty years of its existence the NCJW limited itself primarily to “Faith,” to Jewish programs. In this respect it was more “religious” than the typical nondenominational woman’s club. Though the Council was denominationally neutral the acculturation-oriented Reform Jewish women dominated it. The Council as a whole was very much interested in religion, education, and philanthropy. Its sense of kinship with World Jewry prompted it to come to the aid of the pogrommed Jews of Russia, and in 1912 to organize the International Council of Jewish Women. Here, too, it was following in the footsteps of the non-Jewish International Council of Women. For the most part the emphasis in the early days was on the local branches and their programs. Each section, autonomous, set out to do what seemed right in its own eyes. The programs were twofold; self-improvement, self-education, study, and social-welfare projects for immigrants.

The self-improvement study circles are worthy of note. They combined sociability, an important factor, with education for these women who thought of themselves as an informed elite. They listened to lectures on general subjects, studied parliamentary law, and even child psychology. But the stress was on materials of a Jewish nature: the Bible, Jewish history, and even synagogal music. They had too much pride to tolerate Ave Maria and Christmas melodies in the choir loft and sponsored a book on Jewish music. Their relations with the Jewish Publication and Chautauqua societies were close and they usually worked well with the rabbis. At the 1896 convention of the NCJW one delegate suggested that the circles study the lives of Jesus and Paul; the best of the New Testament is Jewish, she said. This was radical talk for that decade. The major philanthropic job that the Council performed—and performed well—was the help it gave to immigrant Jewish women, primarily those who hailed from East Europe. The Council women met these immigrants at the ports, escorted them to the trains, and greeted them when they reached their destination. They were afraid of white slavery. Jobs were supplied, resident hotels were set up, night schools were opened, vocational training was given, and social clubs established. Settlement houses were opened with libraries, gymnasiums, and variegated programs. Brilliant students were given scholarships. Delinquents were aided when they ran afoul of the law and appeared in the juvenile courts. Once an immigrant had settled down the Council aided in the Americanization and naturalization process; it even reached out to the women on isolated farms.47

A prime interest of the Council sections was the Sunday school which it chose as a medium to Judaize, educate, and Americanize the children of immigrants. These schools were often called Mission Schools, a term borrowed from the Christians. The Christian schools were educational and propagandistic; the Jewish Mission Schools were similar but they were equally intent on thwarting conversionist designs of the missionaries. The National Council put its members on the school boards of synagogs. It believed in the importance of a good Jewish education, one patterned after the best methods perfected by the Christians in their Sunday schools. The Council was willing to teach Hebrew but summarily rejected the heder, the traditional Hebrew school where the sacred language was often taught by an incompetent man in unsanitary surroundings. Julia Richman, the educationist, thought that the ghetto heder was not only un-American, it was “unethical.” The Council sections were not interested in dispensing charity, in friendly visiting, in personal service on behalf of the impoverished. But they did render aid on occasion to the needy and they did help the blind, the crippled, the unemployed, prisoners, and consumptives. As children of the twentieth century they believed that indiscriminate giving of aims degraded the recipients; they recommended advanced methods of helping the poor, advocated the use of trained investigatory personnel, and urged prevention rather than cure. In general Council welfare programs were allied to those carried on in the “Ys,” the settlement houses, and by the early charity federations.

The National Council grew rapidly; by the time this period had come to a close there were sections in fifty cities and in twenty-two states. It tried but did not succeed in organizing teenaged boys and girls; it was somewhat more successful in recruiting younger women. As early as the third decade of the twentieth century the Council had 10 settlement houses and 120 Sabbath schools. Working with intelligence, devotion and system, it was able to help thousands of newcomers. Among those societies, institutions, and national movements that were laboring independently and synchronously to integrate the new immigrants, the National Council played an important part.48

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