Vol. I, No. 1
The American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews, and its Organ, the Jewish Chronicle.
We would have been much pleased could our first number have appeared without a complaint against any portion of the American people. But unfortunately, all the ministers of religion are not like Dr. Ludlow, and all the laymen are not like Dr. Meigs and Mr. Wines. Prejudice in its worst form, a dislike for our religion, is still the characteristic of a vast multitude, and the effect of this prejudice is seen in the revival of the association mentioned above, in former days known as the "American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews," and the revival too of its organ, "Israel's Advocate," under the humbler title of Jewish Chronicle.* We had believed, and so written to our friends in Europe, that the Society had died for want of members, want of means, and want of converts; since for nearly eighteen years we had heard nothing of its operations, or even its whereabouts, except that now and then a man formerly well known, though not to us, as the Rev. J. S. C. F. prey, came forth from his domicile somewhere in New York or New Jersey, lecturing to his Jewish brethren in Christian churches. Except the labours of this curious being, equally famous for length of name as the number of creeds he has professed, and a stray report once in a long while in the papers which we did not read: there was like from Baal on Carmel, "neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any one that regarded." But with the general attention lately paid to religious matters in America, this "bubble of the earth" has also crept again out of its chrysalis state, and has raised funds, employed missionaries, and printed a paper. As we mean to treat this society with all fairness and courtesy, we will let it tell its history in its own words:
"In connection with , the efforts which are now making to increase the resources and revive the usefulness of this Institution, a short account of its history and a view of its present position will not be deemed out of place in the columns of this journal.
"The earliest. distinct movement in behalf of the Jews in the United States, was made by the formation of a society in this city in the year 1816, under the title of 'The American Society for Evangelizing the Jews,' the declared object of which was, to endeavour to evangelize the Jews by delivering to them stated lectures, and furnishing them with suitable tracts.
"The success of this institution was not, however, commensurate with the expectations of its founders, and it. continued in a languishing condition until the year 1819, when a new and a powerful impulse was given to the sympathies of the friends of Israel in this city, in consequence of the receipt of intelligence from Germany, announcing the desire of a number of Christian Jews to emigrate to the United States for the purpose of forming a Christian Jewish settlement. The expediency of such a settlement was also urgently advocated in a letter addressed by an intelligent German Jew to the Rev J. S. C. F. Frey who had then recently arrived in this country, and by whom these communications were laid before the public.
"At a meeting of clergymen and laymen convened in the city of New York, on the 25th January, 1820, for the purpose of taking the subject into consideration, it was unanimously resolved that it was expedient to form a society for colonizing and evangelizing Jews. On the 8th February, the society was formed, and a constitution adopted. Application was immediately made to the Legislature of the state of New York, for an act of incorporation, which was accordingly passed on the 14th April, and by which the society was incorporated under the name which it now bears.
"Arrangements were then commenced for procuring funds, in order to carry the plans of the society into full effect. The Rev. Mr. Frey was appointed their agent, and through his indefatigable exertions, a large amount of money was soon collected, and numerous auxiliary societies were established throughout the United States. In consequence, however, of diversities of opinion entertained by the members of the society, respecting the location and extent of the contemplated settlement, and the plan upon which it should be conducted, in addition to the delays necessarily connected with the preliminary arrangements, it was not until the year 1824, that they finally determined to purchase a tract of the site of their settlement. The occurrence of new difficulties occasioned a still further suspension of action upon this subject, until the year 1827, when a farm of five hundred acres was purchased at New Paltz, Ulster county, in this state, and prepared for the reception of converted Jewish emigrants from Europe. Several of these had in the interval arrived in this country, and been provided for in various temporary places of reception.
"Several years had now elapsed since the establishment of the society, and the results which had been looked forward to with so much ardour of feeling and liveliness of sympathy were not yet realized. The opinions of the Christian public had begun to undergo a change. The doubts which had always been entertained by some in regard to the practicability of the whole enterprise now became more general. Various efforts had been already made to modify the original objects of the society, so as to authorize the employment of its funds for other purposes, by a change of its constitution; but without success. The result of all these circumstances was a gradual and general withdrawal of public confidence and support from the institution, and that at a juncture when it stood most in need of both.
"The purchase of the farm, and the liquidation of other unavoidable expenses connected with the settlement, had by this time nearly exhausted the treasury, and it became necessary to devise some new plan for its replenishment. In the year 1828 an agent was sent to Europe for the purpose of obtaining co-operation and assistance from that quarter; but, although a large expenditure of funds was thus occasioned, no benefit whatever was derived from the measure. As a last effort the society determined to modify their original object so far as to connect with it the plan of a mission to the Jews. A Jewish convert was selected for this important work, and, having been solemnly ordained, was sent out to labour among his brethren in the vicinity of the Mediterranean. But, in consequence of his refusing to continue in the society's service, this undertaking also was completely frustrated.
"By this time the farm at New Paltz had become useless for the purposes for which it was originally purchased. The few remaining proselytes under the care of the society were induced to leave the establishment, and no others were found to apply for admission. The property itself began rapidly to deteriorate in value, and in order to relieve themselves from increasing pecuniary embarrassment, the society were finally compelled to subject it to the incumbrance of a mortgage. Under these disastrous circumstances the suspension of all active operations became unavoidable.
"In the year 1835 the New Paltz farm was disposed of at auction, at a considerable advance on its original cost. With part of the funds the mortgage then existing upon it was paid off, and the remainder of the purchase money was secured by a new bond and mortgage from the purchaser, in which form of investment it still remains.
"Several years of inaction now followed, and the society for a time disappeared in a great degree from the public eye. The requisitions of its charter were, however, still scrupulously complied with, and all the forms of its corporate existence carefully observed. The board of directors continued to meet as usual, and to hold themselves in readiness for action whenever, in the course of an all-wise Providence, the way should again be opened before them.
"The first opportunity for resuming active operations, in any degree, was afforded in the year 1836, when the Rev. Mr. Frey proposed to raise a fund, under the direction of the society, for translating, printing, and circulating among the Jews in Europe and America, a work then recently published by him, under the title of 'Joseph and Benjamin.' The offer was accepted, and the object was soon successfully accomplished, by the collection of an adequate fund for the purpose.
"In 1840 the society were enabled to make themselves useful in a limited degree, by administering to the necessities of several destitute Jews in this city; who had manifested a willingness to receive Christian instruction. A small school was also opened and conducted for a time under the supervision of the board of directors, with some success; but finding themselves without sufficient means for its support, they were compelled reluctantly to discontinue it.
"In the year 1841 a new course of action was determined on. In order to secure the means of adequately prosecuting their benevolent designs respecting the Jewish people, without being subjected to the difficulties from which they had formerly suffered so much disappointment and defeat, the society, at their annual meeting in that year, resolved to open a new fund, for the purpose of meliorating the condition of the Jews 'otherwise than by a settlement, and to solicit subscriptions and donations for said fund, to be disposed of for the temporal relief of such Jews as may need it, and for such other aid to Jews, as such, irrespective of any profession of Christianity on their part, as may appear fit and proper.' Soon after this, it was further resolved to employ a missionary to labour among the Jews in the United States, and an invitation was sent to an eminent German convert from Judaism to undertake that office. An appeal was at the same time made to the Christian public, through an agent, in behalf of these new objects, and with the most encouraging success. The cause of outcast Israel was found to be still dear to the hearts of the people of God. Large auxiliary societies were established in several cities in the eastern states, and liberal contributions were made in aid of the new fund.
"Encouraged by these new and most gratifying tokens of public confidence, the board of directors have determined to go forward in the path thus providentially opened before them, and which, they have every reason to believe, will ultimately prove to be to them the path of duty, and of true and abiding usefulness. Henceforth they have determined to devote their efforts, and all the means which may be placed at their command, to the accomplishment in the most liberal sense, of the object which the title of their association sufficiently indicates; and, first of all, they have turned their attention to the condition of the descendants of Abraham in their own immediate vicinity. Here a most encouraging commencement of their labours has been already made; as will appear from other articles in this paper. The recent employment of a missionary to visit among the Jews of this metropolis has laid open, under their own eye, a field of enterprise hitherto almost wholly overlooked, and extensive enough to engross all their benevolent attentions and sympathies. Facts of an interesting character respecting the spiritual condition and temporal circumstances of our own Jews are daily brought to light. A deplorable degree of ignorance, even in regard to their own religious belief, is found to prevail among them. Few are able to assign a reason even for the vague and feeble hope that is in them, and some openly express their rejection of all revelation. But it is gratifying to add that others are found who receive the visits of the missionary willingly and with thanks, listen patiently to his exposition of the Sacred Word, accept with gladness the gift of Bibles and Testaments in their own tongue, and evince a most encouraging desire to know more respecting Him whom their fathers rejected, and of whom Moses in the law and the Prophets did write.
"But not only spiritual destitution has been found to prevail among these hapless outcasts of Israel; cases of abject penury and extreme personal suffering, strongly appealing to the philanthropic heart, have been brought to the notice of the board of directors. Some of these have been relieved; to the extent of the means at their disposal. For the rest, they would throw themselves upon the liberality of their friends.
"It is proposed to devote the fund now in progress of being raised, under the direction of the society, to the employment of a missionary to labour among the Jews of the United States, to the temporal relief of indigent and deserving individuals of that denomination, to the circulation of tracts, bibles, and testaments. among them, and to the communication of Christian instruction through any other appropriate channel.
"Such are the objects contemplated by the American Society, and such the incentives which exist to animate them in their enterprise. They would commend both to the earnest and prayerful regard of their Christian friends and brethren throughout the Union, and especially to the favour and protection of Him in whose hand are the hearts of all, and whose word is rich in the promise of blessings to those who remember, in the season of their affliction, the ancient people of his choice."
This is all we intend saying at present on this subject; but in conclusion, we will only call the attention of our friends in New York, where the society is established, and where from the great number of Israelites it hopes to gain a plentiful harvest of converts, to the fact, as detailed in the Jewish Chronicle for January, February, and March, that one of its agents, a person by the name of Mr. James Forester, has been visiting the poorer classes of Jews ever since last October, for the sake of giving a little charity, in one instance the sum of twenty-five cents, and to talk a great deal about the Messiah. Our space this month will not allow us to go into details; but we invite the serious attention of the ministers and elders of our persuasion in that city; and call on them to be up and adoing, to counteract any evil the society or its agents may attempt--to be forearmed, by being forewarned. We shall recur to this subject, no doubt; in the meantime, we inform our Christian friends, the managers of the American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews, that we shall keep a watchful eye on their movements.