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In reviewing the numerous local societies and national associations engaged in welfare work one is prompted to ask: were too many doing the same job? The autonomous, volunteer charity society was typical of America. It had also been typical of the Jew in the Europe whence he had come. Helping others was always a way of life with the Jew. There could never be too many who offered a helping hand. The principle of giving was not questioned; the method was a subject of debate. Was the best possible job being done to raise money? Was the money being used most effectively? Did not giving indiscriminately perpetuate poverty? There was rivalry and overlapping in the requests for aid and in the services provided the unfortunate. Few doubted that welfare, like industry, required organization, method, records of receipts and expenditures. Certainly more money was needed to meet the constantly growing demands. The intake was inadequate despite the almost limitless devices employed to raise funds: dues were collected, fees were paid in hospitals, large sums poured in at balls, charity dinners, bazaars, fairs, raffles, and theatre benefits. These resources were augmented by ads on souvenir programs, by city and state subsidies, synagogal collections on the High Holy Days, and gifts from generous Gentiles, Jewish lodges, and out-of-town communities. Storekeepers gave generously of their wares which were then sold cheaply to the chagrin of the donor who found that he was competing with himself. Individuals gave freely of their time and skills. A Chicago physician served the impoverished gratis; a druggist made no charge for the medicines given the poor. The typical storekeeper or member of one of the learned professions was probably annoyed by the constant calls for goods or money. Not only did door to door solicitation involve loss of time by social workers, it was an inefficient way to reach the pockets of all the possible givers. Some Jews, who did not live on Main Street, were rarely solicited. The Jews wanted a single annual campaign; they wanted to give once and be through.1


The prevailing autonomy, centrifugalism in local charities and institutions, the competing efforts in fund-raising, and the duplication of aid and services was obvious to everyone. In a land where centralization of authority in many things was in the ascendant the Jewish establishment began to work toward centralization—federalism—in the area of social welfare. In a way this was to return to the pattern of colonial America when the synagog was the community, the sole charity, the sole dispensing agency. After the Revolution disparate religious and social welfare groups had sprung up, largely because of the coming of immigrants with different rites, ethnic backgrounds, and traditions. This state of disunity was to continue through the first quarter of the twentieth century when the federations reestablished some degree of communal unity, in the charities at least. Yet though this disparateness manifested itself for almost 150 years unity was nevertheless still valued and constantly sought. In 1822 the United Hebrew Beneficent Society had appeared in Philadelphia. What did “United” mean? Admitting that there could be no uniformity in matters synagogal, that generation did believe that men and women could unite to work together in matters charitative. Ten years later the congregations of New York City came together to raise funds for the poor and oppressed Jews of the Holy Land. Raising money for Palestine was a tradition that had united American Jewry as early as the 1770’s. By 1836 Isaac Leeser urged the Jews of the United States to join together in the support of a national home for widows and orphans, and as long as he lived he preached the gospel of eleemosynary federalization on a local and national level. Anticipating the welfare development of the next century he pleaded for a union of local charities, a common fund, and a central board of control. He wanted the charity workers to teach their clients to stand on their own feet.2

The long depression that began in 1837 moved American Jewish communities to coordinate their philanthropic work, if only temporarily. Crises always influenced them to centralize if only to economize. Congregations and charities in the New York metropolis made a joint appeal for funds. An unsuccessful attempt was made in the early 1840’s to merge two societies in order to found a hospice. That same year, 1843, Philadelphia inaugurated a successful and relatively permanent annual fund-raising device, the resort to balls, banquets, and fairs. This was definitely a form of federation; by 1854 six benevolent societies were receiving allocations from the proceeds. More successful in a sense was the Cincinnati city-wide Hebrew Association. This was a union of philanthropic and religious organizations that joined together in 1847 to provide medical services for the indigent. But in 1856 when Lilienthal in Cincinnati pushed for a city-wide Jewish charity fund under central control to end pauperism, to wage a war on professional beggars, to stop the harassment of the merchants by solicitation, nothing was accomplished.3

Less than a year after the Lilienthal proposal the onset of the 1857 depression induced several Philadelphia congregations to meet and plan to help the unemployed over the winter. This Hebrew Relief Association was a communal effort, one of the first attempts to constitute a city-wide Jewish community in its most inclusive sense. When this depression hit New York a prominent community leader called for unity in the charities but an attempt to bring the many benevolent societies together failed. It was no easy thing to amalgamate or coordinate the work of twenty separate associations. Finally, however, a start was made in 1859. A proto-federation of sorts was fashioned when the two leading philanthropies, the Hebrew Benevolent Society and the German Hebrew Benevolent Society, united; they had already met for joint fund-raising dinners. Their hope was that through an annual banquet they could raise enough money to establish an asylum for the aged, indigent, and orphaned. Certainly something had to be done for the children; neglected Jewish youngsters were being enticed into a Christian missionary institute; the Mortara “kidnapping” was still fresh in the minds of American Jewry.

In 1859 Chicago was the most successful of America’s Jewish towns in federating its charities. Its Jewry was not yet a metropolitan community. Thus it was not too difficult to set up the United Hebrew Relief Association (UHR), under the sponsorship of the able and prestigious Henry Greenebaum. After the merger, through its nine affiliates, it became the sole relief-giving association in town. The client groups relinquished their charity work to the UHR although they did maintain their separate identities. The federation also included a literary society, a lodge, and some congregations, all of which were given representation on a central board. The goal of the new enterprise was centralization; in this the founders were successful.4


In the post-Civil War period the constantly increasing arrival of newcomers accelerated the pace of centralizing and federating the Jewish charities. More efficiency, system, was required if the heavy philanthropic load was to be handled properly. More and more the businessmen of the day urged consolidation of societies, more information about clients, detection of imposters. They wanted a single agency. Once more Lilienthal came forth with a scheme to federate all of Cincinnati’s Jewish eleemosynary societies. The mutual-aid agencies, he pointed out, only helped members; the benevolent societies were too puny to accomplish much. The only recourse the poor had was to besiege the storekeepers and in this attack the professional beggars won out while the respectable poor suffered. The solution, he continued, was one overall society to receive all applications, to investigate them thoroughly, and to bend all efforts to make the indigent self-supporting. Again he accomplished nothing. Richmond Jewry in Confederate days succeeded in establishing a community-wide Jewish fund to aid sick and wounded soldiers (1864); after the war the Jewish community as a whole sent aid to Palestine. During the Civil War, Memphis, so it would seem, created one central relief association to replace numerous competing charities. New Orleans in 1869 amalgamated its benevolent society and the Touro Infirmary. It was not too difficult to federate the agencies in middle-sized communities like Richmond, Memphis, and New Orleans. It was much more difficult to coordinate the disparate philanthropic agencies in a metropolis like Philadelphia where vested interests and powerful supporters raised barriers to federation. Yet progress was made even in this large city for in 1869 six societies joined together to form the United Hebrew Charities (UHC). There was even talk then of one fund-raising campaign and but one relief agency for the entire community. The UHC divided the city into districts each with its chairman who did the investigatory work and then brought his recommendations to a central board. Was there a real need for this apparatus? In 1870 there were 682 petitioners for aid, in 1894, almost 8,000.5

Philadelphia was certainly not the only Jewish community that worked for centralization in charity administration. Cleveland, St. Louis, Boston, and New York were also moving in that direction. New York felt the need in the 1860’s and 1870’s; the depression beginning in 1873 made radical measures imperative, for large numbers of Jews were experiencing difficulties in making a living. New York Jewry with its multiple Jewish communities was almost as difficult to unite as the Swiss cantons, but in 1874 the United Hebrew Charities was finally put together. It became the city’s major Jewish relief agency. This proto-federation enjoyed the enlightened leadership of Henry Rice for over thirty years. He knew the field for he had worked closely with the Charity Organization Society, served on the New York Board of Education, and evinced a deep interest in civic reform.

The United Hebrew Charities was not a consolidated fund-raising organization but through its five affiliated societies it did consolidate the distribution of relief. This was an advance. An agent was employed at Castle Garden to meet the immigrants; thousands were helped or urged to leave the ghetto and to move to the hinterland. In addition to doling out aid, it pensioned the needy, supplied medical help, sought employment for the newcomers, and pioneered in vocational guidance. It urged model tenements for the poor, gave maternity relief, hired paid visitors, and leaned on the Sisterhoods of Personal Service in the districts allotted to them. Unskilled female immigrants were taught to use the needle and to keep their homes clean. Henry Rice emphasized the relation between filth, illness, and dependency. The programs of the New York UHC were all-embracing; they explained the mysteries of home budgeting and nutrition to the humble migrants from the Slavic villages and even taught the women to cook. Dependent children were put into private homes, undernourished youngsters were sent to the country; tuberculars were assisted; deserting husbands were ferreted out while their families were supported; hundreds were given free burials. When an immigrant stole a gold watch and pawned it to buy a steamship ticket for a wife and family in Europe the agency intervened to secure a suspended sentence from the magistrate. In 1899 the UHC hired Dr. Lee K. Frankel to direct its philanthropic work; competent technical leadership was imperative. New York City was the largest Jewish town in the world; in 1900 there were some 10,000 applicants for relief.6

Like the non-Jewish welfare experts, the American Jewish volunteer-professionals realized full well that multiple relief societies were impractical. Piling society upon society, as in Philadelphia, where the general community could count 800 charities, was no solution to the problem of poverty. Jewry was dismayed as it watched the different associations canvassing separately for funds. Believing that people could be emancipated from poverty Jewish and Gentile communal workers evolved overall reform programs which envisaged adequate sanitation, good housing, medical care, full employment, better wages, vocational training, education. Adequate funds could only be secured for its needs by the Jewish community if there was but one fund-raising drive and but one dispensing apparatus even though this limited the autonomy of the competing societies.

Chicago Jewry may have influenced Philadelphia, the latter may have influenced New York and other Jewish communities throughout the country in the drive to merge, modernize, and to systematize relief. The last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed a reorganization of the charities in many towns. With few exceptions the new agencies had one word in common in the new names they adopted, the word “United.” The land was studied with United Hebrew or United Jewish charities. Aside from this common desire among them all for unity and efficiency, each association went its own way, improvising in response to the unique circumstances that prevailed in each town. Under the influence of Rabbi Max Landsberg and his acculturated flock, Rochester stressed Americanization. Newcomers were “not ripe for the enjoyment of liberty and equal rights.” Milwaukee raised the funds for its constituent societies in one single communal drive. In the effort to further the confederative process Chicago’s United Hebrew Charities did succeed in controlling the hospital, the employment bureau, and in eliciting reports from its semi-autonomous affiliates. Reflecting the views of its forward-looking lay leaders, Cincinnati persevered in the effort to consolidate all the Jewish charities in town. In short, throughout the United States the federative process which had begun in the antebellum period continued to grow and to expand all through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Even in the late twentieth century, federations had not yet ceased to reach out.7



Jewish historians say that the first federation of Jewish charities was established in Boston in 1895. A federation has been defined as a community-wide organization to achieve joint philanthropic goals. Actually, as it has already been pointed out, there were several such organizations at least a generation before the one in Boston. This federation brought little new. What then is the “federation” that now appeared? It was an organization that included several charities, that aspired to set up a single administrative apparatus which was to be supported through funds secured in one annual campaign. It was as much concerned with rehabilitation as it was with relief, and to achieve its goals it frequently, but not always, employed professional personnel. It envisaged as its field of endeavor the community as a whole. The ideal federation that did succeed in reaching these goals did not come into being until the mid-twentieth century. The proto-federations of the nineteenth century were ideologically influenced by biblical and rabbinical traditions of relief and rehabilitation, by the Christian Social Gospel Movement, and by new trends in social welfare such as the Charity Organization Society (COS). This movement appeared in Buffalo in 1877 and numbered Jews among its first workers and affiliates. It was the contention of the COS that the poor are not the victims of God’s displeasure, deservedly punished for their faults. They suffer because of the malfunction of society, and if the poor are to be helped they and their families are to be rehabilitated in a society which itself must be changed and improved. The charity suppliant must be aided to surmount the evils that confront him. Thus it was that the COS encouraged thrift, provided vocational training, medical care, and dispensaries. It worked to improve the health of children, deplored the slum environment, furthered summer camps. It pleaded for the coordination of all communal charities, kept records, stopped unauthorized collections, promoted efficiency and cooperation where large sums and large numbers were involved. It was vigorously opposed to what it considered indiscriminate giving to which the religiously oriented were prone. Above all the clients must be helped to become self-supporting.8


The federative process accelerated late in the century because businessmen were fed up with the constant solicitations of the canvassers, the multiple appeals. They insisted on one annual drive. Again, as in the 1870’s and in the 1850’s, the businessmen demanded changes because of the economic depression. The panic in 1893 lasted for forty-eight months. The businessmen were then able to effectuate changes, reforms, because they controlled the purse strings. They set out to raise more cash to feed the unemployed; they insisted that there be no waste; administration of the several charities could be improved, resources could be husbanded, if there were but one monolithic eleemosynary whole. The communal leaders, the elite, were not successful in achieving this goal. They compromised, satisfied to alleviate the anarchy of separate collections by federating a limited number of the charities, raising money, and allocating it to their affiliates who retained a substantial measure of autonomy. The 1895 Boston federation began with a single fund-raising campaign that included a small number of societies. And although the component associations were permitted to continue in their wonted ways a central office was established. An effort was made to introduce an adequate registration system and to investigate clients carefully. The suppliants were to be given moral as well as financial aid. This businesslike approach appealed to the Boston lawyer Louis D. Brandeis who made a generous contribution. A generation later the Boston federation had expanded to include a relatively large number of the Jewish charities, even the local Prison Aid Society.

Some students maintain that Cincinnati was the first real federation; it differed little from that of Boston though its structure was somewhat more developed. The Cincinnati federation, established in 1896, owes a great deal to Max Senior, one of the outstanding American Jewish social workers. His modern scientific outlook prompted him to recommend medical examinations and clinical treatment for the clients, a woman physician for lying-in cases, and compulsory social insurance. Under his administration in the early years of the new century, free baths were provided and playgrounds opened for children. Both these innovations were later incorporated into the City of Cincinnati’s welfare program. Senior was a member of the Ohio State Tuberculosis Commission and an active protagonist of the juvenile courts. His interest in Jewish philanthropic agencies is reflected in his support of the Cleveland Orphan Asylum. Admiring colleagues chose him as the first president of the National Conference of Jewish Charities. Senior preached prevention rather than correction, and in his starry-eyed idealism this hard-headed, very successful businessman voiced the hope, that when justice prevailed there would be no need for charity.

Like Boston, the Cincinnati federation had its own paid superintendent and its own administration headquarters. It employed paid women “visitors” and was successful in enlisting a large number of devoted volunteers to do its case work. It hired the best men as its professional executives. One of these was Rabbi Solomon Lowenstein who later became the director of the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropic Societies. He was succeeded in Cincinnati by Boris D. Bogen, later director general of the Joint Distribution Committee in Europe during and after World War I. The Cincinnati United Jewish Charities (UJC), as the new association called itself, speedily developed a full program of activities and within the next two decades became one of American Jewry’s exemplary federations. It opened a dispensary and a settlement house, pioneered in kindergartens, in the medical inspection of children in schools, and evinced a strong interest in the juvenile courts. The federation worked for better housing, insurance for industrial accidents, pre-natal clinics, and milk stations. The UJC provided care for tubercular clients, set up a kosher convalescent home, a summer camp for adults and children, a vocational school, a workshop for women, an employment bureau, and medical and dental clinics. Like other Jewish communities the Cincinnatians were zealous in the efforts to Americanize immigrants and vigorously pursued a program of acculturation. One of their Americanization concepts was somewhat naive; they thought something could be gained if their Orthodox coreligionists would only shave their beards. Thinking in terms of the Jewish community as a whole the federation in 1921 changed the name of its primary agency, the Hebrew General Relief Association, and called it the Family Welfare Board. It refused to think in terms of mere social pathology. The United Jewish Charities changed its name too; it became the United Jewish Social Agencies.9


The federative concept was acclaimed and effectuated in both large and small towns. In 1918 little Dallas spent but $1,800 that year; New York, $3,000,000. This great metropolis was one of the last to federate and then only to a limited degree. Repeated efforts to unite the different societies of New York always ended in failure. When the federation was finally established in 1917 it included but a minuscule fraction of the city’s charities. Even those included insisted on retaining a large measure of autonomy; the larger the town the more difficult it was to weld together the existing societies. Kansas City Jewry established its federation in 1900. One of its founders was Gustav Bernheimer who was said to have found employment for 600 immigrants in the first decade of the new century. Cleveland dates its federation from 1904. Its outstanding lay welfare leader was Martin A. Marks (b.1853). Like his fellow-Ohioan, Max Senior, Marks played an important part in the general as well as the Jewish social-welfare community. Marks, who had banking and woolen mill interests, served as chairman of the Committee on Benevolent Association of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, as vice president of the Anti-Tuberculosis League, as a member of the Public Library Board, as president of the Indiana Society of Ohio, and as a patron of the Educational League for the Higher Education of Orphans. He was president of Temple Tifereth Israel and of his B’nai B’rith district. As first president of Cleveland’s non-Jewish Federation for Charity and Philanthropy he established central budgeting, America’s first Community Chest (1913). His pattern was the Jewish federation for which he was an active worker. By the 1920’s there were about 200 such community chests in this country.10

The new approach that distinguished the Jewish federations is exemplified in a simple decision of the Indianapolis coalition of societies which had been forged in 1905. There was a tubercular immigrant huckster in town who struggled hard to support his wife and six children. The ladies of the Hebrew Benevolent Society occasionally gave him a basket of food; apparently that was the best they could do. The federation however sent him to Denver, took care of his family, and when he returned cured, it provided him with living quarters out in the open. He lived to be almost eighty, reared a family that became affluent and respected for its generosity to the community.11

By the end of the first two decades of the new century there were about fifty federations all differing in size, budget, scope, and accomplishment. Without exception their authority was constantly expanding as they limited the right of the individual affiliates to solicit funds. The concept of union was in the air; thirty-eight Jewish women’s societies in Baltimore united into a federation of their own. As these united groups became more and more inclusive they moved forward hesitantly to initiate a modest degree of communal planning. This was a laborious process, for loyalty to a pet charity often took precedence over the welfare of the client or of the community. By 1920 the Jewish federations ran into new difficulties. The Community Chests, fixing their grants at a relatively low level, could not meet the higher standards of relief which the Jews had established for their suppliants. Orthodox Jews would eat only kosher meat, always more expensive. However, some of the financial problems were resolved in the 1920’s when the Jewish Welfare Fund was established. It provided subsidies for all needs, local, national, and international that were beyond the compass of the Community Chest: Jewish education, regional and national asylums and hospitals, defense societies, help for impoverished Jews in transatlantic lands. The Community Chest could not make grants for sectarian purposes.12


Though the Boston Jewish charity coalition included one East European society the organizations of the newcomers were as a rule not included in the federations. Mutual suspicion between the two groups was strong; the natives looked askance at the Russian congeries; the East Europeans would not surrender control of their charities; they could not forget they had been, still were, snubbed. The result of this hostility was a dual system of charities and even of federations. In the transmississippi West, the Slavic newcomers were often the Jewish Pilgrim Fathers, for those areas were not really settled until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Chicago, Rochester, Baltimore had rival federations, one “Downtown,” the other “Uptown.” Yet there were times when the two groups cooperated: laws were needed to protect deserted wives; the portals to America had to be kept open for the oppressed Jews of Europe. In some towns, such as Des Moines, Omaha, and Denver, the East Europeans joined in the creation of the federation. As early as 1904 the New York communal leaders made an unsuccessful effort to coopt the Downtowners. In all communities, in both groups, attempts were constantly being made by conciliatory leaders to effect a détente. By the third decade of the twentieth century the rival federations merged; the newcomers, now Americanized and economically successful, had become Salonfaehig. The “Russian” and the “German” Jewish communities were passing away. An “American” Jewish community was in the making.13


There were those who criticized the new charitative confederation. They pointed out that with the advent of the Community Chest which supported the Jewish philanthropic complex, Jews were losing touch with their givers, their own people. This was bound to hinder the development of a Jewish community. Yet this alienation, if it ever took place, was of very short duration. The speedy rise of the supplementary Jewish Welfare Fund restored and heightened the relationship between the individual donor and the Jewish community. Another criticism—and it is probably true—is that the thrifty federations discouraged the rise of new, necessary institutions and facilities. The accusation was also made that this philanthropic power league dominated by self-perpetuating wealthy cliques discouraged new participants. This was true but this had always been true of most large institutions. There was still another problem, an irreconcilable one. Most of the money was given by a very small coterie. These givers demanded and were accorded commensurate authority in accordance with the Yiddish dictum: “He who gives the pay has the say.” There were other difficulties. As volunteerism disappeared interest lessened. Clients complained with some justification that the personal touch was missing in organized philanthropy; there was little relationship between the giver and the receiver. “The gift without the giver is bare.” Yet in every large operation the gap between the two was almost inevitable. The new managerial stance was bureaucratic, it appeared arbitrary. It was inherent in any federation where there were investigatory procedures.14


The Return to Communal Philanthropy

The defects and the virtues of federations were inevitable; these new institutions were the children of their times. Like the Gentiles the Jews, too, had created large-scale charitative confederations to meet their mounting problems. The general public was social-minded; welfare funds were raised; social legislation was enacted; professionals—not amateurs—were recruited to manage the large philanthropic organizations that were now forged to cope with the needs of the impoverished. In their formal structuring the Jews were influenced by the general charities and their theoreticians, but once organized these Jewish beginners tended to outdo their instructors and to become exemplary. It is historically ironic that in putting together this new union of societies at the turn of the century the Jews were back where they started in the late seventeenth century. In principle they were returning to the original colonial pattern of the community as the sole philanthropic agency. As autonomous societies in large numbers emerged in the early and mid-nineteenth century the one overall community welfare agency practically disappeared except in the small towns. In the middle and late nineteenth century the proto-federations arose to coordinate a few of the charity associations. Finally in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the federative process became more intense. This was manifest in the single annual drive, the allocation of funds, intimations of expanding oligarchic control, and the faint beginnings of communal planning.

What did the federation do for Mr. Cohen who had come upon hard times? It gave him relief—which the older benevolent societies would also have given him—and better service than he had ever secured before although he would be the first to deny it. Good record keeping put the imposter out of business, thus leaving more money for the respectable, the deserving poor. The standard of relief was higher and may even have influenced the non-Jewish general agency to do better by its clients. The federation labored conscientiously to help the immigrant make a place for himself; it assisted him to move out into the smaller towns where the competition was less keen; it encouraged him in a number of ways to integrate himself into the American body politic. The Jewish family visitor was nothing if not pragmatic. Unlike some sectarian evangelical Christian social workers, he did not want to “save” the Jew religiously; it was not his concern to produce better Jews; his job, after dispensing relief, was to make his client a self-supporting member of the community in which he found himself.15


The federation benefited the businessman and if in the long run it cost him more, and it did, he did not murmur overly much. The single annual drive had rid him of the almost daily annoyance of solicitors and suppliants. More money was raised because there were more Jews. The base of givers was broadened; fund-raising rivalry was diminished; the costs of collection were reduced. Not having to spend time raising money the professional workers had more time to service their clients. During and after World War I the fund-raising apparatus was expanded and refined to meet the demands for the millions of dollars needed to save European Jewry. Larger sums were now available; Jews were prosperous; they were learning to give, and of course now there was tax deductibility. The leaders knew how to cajole or shame the givers into giving. In the next generation the cojoined federation and the welfare fund was to become a gargantuan enterprise. Ultimately the federation was a financial success: in its first fund-raising attempt Boston collected about $12,000; in 1960, in a much larger community, it could boast of a budget of almost $11,000,000.16


The American mood in the early twentieth century was nationalistic, imperialistic; there was a strong tendency toward centralization in government, large-scale integration in business and industry. Faintly, to be sure, the Jewish federation reflects these trends in its drive toward union and in its joint fund-raising with the Community Chest. There was an incipient, developing sense of social responsibility in the Jewish community, a diminution of the parochial. In the early years of the twentieth century some Jewish social workers finally began to relate their goals, their work, their thinking to the community rather than to one society or even a group of societies. There was a gradual enlargement of purpose from the simple granting of relief to concern for Jewish communal well-being. The federation and its cohorts wanted to harness the total Jewish community to meet the needs of the immigrant masses, to unite all despite differences of ethnic backgrounds and religious practices.

The federation became an accepted agency because of its neutral character. Jews as a total group would not rally around the synagog or even Zionism; each was controversial. The community could agglomerate around the concept, the challenge of ever-recurring European disasters. Non-religious and even anti-religious Jews found it easy to identify with their people through philanthropic agencies. There has always been an invisible Jewish community in the United States, a sense of historic consciousness, of collective identity. There was never a patent total Jewish community in this country in any city of size, certainly not in the nineteenth century. It was the federation in the early 1900’s that brought to the surface a formal visible community; by the mid-twentieth century it had achieved a substantial measure of success, combining disparate groups all the way from the Orthodox on the right to would-be assimilationists on the left.

However there is this reservation that must be emphasized. Because the synagog was no part of the federation, except in isolated smaller places, the community which the federation was helping to create and to fashion could never be complete. The synagog, an institute of conscience, religious belief, and prejudice, could not be subject to any other agency. It could be subject only to its own partisan self. This is not to imply that federation leaders of that day were non-religious. Many of the important communal notables were active in their synagog. Up to the 1880’s, at least, the philanthropies were close to the synagog though not part of them. When the federations were brought into being, the rabbis were often important policy makers especially in the smaller cities. De facto there were always people to forge a bridge between the synagog and the charities.

Finally it was only when the natives and the older German immigrants saw fit to coopt the numerically preponderant East Europeans that the federation became truly communal. This was perceptible by the second quarter of the twentieth century. New York, however, is the outstanding exception in this process of community creation. It was, it is, too big. Almost one-half of America’s Jewry then lived in and around that city. Though gallant attempts were constantly made, it has never evolved as a Jewish community dominated by one inclusive powerful federation. The New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and most other local Jewish charitative complexes throughout the country projected communal plans for the future. Yet even in the late twentieth century the federations did not become effective communal planning agencies despite their new concern for recreation, culture, and education.17


The federations were built by lay workers of culture, education, and often of wealth, men and women interested in social work in its widest connotation: philanthropy, recreation, education. Each individual selected a favorite field of endeavor and then went to work; thus many of them became specialists. Some of these men and women who were interested in reforming and helping society at large limited their activity to the larger general community. They labored for better hospitals and nursing, more health care, free or cheap lunches in schools; they fought communicable diseases, especially tuberculosis, and insisted on the maintenance of sanitary conditions in the home. Many of these Jews were not particularly interested in promoting the welfare of their own people though on occasion they worked with Jews, too; these marginal Children of Israel were primarily interested in humanity at large. The pre-Zionist Brandeis, his brother-in-law Felix Adler, his sister-in-law Josephine Goldmark, and even Lillian Wald are examples of this group. However, there were always some Jewish welfare leaders—not particularly observant, to be sure—for whom charity was religion in action; it was their substitute for a ritual and a practice that had lost its meaning for them. There were one of two Jews of this type in almost every large town. Like many of their non-Jewish associates they, too, were interested in social salvation but they were ready to start with Jews.18

Women could have done more to build the Jewish federation; they were certainly able and interested; their labors in numerous Jewish charities and in the National Council of Jewish Women attest to their local and national accomplishments; but the late nineteenth century was a man’s world; men dominated the welfare apparatus. Women were denied positions of leadership unless they were wealthy; then they were welcomed on boards. Relatively, at least, there was a substantial number of Jewish women engaged in social work as volunteers and professionals. There were very few Jewish eleemosynary institutions where they were not present as dedicated workers. These women of competence played a part as devoted volunteers not only in the Jewish but also in the general welfare institutions of the non-Jewish community. They displayed an interest in kindergartens, public school work, and the consumers’ leagues. During this period most women engaged in Jewish social work were sympathetic to organized religion. Francis Stern of Boston is a good example. She was a teacher in a Jewish school, but was also a notable dietitian and homemaker, a social worker of more than local repute. This was the woman who spelled out the close relation between income, food, nutrition, and disease. Irene Lewisohn of the mining Lewisohns worked in the Henry Street Settlement where she served as a vocational counsellor, taught acting and dancing, and together with her sister Alice built the Neighborhood Playhouse. Another New Yorker, Rosetta Stone, served as a “friendly visitor” and worked closely with the National Council of Jewish Women to rescue delinquent girls. The president of the Baltimore Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, Rosa H. Goldenberg, was a Sunday School teacher, a leader in a Jewish sewing society, and in an organization to aid orphans. But she found time, too, to busy herself in a playground association, the state federation of clubs, and the Maryland Hospital for Consumptives. She was a typical Jewish clubwoman.

The typical Jewish male volunteer social worker was wealthy, an important businessman, one of the leaders of the city in which he lived. He was in politics; he was a banker or an industrialist, and very frequently, a Mason. But he was also a member of the local Jewish club, a person of note in the synagog, perhaps its president, and most often a Reform Jew. Those among them who were set on making a name for themselves were active in the B’nai B’rith and the head of a Jewish relief agency. However any Jew who was a businessman or a professional of some consequence and conscious of a sense of responsibility to his people could hardly escape service on the board of an important Jewish institution or society. Thus the Bostonian David A. Ellis who had served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review and in later years on the Board of Education gave time to the Sunday School, the YMHA, Mount Sinai Hospital, the local branch of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and the Women’s (!) Club of the temple. Bavarian-born Dr. Mark Blumenthal of New York City worked at Mount Sinai when it was still Jews’ Hospital. He organized it administratively. During the Civil War he volunteered as a surgeon and in postbellum years sat on the medical board of the United Hebrew Charities, worked with the YMHA, presided over the meetings of a Sabbath observance association, and lent his support to the Jewish Chautauqua Society. He was the physician and one of the chief mainstays of a Jewish institution for deaf-mutes where lip-reading and articulated speech, not finger and sign language, were emphasized.

The Philadelphia William B. Hackenburg was a multifaceted federation in himself. He went to work as a teenaged lad and prospered as a manufacturer of sewing and machine silks. He served Philadelphia in several public charity associations and as a member of the Board of Inspections of the County Prison. The list of his Jewish affiliations is long and most impressive. He worked with the Board of Deputies of American Israelites and its successor the Board of Delegates on Civil and Religious Rights. It was for them that he organized, collated, and edited the 1876-1880 census of American Jews. He was involved in the labors and programs of the Woodbine Land and Improvement Society and its agricultural college. Hackenburg was head of the Jewish hospital, presided for a time over the destinies of the local home for the aged, and was an important figure in the United Hebrew Charities and the federation that followed in its footsteps. The YMHA, the Foster Home, the Hebrew Educational Society, and local congregations all recognized him as one of their most respected leaders. In the 1880’s he served as the secretary of a mass meeting called to protest the outrages against the Jews of Russia, and when the Slavic refugees began to crowd the local port he did what he could to help them. This catalogue of his societal affiliations is in no sense complete; he was in almost everything worthwhile.

Israel Cowen of Chicago ran unsuccessfully for a judicial post on the Democratic ticket; surprisingly he was able to induce a Republican National Convention to include an anti-Russian plank in its platform because the czarists persisted in refusing to honor the passport of American Jews. Cowen, a synagogal lay leader, was in the forefront of those who sought to further the B’nai B’rith, the Board of Delegates on Civil and Religious Rights, the National Jewish Hospital, the nation-wide Hebrew Sabbath School Union, and the Chicago based Agriculturists’ Aid Society. Out west in Portland, Isaac N. Fleischner, one of the town’s leading citizens, served on the city’s Board of Charities. He was a director of the school board, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, and treasurer of the Open Air Sanatorium. The Jewish Concordia Club and the B’nai B’rith elected him as president. In between his duties to the Jewish and general communities and his successful business, he found time to write fiction for the local press. Louis A. Heinsheimer of New York City was another humanitarian for whom social work was a passion; his devotion is paralleled only by the efforts of men like Hackenburg and Max Senior. Nothing mattered to him, it would seem, but the welfare of his fellowmen, in this instance New York Jewry primarily. He wore an old hat which one of his charges would have disdained and on one wintry day pulled on his rubbers not because it was wet or snowy outside but because his shoes were worn through. Yet he gave thousands to the poor and left a million dollars with the hope that it would help establish a New York charity federation.19


Heinsheimer was a volunteer worker, not a professional, though indubitably skilled. A professional may be defined as a paid worker with a certain standard of competence. Among the professionals of this period were settlement house workers, executives of relief societies, probation officers in juvenile courts, chaplains in jails, teachers in immigrant vocational schools. Asylums, homes, and hospice-hospitals were all run by these paid technicians. Prior to 1900 probably not a single administrator had learned his craft in an academic institution. There were then no schools to prepare these professionals. They learned on the job. Eager to employ trained personnel some Jewish agencies began to award scholarships for study as early as the 1890’s. With the dawn of the new century, colleges began to offer formal courses in philanthropy. By 1903 the Jewish Chautauqua Society offered a course in social work. This interest of the Society certainly stems from its chancellor, Henry Berkowitz, who had spoken and written on social questions ever since the late 1880’s. In 1913 Boris Bogen, while still in Cincinnati, gave a course in philanthropy which was attended by some of the students of the Hebrew Union College; two of these occupied important welfare posts in later years in Milwaukee and in New Orleans. By 1920 there were at least fifteen schools teaching social work in this country.

Samson Benderly, director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in New York, opened a school for Jewish communal workers in 1916 under the auspices of the chartered Kehillah (Jewish Community) of New York City. Benderly came forward with a radical proposal. He envisaged the community as a whole, not as a series of separate associations, and he wanted to train young men and women for communal service though they might well limit their energies to specific fields of work such as education, philanthropy, the settlement houses, or the YMHA’s. His school faded away but he did succeed in influencing profoundly a number of young men and women who later became educational leaders and pioneers in communal work. In thinking of Jews in communal terms, as an urban totality, Benderly was generations ahead of his time. It was not until 1925 that the Graduate School for Jewish Social Work was established despite the opposition of some Jewish workers who saw no reason for a sectarian training institution.

Professionalism made headway but slowly among Jews. Economy may well have prompted many charity boards not to employ paid personnel. Thus as late as 1909 the president of the Philadelphia federation had to defend himself for hiring, for the first time, a full-time worker. A study made that same year reveals that in almost 1,200 Jewish agencies there were only seventy-three professionals. Social work as a profession manifested itself among Gentiles as early as the 1870’s. The Jews of that decade also saw the need for welfare administrators to effect an organization of their own; by 1885 they had created a national association of the men in the field, and from the 1890’s on there were paid agency heads in several cities. By the second decade of the next century a number of very competent men were serving as executives of federations. Competent, full-time directors were an essential; the charity load among Jews and Gentiles was very heavy; every eighth American needed some form of relief around the year 1904, so it was said. The need among Jews was not quite that urgent but volunteers could no longer do the job by working but a few hours every week; the day had passed when prominent businessmen could assemble, doff their top hats, and proceed leisurely to study every application for help. The town worthies could not spare the time; they had to delegate responsibility though they probably did it reluctantly. Without the professionals there could be no large-scale effective federation.20


Some of these executives were misfits; a social work job was often a man’s last recourse: a rabbi who was fed up with the rabbinate or unable to hold a job, a businessman who had come down in the world, or a woman who was willing to work for less. Even in the early twentieth century social work was not a status profession among Jews. Many immigrants, among them East Europeans of culture, education, and ability, were recruited. A number of the professional workers became very successful practitioners despite bosses who often looked on these men as hired hands. There were a few boards where the superintendent was not even permitted to be present at board meetings. The goal of the professionals was to aid their clients who had fallen victim to the evils of the industrial system. They were interested in amelioration, not revolution; they were not aiming for radical changes in society at large; they were trying to be efficient in the best American business tradition. Unlike the Christian Endeavor pietists and the Orthodox Jewish traditionalists who were in hot pursuit of good deeds as a passport to paradise, these modern social technicians were fired by no religious zeal. They employed what they conceived to be the scientific method; they investigated each case, analyzed the facts dispassionately, and labored to eliminate dependency.21


Was the “pro” good for the community? Did he do an effective job administering eleemosynary institutions, helping the sick and the indigent? The new administrator and his board did much to stop multiple drives and to cut down on duplication of efforts and expenditure. The professional maintained liaison with charities in other towns and helped turn the orphan asylum around by dispersing into private homes. He employed objective criteria in case study, counseled his clients, established higher standards of relief for those in distress, and strove constantly to improve himself professionally. There are some who believe that the businesslike character of the federations and the objective approach of the new type investigators were not unmixed blessings. Many federation workers tended to forget, in the exercise of welfare technology, that they themselves were human beings and Jews. Their apparently detached approach often brought down on their heads the maledictions of their Yiddish-speaking clients; in the Christian charities critics spoke caustically of a cautious statistical Christ. Were Jesus to return he would be jailed as a vagrant! When there were many separate charity organizations there were many volunteers, but with the growth of the federations and the trained men and women, the devotees could not give of themselves. They resented the loss of their role in the arena of beneficence. For many Jews the annual subscription was the only tie to deeds of loving kindness; the poor became a remote concept. Some social workers did a good job but seemed to evince little interest in Jewry itself; their neutrality in things Jewish brought them within the ambit of the secularists, if not of the assimilationists. It is not improbable that some of these administrators were even devoid of Jewish ethnic sympathies; an anti-Jew, however, would not have been tolerated.

There were social workers whose cosmopolitanism induced them to look upon the synagog as a parochial institution. They were conscious of the fact that few synagogs took a strong stand on social issues. Some of these men were not interested in blending ancient Jewish traditions and the modern philanthropic process; these were the professionals who could see no value in a separate Jewish social work school. Sometimes there was even a veiled hostility between the federation and the synagog. But here the causes were not solely ideological, but personal as well. By 1920 the federation and the synagog were, unwittingly at least, rivals. The federation executives sought autonomy, more recognition, more power in the community. The antagonism that now emerged was directed against the Reform rabbi. Envy played its part here. The rabbi of the temple was a force in the community, an intimate and a member of the federation board; the rabbi had high status and enjoyed an excellent salary. (This situation was to change radically fifty years later as the federation became all-powerful and the rabbis were relegated more and more to the role of reciting the magical formulae). The Reform rabbi of the 1890’s and early 1900’s tended to patronize the social workers; prestige in those days lay not in the office of the United Charities but in the pulpit, in representing Jews vis-à-vis the Gentiles.

Yet despite this coolness between the representatives of these two disciplines—religion and charity—despite the conviction of some professionals that rabbis were talkers, not doers, individual rabbis were notable activists in the world of philanthropy; a few served as labor arbitrators. Many influences led the rabbis into social work: the Charity Organization Movement, the Social Gospel, the institutional church or synagog, the muckrakers, the writings of distinguished Christian philanthropy experts, the impact of the Progressive Age, and, of course, concern about the wellbeing of the worshippers he led. There were at least twelve rabbis who were in charge of important social agencies, including the United Hebrew Charities of New York City. A number of these quondam clergymen were also poets, Hebrew teachers, Zionist leaders, writers.

Pulpit rabbis were supporters and board members of Jewish hospitals, orphan asylums, settlement houses, and “Ys”; they were leaders in the general public philanthropic agencies. Rabbi Max Landsberg of Rochester served as president of the New York State Conference of Charities and Correction. The Indianapolis rabbi Morris J. Feuerlicht, son of Rabbi Jacob Feuerlicht, superintendent of a Chicago Jewish home for the aged, was an outstanding social-welfare worker. There was hardly a philanthropy or charitable institution in Indianapolis where he did not make his presence felt, and he was finally appointed to the State Board of Charities, its first Jewish member. Felix Adler, Ethical Culture leader and erstwhile rabbi, and Stephen Samuel Wise of the Free Synagogue, founded welfare agencies of their own. For Wise social service was not a minor but an integral part of the synagog. Influenced no doubt by Felix Adler’s work in the field of charity, Wise’s wife Louise Waterman Wise (1874-1947) organized the Child Adoption Committee of the Free Synagogue in 1916. When Bogen in his book said that the divorce of the synagog from relief was a mistake, he was wrong; it had no choice; the job was much too big for it; the philanthropies had outgrown the house of worship as early as the post-Revolutionary War period. However by the beginning of the third decade of the twentieth century the Reform rabbis, through their Conference, had already turned to social welfare as a serious religious challenge. By 1918 after some ten years of effort, the Central Conference had followed in the wake of the Protestant and Catholic churches and committed itself to a program of social justice.22


Though most paid workers in the charities were men there were always some women professionals. It was obvious that there would be a number of them because they had always carried the charity load; they were the nineteenth-century case workers. They held all sorts of jobs; they were found among the probation officers, as teachers in the charity kindergartens, as tenement house inspectors, and as co-heads of asylums. A woman served as the paid director of a large New York City sisterhood. Unlike some of their male confreres most of them cherished the synagogs; they were not hostile to organized religion. One of these women became a vice president of the National Conference of Jewish Charities. Seraphine Eppstein Pisko (1861-1942) of Denver, effected a consolidation of the city’s general charities, served as president of a Jewish relief society, helped found the National Jewish Consumptive Hospital, and then organized auxiliary groups for it in many major towns. Miriam Dessau Louis of New York City was a lecturer and district inspector for the New York Department of Education, president of the Hebrew Technical School for Girls, the author of its curriculum, director of the Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls, field secretary for the Jewish Chautauqua Society, president of the committee that supervised the Mount Sinai Training School for Nurses, and a Sunday school teacher at Emanu-El. Miriam Louis was also one of the founders of the New York section of the National Council of Jewish Women and a prolific writer of poetry and articles for the press.23


Women attached to large Jewish philanthropic institutions were rarely accorded the opportunity to advance and never attained the recognition granted men in the field though a Sadie American could have held her own with any male. There were several distinguished toilers in this new discipline; Boris Bogen (1869-1929) was one of them. This Russian émigré received his Ph.D. here in the field of education, taught at New York’s Educational Alliance, the Baron de Hirsch School, the Hebrew Technical Institute, and directed the destinies of the Woodbine Agricultural School for several years. Then in 1904 he was called to head the United Jewish Charities in Cincinnati, to work as a field agent for the Conference of Jewish Charities, and, as it has been pointed out, to direct the Joint Distribution Committee in Europe during World War I. After the war was over he returned to America to administer the Los Angeles federation, and finally became the chief executive officer of the international B’nai B’rith. In 1917 he published his book, Jewish Philanthropy in the United States; his biography, Born a Jew, appeared posthumously.

Equally distinguished in a somewhat different field of philanthropy was the Philadelphian Lee Kaufer Frankel (1867-1931). This social worker began his professional career as a chemistry teacher at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1899 after working for years as a volunteer with the Philadelphia Jewish charities he was appointed general manager of New York’s United Hebrew Charities. Kaufmann Kohler tried to dissuade him from accepting the position saying social work was a job only for unsuccessful rabbis. Frankel did accept, did magnificently, and worked hard to induce the New Yorkers to create a federated agency. After about ten years with the New York philanthropies Frankel was called in by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to further the health of its policyholders, especially those of humble station and little means. He created a new field in the industry, developing for it a health and welfare service designed to prolong the lives of the men and women who held policies with the company. He went into a Canadian town and demonstrated that infant mortality could be reduced from 300 per 1,000 to 79 per 1,000. The company rewarded him for his many achievements by making him a vice president. Admiring his pioneer efforts, his colleagues in the field elected him president of the American Public Health Association. Frankel was always active in Jewish congregational life, in the Jewish Chautauqua Society, the Joint Distribution Committee, and in the National Conference of Jewish Charities which he also served as president. At his death the New York Times wrote: “Science in him became philanthropy.”

It is not easy to compare notables even when they are in the same profession, but certainly Jacob Billikopf (1883-1950) is worthy to stand alongside Bogen and Frankel. Like Bogen, Billikopf was a Russian immigrant. A fellowship from the National Council of Jewish Women enabled him to study philanthropy at the University of Chicago; later he did graduate work in his chosen field. He learned his trade in New York’s United Hebrew Charities, the Industrial Removal Office, the Jewish settlement house in Cincinnati, and as head of the organized philanthropies in Milwaukee. From the latter city he went to Kansas City, Missouri, and it was there that his skills on behalf of the larger community flowered. He taught sociology and economics at the University of Missouri and worked for municipal baths, public night schools, a free legal bureau, remedial loans, public recreational facilities, and improved conditions for prisoners. In 1918 he had moved on to New York City raising money for European relief; the following year he became the executive director of the Philadelphia federation. In the latter years of a long career that lasted for a half a century he also served as an arbitrator in the men’s and women’s clothing industry, as a New Deal administrator, as a trustee of The Nation and The Survey, as chairman of the executive committee of the Howard University board, and as president of the National Conference of Jewish Social Workers and its successor organization. During the Hitlerian period he aided German refugees and was particularly effective in furthering the University in Exile of the New School for Social Research.

If men like Bogen and Billikopf ever cherished any hopes that they could radically limit poverty by the employment of modern techniques they were speedily disillusioned. But they did believe that they could do a better job than the volunteers and they were probably right. Ultimately in the second quarter of the new century, the academically trained technicians began to squeeze out the volunteers at almost all levels. The wealthy knowledgeable lay leaders were restricted to board supervision and in that area seemed to have done a good job. On balance the professionals were an improvement over the goodhearted, kindly volunteers of the often ephemeral and ineffective fuel, food, sewing, and relief societies.24


All through the nineteenth century the general, non-Jewish charitable societies of the country talked of federating nationally in order to exchange views and to help one another solve their common problems. The most pressing of these was that of the transients who went from town to town seeking work or battening on the local charities and their modest treasuries. After the Gentile charities had come together in the late 1870’s as the National Conference of Charities and Correction the Jews were quick to follow their lead. Plagued by wanderers and beggars, the United Hebrew Relief Association of St. Louis attempted in vain to call a national convention of Jewish charities to deal with the problem. It was more successful in 1885 for by that time the new immigrants had begun to arrive in substantial numbers. St. Louis, conjoined with Louisville Jewry, succeeded in bringing together a substantial number of relief societies which in turn created the Associated Hebrew Charities of the United States. In St. Louis that year and in Chicago the following year the delegates fought the “tramp” nuisance. They wanted communities not to ship their poor to another town and railed against the Londoners and other Europeans who shipped their paupers to American shores. Their solution—one that was ultimately adopted and refined in later years—was to enact rigid transportation and residence rules, to study each case thoroughly, to cooperate nationally, and to bend every effort to assist the poor in becoming self-supporting. Close to forty separate agencies joined the Association and agreed to abide by the rules. They did not. Many local groups would not affiliate even though the dues were but $2 to $10 a year. The modest fees were hardly the problem; the agencies feared that their autonomy would be impaired.25

The social-welfare problems in the towns mounted with the rise of the immigrant numbers in the 1890’s. Lay social-welfare leaders decided that a national organization of the charities could no longer be deferred. In 1899, under the guidance and insistence of Max Senior, the National Conference of Jewish Charities (NCJC) was put together in Cincinnati. It was an organization of lay workers and a handful of professionals. The NCJC, a permanent organization, made its headquarters in the Ohio City for a number of years. Cincinnati was then a great Jewish center for it sheltered the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Hebrew Union College, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Hebrew Sabbath School Union, the chief institutions of the Reform Movement. Agencies from twenty-four states were represented at the first NCJC convention which met in Chicago in 1900. The problems faced were no different than those which confronted social work in 1885 and 1886. But now more than then they realized the need for administrative reform, professional guidance, and an adequate system of records. Here at this gathering the delegates spent time debating the issues that were to face them for the next generation: family relief, housing, removal of settlers to smaller towns, legal aid, vocational guidance, widow’s pensions, care of children, delinquency, and, above all, tuberculosis and Americanization. The relative merits of federating or the construction of a monolithic consolidation of all agencies were threshed out; they opted of course for the federative structure.

There was no question now of the willingness of the agencies to cooperate. By 1918 the National Conference of Jewish Charities had 177 constituent members in thirty-five states and in Canada. In 1908 the professionals in the East had formed a Society of Jewish Social Workers of Greater New York; three years later the National Association of Jewish Social Workers was established, and by 1918-1919 the “pros” and the agencies had merged to fashion the overall National Conference of Jewish Social Service with the hope that they could all work together. With the change of attitudes and posture came another change in name; in 1936 the association called itself the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service. In those Hitlerian days the Jews huddling together defensively thought in communal, not institutional terms.26


Social workers were, it would seem, all agreed that better statistical data were needed if they were to measure their accomplishments and to plot the future. The American Jewish Committee which even then was reaching out to embrace Jewries across the seas created a broadly designed Bureau of Jewish Statistics and Research which it hoped would assemble all types of relevant data from religion to criminality. The New Yorkers of the Kehillah and a pre-federation group in that city set up their own Bureau of Philanthropic Research to help them evaluate their problems and needs. Their interest lay in children, delinquency, nursing, the blind, even credit unions, and when the New York federation finally emerged in 1917 this Bureau with an expanding staff became its investigatory arm. Two years later the two bureaus, augmented by the Field Bureau of the National Conference of Jewish Social Service all came together in a Bureau of Jewish Social Research. The new agency which reached out into the country as a whole was in a position to make surveys and to further intercity cooperation. In 1935 it became an integral part of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. Social work was becoming scientific, organized to a high degree. As early as 1920 the gross national product of the Jewish agencies was mounting into the millions. Charity, philanthropy, social service, social welfare, communal service—whatever protean name was adopted—had become big business. Even more significant these bureaus were another step, albeit a modest one, in the effort to create a structured urban community out of a group of atomized “benevolent” societies.27


As the federations, personnel, and welfare institutions began to increase at the turn of the century the professionals created a press of their own. As in many other facets of philanthropic work the non-Jewish agencies had pioneered here too for they had begun to issue journals in the 1880’s, or no later than the 1890’s. The United Hebrew Charities of New York City published a magazine in 1891; in 1902 it appeared as Jewish Charity which later became the organ of the National Conference of Jewish Charities. For a time it was merged (1906) with a general, non-Jewish journal in the field. The fact that the Jews gave up a journal of their own would tend to show that many professionals made no distinction between a Jewish and a general approach to case work. By 1910, however, the Jews had resurrected the old paper as Jewish Charities; nine years later it, too, changed its name to conform to the newer modes of approach. Charity had become a pejorative word; the new title of the magazine in 1919 was Jewish Social Service. In later decades this quarterly became the Journal of Jewish Communal Service; practitioners of the art and mystery of philanthropy did not want to be associated with “charity”; as communal workers, Jewish civil servants in a way, they were upgrading themselves and raising their sights.28


Though most charity is of a local nature, Jews in the cities responded when they heard a cry for help from afar especially in periods of crisis. No matter how distant they were, societies, fraternal orders, and congregations helped their American coreligionists lay out cemeteries and build synagogs. It was not uncommon to lend or donate a Scroll of the Law to a new congregation. When Jews in Gainesville, Texas, decided to erect a sanctuary they did not appeal in vain to their coreligionists in Milwaukee. In the post-Civil War and Reconstruction periods Jews of the North did not hesitate to relieve impoverished congregations in the South. When natural disasters—floods, epidemics, fires, earthquakes—crushed a community, Jews throughout the country were generous not only to their own but to the distressed citizenry as a whole. The synagogal minutes of this country record generous responses to the victims of the Chicago fire, the Johnstown flood, and the San Francisco earthquake. B’nai B’rith lodges were quick to offer aid after the terrible disaster of the Triangle Waist Company fire (1911) when well over 140 girls and women lost their lives. Just about 100 organizations, individuals, and synagogs assisted Charleston Jewry when it sent out a call for help after the earthquake of 1886.29


On the whole American Jews responded rather liberally to appeals from fellow American Jews; they responded even more generously to cries for help from Jews abroad. Requests from foreign lands nearly always received precedence. Why was this? The American Jew was convinced that Jews here were fortunate; despite their complaints they knew this was the best country in the world for them. Jews abroad were not so lucky. Poor unfortunates! “We have to help them,” and they did. Even before the first Russian pogrom Myer S. Isaacs, a New York Jewish communal leader wrote: Because we have freedom here, we must help others abroad. Pleas for aid for foreign Jews came from lands where Jews were then oppressed and were to be oppressed for the next century: North Africa, Palestine, the Middle East, Eastern Europe. American Jewry’s relationship with World Jewry became closer toward the end of the nineteenth century. Not only did the new techniques of speedier communication intensify the feeling of kinship but American Jews were now more numerous and affluent, and had a growing sense of social responsibility. There was an ever-increasing improvement in methods of collection and transmission.

American Jewry sent substantial sums to foreign lands to relieve the impoverished—and the middle classes, too—after periods of violence and terror. Thus, as in America, Jews assisted their transatlantic brethren after storms, floods, fires, and earthquakes. They aided the impoverished in Galicia find a new way of life in agriculture and industry. Even before the Civil War Palestine aid societies and the Board of Delegates of American Israelites raised money for foreign relief. In later years the work of the BDAI was carried on but ineffectively by the Board of Delegates on Civil and Religious Rights. The B’nai B’rith did a much better job. After 1906 the American Jewish Committee, a nationwide relief and defense association, developed into an efficient and influential instrument, certainly in the area of political defense. Until his death in 1854 the philanthropic Moses Montefiore was America’s favorite disbursing agent. Prior to the second decade of the twentieth century relief was funneled through European Jewish associations in Vienna, France, or England.30

Nationalism moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform. The German Jewish immigrants to America, who had suffered under disabilities at home, became very ardent German patriots during the Franco-Prussian War and raised funds for the Fatherland; the French Jews here were equally generous to France. The Franco-Jewish cultural agency, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU), had branches in the United States which helped finance its cultural and educational programs in Moslem lands. The AIU supported French schools in the Balkans and in the ghettos of North Africa, Asia Minor, Palestine, and other Middle Eastern lands. Its agricultural school in the Holy Land was a boon to the Jewish settlers. When the suffering of Moroccan Jews who had fled to Spain during the Spanish-Moroccan War (1859-61) brought support from Jews throughout the world, one-third of all the money sent came from the relatively small American Jewry. Even the tiny Jewry of San Bernardino in distant California stopped quarreling long enough to make a collection for the North African victims.

Jewish aid to Jews in Eastern Europe and the Moslem lands was not the concern solely of the AIU; American Jews had been sending money continuously to the ancient homeland since colonial times. They still do. All through the nineteenth century Jewry here collected funds to keep the schools and yeshivot open, to fight cholera, disease, and poverty; to maintain hospitals, orphan asylums, and libraries. During the early days of World War I money in large sums was poured in to save the colonists; American cruisers transported non-Turkish Jewish nationals to Egypt; a cargo of supplies, paid for by Jews here and destined to aid the starving Palestinians, was transported in the hold of a United States Navy vessel. Rumanian Jews suffered even more than the Palestinians because of the almost unremitting hostility of irresponsible officials in that country. Oppression and disabilities were constantly accompanied by poverty. During the Balkan Wars in 1912-1913, the Jews of the United States, working with the established European Jewish philanthropic associations, did what they could to alleviate the distress of their coreligionists in the lands of Bulgaria, Servia, Greece, and Turkey. As usual American Jewry carried more than its share of the financial load.31


American Jewry’s real problem was the Russian-Polish complex where more than half of the Jews in all the world lived. The Jewish lot in Russia was never a happy one; in the 1860’s there was famine and economic dislocation; in the 1880’s riots and murder. From that time on American Jews found it necessary to intensify and increase their help as the pogroms increased in violence and as new disabilities were imposed. The looting and killing in Kishinev in 1903 were traumatic for American Jews. They could not understand how such iniquities could occur in the enlightened twentieth century; they thought medievalism was long dead. The German Holocaust was to convince the Jews of a later generation that anything, everything, was possible in what turned out to be the worst of all possible worlds. The answer of the American Jewish community to Kishinev and the sad days that followed was to rush to the relief of the East Europeans. Gifts of a magnitude never even dreamed of earlier began to pour into Europe. As time passed the thousands of dollars became millions and a day was to come when the relief agencies sent hundreds of millions to help save Jews in want or in danger.

The real test of American generosity and organizational skill came in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I. Then it was that Jewry here fashioned the largest relief operation in all its history. Jews in the Russian, German, and Austrian war zones suffered. Caught between the grindstones of the advancing and retreating armies, thousands were uprooted in enforced evacuations. In addition there was no let up to oppressive Russian legislation. In order to help East European Jewry the Jews here established three separate organizations: the American Jewish Relief Committee of the upper middle-class groups; the Central Relief Committee of the Orthodox, and the Peoples Relief Committee of the labor and political leftist groups with Meyer London as its head. By 1914 these committees had already started to unite and in 1915 they emerged as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the “Joint” or the JDC. The Orthodox and the laborites decided that discretion was the better part of valor. They needed the well-to-do natives and “Germans,” hence the “joint” approach.

By 1914 American Jewry started to reverse the philanthropic flow that had started in 1731 when a London Sephardi Jew generously established a school on the transatlantic frontier, New York. This help from Europe was to continue up to World War I, documented eloquently by the devotion of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and the millions of Baron de Hirsch. And though American Jewry had been sending money to Moslem lands and to Europe for over a century, now in World War I the philanthropic role was reversed with a vengeance. The JDC became the chief rescue and relief operation for World Jewry. The forging of the Joint confirms the rise of American Jewry to World Jewish hegemony, a hegemony that was solidly based on numbers, wealth, organizational skills, and devotion to Jewry as a whole; above all it was a concomitant of the world power that the United States now exercised.

President Wilson appointed January 27, 1916, as Jewish Relief Day. Jews and Christians collected about $1,000,000. Before the United States entered into the war in 1917, the JDC worked in Poland and the Balkan lands to save whom it could; the victorious Germans were cooperative. After April, 1917, when the Americans broke with the allies the Joint worked for a while out of neutral Holland to help the Jews in the war zones. The armistice and the peace treaties created new problems for American Jewry as it engaged in a vast program of postwar relief and reconstruction. The lands once occupied by the Slavic and Germanic armies, the homelands of millions of Jews, were in a chaotic condition. There was famine and the breakdown of society. The political changes brought little relief to oppressed Jewry; Poland and Rumania were determined to limit or to deprive the Jews of the rights accorded them by postwar treaties. Boycotts and attacks reached their tragic climax in the Ukraine when thousands of Jews were massacred.

The Joint, working closely with American government-sponsored relief agencies, set out in 1919 to resurrect war-devastated European Jewry. Much of the money collected and dispatched abroad by American Jews was distributed by non-Jewish agencies; some of it therefore was used to alleviate the distress of non-Jews many of whom were bent on denying Jews elementary civil and political rights. The job of reconstruction in Eastern Europe that began in earnest in 1921 was a massive one requiring the rescue of children, medical care, economic aid, and cultural reclamation. One traditional escape route for Jews caught in European dislocation and oppression had become incredibly difficult. The Immigration Act of 1921 had almost closed the gates to this land. Those who could not emigrate and remained were ultimately rehabilitated in their old or new homes in Poland, Austria, and Russia. To accomplish this end American Jewry raised and spent millions. It is tragic to reflect that many who were thus saved were kept alive only to perish in the 1940’s in the gas chambers of the Germans.32


It is patent that when an American Jewry of some 250,000 Jews in 1880 increases about 400 percent in two decades that it would be faced with problems of social welfare; most of the newcomers were almost without means. Nevertheless only a relatively small percentage of the newcomers turned to the agencies for relief. The East Europeans helped themselves by establishing hundreds of tiny self-aid societies and within a decade or less most of the immigrants required little help from anyone. Many had even begun to contribute to the charities. Ultimately the mutual-aid groups faded away; they were no longer necessary. This is certain: even those in need did not appeal to the general (non-Jewish) relief institutions. In Buffalo in 1911, of the 6,408 families that asked for help from the public agencies, only six were Jews. Newcomers stayed away from their own Jewish societies also unless they were in dire distress. During the fiscal year of 1904 the United Hebrew Charities of New York interviewed 10,334 applicants for help; only 35 of these applied for help prior to 1889. The vast majority of newcomers had learned to support themselves. Contrary to a popularly accepted and distorted notion, the metropolitan Jewish ghetto was not full of paupers and consumptives.33

The achievement of American Jewry in the area of relief, social welfare, is in some respects a remarkable one. Sixteen years after the teenaged Schiff landed in New York City he witnessed the arrival of the first victims of the Russian pogroms and the attempts of a small American Jewry to help those in need (1881). Within a decade the émigrés were learning to help themselves. By 1920, still in the lifetime of Schiff, there were over 2,000 charitative Jewish associations, societies, and institutions in a community that was at least thirteen times as large as that of 1880. Every possible facet of relief was covered. At first glance there appears to be chaotic duplication, but there is less of this than is usually assumed. In the American commercial sense many of these eleemosynary groups were not efficient but they did a job, after a fashion. Each society carved out a niche for itself and there is no record that the truly needy were denied aid.

The various types of family service agencies made provision for children, the sick, the consumptive, the aged, and families that had come down in the world. The landsmanshaften took care of their members. Group work was carried on by the “Ys,” the settlement houses, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the vocational schools which were concerned in the main to help the young integrate themselves into the economy of America. National societies sent Jews southward and westward to settle in the small towns; they trained a few to work on the farms, they brought the amenities and a few delicacies to the soldiers in the camps, and they helped establish community centers in the postwar world. Under the impact of concepts that had revolutionized American commerce and industry the Jews began to federate their charities; the watchwords of the day were words such as efficiency, order, system. This new institution, the federation, systematized social work, and building on older attempts introduced the single annual fund-raising campaign, allocated funds, an expanded institutional, conceptual, and charitative outreach, and for the most part offered improved services to its clients.

By the 1920’s the federations, manned increasingly by professionals and convinced of the value of their work, slowly started to shift from a federative system of agencies to a monolithic one embracing as many of the community agencies as it could absorb. They were not altogether successful in this centripetal drive but they have consistently moved forward in that direction, unwittingly at least. In order to be more effective in their work and to prepare themselves for some form of local and interurban planning the professionals and their lay associates established national associations, research institutions, and a press of their own. By 1914 the professionals, their bosses, and the Jewish masses here were ready, able enough, and affluent enough to bring massive relief to the millions of European Jews engulfed in the tragedy of a world war. An American Jewry that only twenty-five years earlier desperately needed the huge gifts of a Baron de Hirsch now poured millions back into Europe. “The stone which the builders rejected is become the chief cornerstone” (Ps. 118: 22). Giving and helping had become a huge enterprise in the Jewry of this land; in ensuing decades of the twentieth century it was to assume even greater proportions and by the latter decades become the greatest Jewish philanthropic enterprise in all history.

On the whole the Jewish poor had it good. The established standards of relief were relatively high, higher it is said than those employed by the Gentile agencies. Heine once said that he who was poor and sick only compounded his misery if he was also a Jew. This was not true; the Jews took care of their own. In part this generosity toward the needy among their people was motivated by fear of what the Gentiles would say if Jews resorted to the public charities. The Orthodox Jewish religionist knew that helping a coreligionist was a divine imperative; the non-Orthodox believed that it was common decency to help the poor; they were both in agreement that they dared not ignore the outstretched hand of the impoverished.

By the 1920’s the federations were beginning to influence the non-Jewish charities which also began to adopt the one-time annual fundraising campaign so that their professionals, too, could devote more time to client-service and to planning. In some towns the programs of the Jewish federations had become exemplary. In Cincinnati the innovations of the United Jewish Charities were often so good that they were taken over by the city and other agencies. Thus it was that the city assumed responsibility for an employment bureau, nursery classes, a kindergarten, instruction in English and in civics for immigrants, a nursing service, medical inspection of school children, vocational training, and special classes for handicapped and truants.34

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