Jewish Zeal: Growth of the Young Men's Hebrew Association 1887

 
 
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In December last was organized the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Brooklyn, with its
headquarters at Arcanum Hall, Bridge street. The officers elected were Ferdinand Reiss,
president; M.J. Harris, vice president; Henry Bloch, treasurer; G. Steinberg, financial
secretary; J. Wechler, recording secretary.

The association started with about 150 members, but it already numbers about 500, and has from all sources a fund of nearly $2,000.The success of the organization has been so great that those who set it on foot see that there is no longer any reason to limit its growth to the Western District, while there are in the Eastern District a number of Hebrew families from which it can be further recruited. With a view to so enlarging its membership and raising a fund of $4,000 to $5,000 to purchase a site and build a home,  hey issued a call during the past week for a mass meeting at 2 o'clock yesterday in the Temple Beth Elohim, on Keap street, near Broadway.

At the hour designated the building was well filled, among the audience being Messrs. Moses May, Philip Strauss, H. Hagenbacher, ex-Charities Commissioner Moses Kessel, Henry Newman, M. Judas and other well known Eastern District Hebrews, with their wives and families; Adolph L. Sanger, ex-President of the Board of Aldermen, of 1885; Benjamin F. Peixotto, formerly United States consul to Roumania and subsequently to Lyons.

Mr. Felix Adler, in calling the meeting to order, said:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: In the name of the residents of the Eastern District we welcome you to this temple. The object of the meeting has been stated in the circular issued during the week. The Young Hebrews of Brooklyn, Western District, having organized a Young Men's Hebrew Association, are desirous of enlisting the sympathy and co-operation of their coreligionists in the Eastern District, men and women. I therefore have the honor to introduce to you the gentleman who has been selected by the Hebrew young men of Brooklyn as their president and leader, Mr. Ferdinand Reiss, who will address you, not as of any particular section, but as residents of the Eastern District, Western District, northern, southern and all other sections of the city. [Applause.]

Mr. Ferdinand Reiss said: It is wrong for an Israelite to deny Judaism, a religion founded on virtue and morality, the mother of all other divine faiths. It is not a just thing for Christians to have prejudice against Judaism, the parent of Christianity. The Young Men's
Hebrew Association have taken upon themselves to teach by their advice and example young and old what it is to be really and not nominally Jews: that the Jewish religion is a loving and life giving one, and to convince our Christian brethren that the fundamental law of Judaism and that of Christianity are the same, both teaching that it is one's duty to love his neighbor as himself. Eminent and well known men are here to address us.

Ex-Alderman Adolph L. Sanger said:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: This is a cold afternoon, but we should make the meeting as warm as possible. It is not as large probably as it would have been had the weather been less inclement. The establishment in Brooklyn of a young men's Hebrew association is a new project. A new project generally finds it difficult to make headway in the world. Experience teaches us, however, that all good things have small and humble beginnings, and we should not be discouraged because there is not a larger crowd today in this beautiful edifice. I had the honor of being present at the first meeting in New York for the organization of the Young Men's Hebrew Association there. Only twenty-five persons attended that meeting. Our efforts were characterized as futile; we were told that there was no room in New York for such an association; that other attractions, such as the theaters, etc., were so numerous that the young men would never take to the association proposed. Cold water was also thrown on the movement in other ways. We were told that if we started and failed we would be in a worse predicament than if we had never begun. But those engaged in the movement were possessed of the requisite zeal, courage and enthusiasm: so they organized, elected their officers and hired a room, and the good work commenced by them fifteen years ago has branched out all over these United States till at present there is hardly a city or town of any account in the Union which has not its Young Men's Hebrew Association working in the interest of Judaism and humanity. It is now proposed that the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Brooklyn shall include Hebrews of the entire city. It may be asked what is its purpose. Unfortunately in this country business interests and engagements are such that young men cannot always be drawn to places of worship on the Sabbath. Thence the danger, unless some sufficient counter influence can be employed, that apathy of many young men may increase with years till they become wholly indifferent to religion. Associations such as this throughout the country will keep the Hebrew people together in the bond of brotherhood and keep alive their religious
sympathies. In this materialistic age it is difficult to keep young men together for the purposes of instruction. When evening has come and the day's toil is over they do not want instruction so much as amusement. Can we not combine instruction with amusement? The New York Young Men's Hebrew Association has done this and has not only promoted the interests of Judaism, but has aided self culture, moral and intellectual. It has entertainments from which instruction as well as amusement is derived, lectures, music, recitations, etc. Able lecturers, not only Jewish but Christian, are engaged. The Young Men's Hebrew associations should be aids and adjuncts of the congregations. Thus, as Jews, you will cherish all that is good for your moral and intellectual life. [Applause.]

Mr. Sanger here showed that in times past when a young man left college he went to business and, having no such beneficent influences as the Young Men's Hebrew Association, the leisure time now devoted to self improvement was generally wasted frivolously in the billiard room or at the card table.

Hon. Benjamin F. Peixotto said that he was much gratified by the speech of his friend and coworker, in which he had stated for the benefit of the new association their fifteen years' experience in the New York Young Men's Hebrew Association. This society had become a missionary society to thousands of Hebrews coming to these shores who were in need of influences and examples to keep them from going astray. Within the past twelve years from 50,000 to 60,000 Jews had arrived in the United States. Strangers in a strange land, and from their ignorance of our language no better off than if they were deaf and dumb. They came here from persecution. Under good influence they might be made worthy members of this body politic.

Give to a youth who discovers a taste for reading the means of cultivating that taste, and you furnish him with a weapon which will serve him in all the vicissitudes of life. A man whose heart has known the refining influence of literature has companions who will never prove false to him true friends when all others have fallen away. Death cannot rob a man of the companionship which books afford. But there is no literature like Hebrew literature; it is the foundation of all other literatures. The Bible has had for its contributors, from Moses down, inspired scholars and sages. Those Hebrews who cultivated acquaintance with Hebrew literature could understand why they are Jews. He who was called the Saviour, that beautiful character, was a Jew. His twelve apostles were likewise Jews, and they were proud of being Jews. That they were revolutionists and suffered as rebels against the Roman power was only a historical fact. The Hebrew religion was the only true and pure religion, because it asked assent to nothing that is irrational. The Hebrews worshiped but one God, the Supreme cause, the beneficent Father of all mankind. This the simplest child could understand. One maxim of Judaism was to love God and to love our fellow men as we loved ourselves.

Another maxim was "Love man first, because man is a work of God and it pleases God when we love what we can understand. The Almighty we could not understand." Agnostics and atheists could not comprehend God. No one could till resolved into the spiritual condition. About twenty-two years ago, continued the speaker, I planted the first Young Men's Hebrew Association on the shores of Lake Erie. It consisted when organized of about half a dozen young men. Among the books we had were some of Shakespeare's plays "Coriolanus," "Timon of Athens," the "Merchant of Venice," "Troilus and Cressida," "Taming of the Shrew," "Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Twelfth Night." With Shakespeare we stood upon the Rialto and met Shylock, that magnificently drawn character, though neither Jewish nor Christian, it being Shakespeare's object to show through him the prejudices of the period. The speaker then described the prosperity of the association on Lake Erie, which soon rapidly increased in membership and means and heard lectures by Hon. Charles Sumner, Rev. H.W. Beecher, Rev. Dr. R. H. Storrs, Oliver Wendell Holmes and others. The young men having become no longer young, became a Montefiore association. This led him to allude to men in this country who, like the great philanthropist, had under the more favorable circumstances afforded by this country, worked their way by individual effort to the highest honors, and he mentioned, amid much applause, Abraham Lincoln, who, had he lived till Saturday last, would have been 67 years old. He also mentioned Andrew Johnson, father of the Homestead law. Toward the close Mr. Peixotto said: All men will say to the Hebrew yet, Thy people will be my people, and they God my God. He closed by repeating Longfellow's "Psalm of Life."

The Rev. Dr. L. Wintner, pastor of Temple Beth Elohim, said: My friends, sixteen years ago, if I'm not mistaken, the persecution of the Roumanian Jews became so flagrant, and so outraged civilization, that every Jewish preacher took for his theme the persecution in Roumania. During the feast of Purim that year I had preached on the great persecutor, Haman, at St. Paul, Minn., with special reference to the Roumanian Jews, and urged that something be done for their relief. A few weeks later I received a letter from Bucharest, in which the writer stated that he had read a report of my address in a Jewish paper, and that a man who
stood up with such enthusiasm for these persecuted people could do a great deal, and that I should collect some money for them. The writer of that letter was Mr. Peixotto, the gentleman who has just spoken to you [Applause.] Dr. Wintner then took occasion to remark, among other things, that the young men were not so regular as they should be in their attendance in the synagogues. He thought that while it was proper to study the lives of our American heroes, they should also learn something about the heroes of the Hebrew nation. At a meeting several years ago, for the purpose of establishing an Eastern District library, some one exclaimed
that the Eastern District was merely an annex to Brooklyn; whereupon some one else said: "And Brooklyn was but an annex to New York," upon which a third cried out: "Then the Eastern District is an annex to an annex." [Laughter.] But someone else said: "No; Brooklyn is an amendment to New York," and this was followed by the remark: "Yes; and the Eastern District is only an amendment to an amendment." [Laughter.] This kind of banter cannot be indulged in now at the expense of the Eastern District; it has got beyond all that.

The Rev. William Sparger made a brief address in German in favor of one association for all Brooklyn.

The Rev. Leon Harrison, of Temple Israel, Brooklyn, spoke in a humorous vein. He hoped he might do better than the young Episcopal clergyman, who, having lectured before his bishop, the latter said to him: "I have heard in your sermon something I never heard before." And on the young divine venturing to ask his Grace what it was, the bishop answered: "My young friend, I heard the clock strike twice." But though striking was the order of the day, he, Mr. Harrison, would not yield. [Laughter.] He would say a few words which should be to the rhetorical repast which the audience had just partaken of as the little cup of black coffee
at the end of a dinner. He then made an earnest appeal for energetic action on the part of all enrolling themselves in the new society. They should take the pyramid of Judaism which had been so long on its apex and should turn it so that it should rest on its natural basis, the great Jewish community among whom they lived. To the laity they would have to look for success.

Counselor M.J. Harris, vice president of the association, made a brief address of similar scope. A resolution was then adopted pledging the aid of all present to aid in perpetuating the existence of the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Brooklyn. Membership blanks were now distributed among the congregation and taken back filled out with the names of applicants. The applicants, Mr. Adler said, would be proposed at the next meeting. The following letter was read:

The Jewish Messenger
2 West Fourteenth Street
New York, February 11, 1887.

Mr. Reiss, President Y.M.H.A.:

Dear Sir: I am in receipt of your kind favor of February 8, and thanking you for your kind invitation to attend the mass meeting on Sunday, deeply regret that a previous engagement will prevent my being present. Let me utilize this opportunity, however, to express the hope that you will succeed, May 1 be permitted to trust that the Jewish young men of Brooklyn will rally round your standard and show an ideal warmth and enthusiasm in the new work proposed for their co-operation. American Judaism needs the willing hands and loving service of its young men. There have been years enough of delay, of apathy, of irresolution. Let now
there be a vigorous pulling together. Let Brooklyn, East and West, unite in the good work. In a city which is called a City of Churches, let the Jewish young men prove that the synagogues are alive and awake to every high and blessed influence.

I shall be glad at any time to be of any service to your association (shall be glad to chronicle its progress in the Messenger) and I cherish the liveliest anticipations of your success.

Yours Truly,
ABRAM S. ISAACS

The meeting then adjourned.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Jewish Zeal: Growth of the Young Men's Hebrew Association 1887
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

 Brooklyn Daily Eagle February 14, 1887
Time & Date Stamp: