|Vol. I, No. 10
Tebeth 5604, January 1844
Twenty-Second Anniversary of the New York Hebrew Benevolent Society.
This well-managed association celebrated on the evening of the 14th December, (being Thanksgiving day in that state,) its twenty-second anniversary, by a dinner at the Washington Hotel. Judge Noah, the President of the Society, presided at the festive board, which was honoured by the presence of many gentile friends of Israel, among whom were the Recorder of the city, several members of the bar, editors, and the three distinguished musicians now sojourning in this country, Ole Bull, Vieux Temps, and Wallace. The Rev. Mr. Isaacs pronounced the blessing; after which, as usual, the customary sentiments were drunk, one of which, on charity, was prefaced by the chairman as follows:
Before I announce the next toast, it gives me pleasure to say, that this society has collected and expended $3000 during the year. Amongst those relieved, were many of those from foreign lands, who, unfortunate here, were desirous to return to their homes in comfort and in peace. There are many looking to this meeting with anxiety, confident of your good feeling. To their own people they appeal, for they are never found in poor houses. I trust—I know, you need no exhortation to duty in this particular. I give then—"Charity—the first, the highest, and the most noble obligation of man."
Rev. Mr. Isaacs rose to reply, and was received with great applause. He delivered a beautiful address, in substance as follows:
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen—In rising to illustrate, by a few remarks, the toast of "Charity," which has just emanated from our worthy chairman, I am neither desirous to display any oratorical prowess, nor anxious to utter vain declamation; for happily the sentiment cannot be benefitted by the one, or influenced by the other. Charity speaks for itself in a language universally understood. Its principles are so well known, so duly appreciated, and so extensively practised, that it may, in truth, be asserted, the being who can contemplate the rugged paths of his existence without becoming impressed with the "vale of tears," is totally unfit to dwell with man, and only suited for some uninhabitable clime, where the foot of humanity has never left its impress. Charity is the theological virtue for universal lore. True, it does not dazzle by its brightness, nor captivate by a meretricious glare; yet its active virtues shed that serenity which is a solace to the mind it adorns. Words cannot essay to image its powers. The most comprehensive language cannot utter half its transcendent worth. All the powers of oratory cannot depict in sufficiently glowing colours the benefit it confers on society. It will, therefore, only be attempted to unveil a portion of its excellence. The Almighty God, who knoweth the wants of his creatures, and to whom we this day offered our prayers, had endowed his noblest creature, man, with an innate love to relieve distress. All the necessary qualifications were, therefore, assigned him, not alone to confer true dignity and worth, but, at the same time, to conduce to his own highest attainments and immortal bliss. By the unequal distribution of blessings and gifts, it was benignly intended and designed, for the promotion of the general good, that a mutual dependence should subsist between man and man. That the sphere of enjoyment might be extended, the pleasure of life improved, charity was constituted the irrefragable basis of human compacts. Thus, when we behold one being basking in the sunshine of prosperity, another enveloped in the clouds of adversity, we argue that such is the will of Heaven; that thereby He spreads the means of life over all living. Like the links of a chain, one being depends on the other, and charity is the unseen cement by which the world is bound together. If, then, such be charity, considered in the abstract, how superlatively bright does its light become, if we view its brilliancy as it appears this evening, beholding men of varying faiths unite at the same festive-board, for the like purpose, to relieve their fellow-creatures in distress, not as in days of yore, by prejudice, scholastic subtleties, and polemical ingenuities, to embitter the springs of life, sowing the seeds of discord so thick, that ages, long and dreary, reaped its bitter fruits, but by mutual charity, relieving the distressed, sheltering the persecuted, healing the wounded, and drying the tear of sorrow, stealing some rays of the Divinity, and sowing such seeds of excellence, that future ages will reap fruits of perennial blessings.
Such is the view I take, gentlemen, of meetings like those, we celebrate this evening. Not alone do we, for the twenty-second time, make the poor man's heart glad throughout a long and cheerless winter, but the mental eye, too, sparkles with delight at the grand scheme of benevolence it unfolds to his view, a living portraiture of Christian and Jew, mutually advantageous to both creeds of their adoption; for whilst the Christian is assured, that in the Israelite he beholds nothing overreaching, but a good citizen, endowed with the characteristic virtues of Abraham, charity and faith, it at the same time consoles the Jew in the reflection, that here, on freedom's soil, he is fully compensated for all the acts of tyranny and oppression which despotic governments have for ages inflicted on his co-religionists.
We are almost inclined to imagine that our lawgiver must have had America in his "mind's eye," when he so beautifully eulogized the eagle's characteristics:
What tongue could more graphically depict the American ensign? What language better describe the benevolent land in which we have the happiness to dwell? Does America not stir up her nest, flutter o'er her young, manifest the same care for the Jew she does for the Christian? Does she not spread abroad her wings to take them, whether they have been driven hither by the tide of adversity, or emigrated from the shores of oppression? Yet not alone does she receive and guard them, but like the banner she unfurls, she bears them on her wings; soaring higher than any other, she does not imitate them by nestling them in her bosom, and when imaginary danger threatens, hug them to death, but with true benevolence and undaunted courage, she bears them on her wings, fearless alike of the frowns of crowned heads, and the jealousy of benighted countries. She is fully equipped for every danger, and if the arrow of superstition and bigotry should be drawn from its quiver to injure, it must strike at her heart ere it can affect the children of her adoption. Stand, proud and prouder still, heaven-born Columbia! whilst thine ensign is unfurled, to diffuse light and civilization, to enlarge the boundaries of religion and virtue, thy "star" is in the ascendent, the "stripes" which fanaticism and superstition have implanted are scarcely retained in memory's catalogue; while such continues thy course, thou hast nought to fear, although the world war against thee—thou hast a champion who loves benevolence, who will watch over thee with parental care—it is Israel's God, the Father of the world.
Gladly, gentlemen, would I now resume my seat, were it not that in the fulness of my heart, I have been unmindful of my duty to speak for those whose heart is torn by grief, riven and lacerated by anguish, who look to you, as the mariner to his compass, to guide him to the haven of repose, and who await the result of this evening's charity, with anxiety depicted on their countenance, that you administer soothing relief by "binding up their wounds," and staunching their bleeding heart; and even at the expense of being considered tedious, I cannot thus desert my clients. I stand here not to covet your applause, or to flatter your feelings, but as a minister of religion engaged in his holiest duties—that of pleading the cause of poor, suffering humanity, of speaking for those who, but for you, will scarce have a crumb to gnaw, or a plank on which to lodge their weary limbs, and this in a cold, cheerless and arid winter. Is there one in this assembly callous to the gnawing of misery, the shout of anguish, the cry of despair, or the piercing shriek of want? Your appearance here denotes the contrary; you have been invited to gladden the heart of some care-worn being—to illumine with a smile some countenance furrowed by grief, and your presence is a guarantee that you are ready to discharge that sacred and pleasing obligation. Full well I know, my co-religionists, that you are ever ready to respond to those calls; you have tears to shed for every misfortune, hearts to relieve every sorrow. It requires but to touch the sympathetic chord, at once to bring forth the tear of pity. Who, then, is more entitled to your pity and relief than the heir of grief? Trace the hardships of the child of misery from its earliest infancy, as, sapped by sorrow and nursed by poverty, it is born to inconceivable horror, in a world cold and hard as the straw-bed of its birth, with scarcely a covering to hide its nakedness. Ah, bitter and deplorable indeed is the lot of him, who, born to want, brings neither sin nor virtue, but a superabundance of sorrow. The parents, too, tied to a cumbrous load of pain and anguish, have not the means of supporting their offspring; every cry for bread the child utters, sends an arrow to the parents' heart, penetrating to its very core. Shall I paint, even in faint colours, the sufferings of some widow, bereft of all hope? the anguish of some veteran, with scarce enough food to support his withered frame? Rather let me ask, whether such conditions, uncontrollable as they are, shall be allowed to remain unmitigated? No! your liberality this evening will convince the most sceptical that you are of the Abrahamic seed. You will, by the celestial light of charity, dissipate the chill horrors and wretched gloom which poverty engenders. Christian and Jew—by faith divided, in charity united—I conjure you both, lay this tribute of your zeal on the mighty altars of your faith, that your rest may be placid, your efforts successful, your lives serene, and your deaths glorious. Defer not your charity till to-morrow; but now, while the arrow is on the string, let your donations be as liberal as the poor are numerous. Here, in such congenial soil, sow the seeds of charity; and these, above virtue, shall conduct you to happiness and glory. Here prepare yourselves for superior communion, and the widow's tear and orphan's prayer shall bring you to the fountain of substantial enjoyment. Here assimilate the Deity in benevolence, and the light heaven sent, shall usher you to ecstasy and endless bliss.. By such means the prediction of the seer will be accomplished, your lives will be productive of true blessings, and your souls participate in the unbounded felicity received for the charitable and righteous.
What brings my friend on the left, his honour, the Recorder? charity. What so many members of the bar, and the medical profession? charity. What such a number of our wealthy merchants? charity. Let us now leave our fellow-citizens, and ask what brings a Vieux Temps from France, a Wallace from Scotland, and last, though not least, an Ole Bull from the Norwegian mountains? charity. The last named gentleman comes most opportune, at a moment when the rulers of his country have considered the propriety of admitting Jews to their civil rights; let him, after he has reaped a bountiful harvest in this land, let him, when he returns to his fatherland, tell the nobles of Norway that when in the great city of New York, he dined at the same table with the most wealthy Christians and Jews, and that it was a mutual benefit to both creeds—they differed in points of faith, but they were united in charity.
The Secretary of the Society then read a list of contributors to the funds of the society. The announcement of the donation of $100 from "Ole Bull and his friend," was received with deafening applause.
Park Benjamin then rose and said, "I am requested to state, on the authority of Vieux Temps and Wallace, that they will give a concert for the benefit of the funds of this society."
This was received with a perfect storm of applause, cheering and waving of handkerchiefs.
Over two thousand dollars were here collected.
Mr. Park Benjamin, in a response to a toast, the "Poetry of the Bible," recited the following beautiful verses, which we extract from the Herald:
chosen ones of Israel are scattered far and wide
along the valleys are their habitations found—
the old world's crowded cities, in the prairies the new,
mourn your lasting exile, your temples strown in dust,
Assyria, Egypt, Elam—from Pathros, Cush, Shinar—
again, like some high mountain whose tops are crowned with snow,
it shall come to pass that the remnant in that day,
The health of Salem Dutcher, Esq., having been proposed, he responded as follows:
Mr. President and Gentlemen—The friendship which prompted the toast just drank, I take pleasure in saying, is not of new growth, but reaches back to the days of my childhood. For the kind and complimentary manner in which you received and drank it, I give you my heartfelt thanks. As a comparative stranger to all, or nearly all of you, I cannot but acknowledge with gratitude the good feelings you have just manifested towards me.
But, gentlemen, after the eloquence, the poetry, and the music we have witnessed this evening, it would ill become me to say any thing which might disturb the agreeable excitement these have created in your minds. In looking over this great meeting, however, composed as it is of the lineal descendants of our great father, Abraham, gathered now under one hospitable roof, in a land where freedom dwells, and liberty extends all her blessings alike upon all, gathered, too, from every region, country and clime, I cannot help reverting to one scene in your fathers' history, perhaps the greatest and most magnificent of all, as illustrative of the present occasion. I refer to that glorious exhibition of the power of Him who has called you his chosen people, when He carried your ancestors from Egyptian bondage to a land flowing in milk and honey. The passage was through a wilderness and waste. Hostility on one hand, hunger and thirst on the other, sickness and death followed in the rear. In the midst of these accumulated and distressing evils, Israel journeyed safely. The cloud and the pillar were their compass. But here and there, in this vast wilderness, a green spot was found, watered with pure springs, clothed with perennial verdure, and here, on these oases, Israel reposed, and quenched his burning thirst and invigorated his exhausted cattle.
Your lives and history may be aptly compared to this great scene. Notwithstanding the perils which have surrounded you, the trials you have endured, the oppression you have so long suffered, you that are here have reached in safety Canaan's shore. And if those green spots and well-springs of life can be compared to any thing on earth else may they not be aptly compared to such joyous, and festive, and charitable scenes as this? Here, and in such meetings, we repose from life's dreary waste, and drink of the sweet waters of friendship and brotherly love, and feed on the exhibition of the best qualities of our nature.
Gentlemen, I would not longer trespass on your time. (Cries, Go an, go on.) Well, then, gentlemen, I can only make one remark further; it is this: as among the lofty cedar-topped mountains of Lebanon, there is one peak higher than the rest, and as on that high peak there is one tall cedar higher than them all, I will claim that cedar as expressive of the emotions I feel, the happiest of my life. Gentlemen, you have repeatedly and in every heartfelt variety of phrase and figure, toasted Charity. I will again toast Charity, and in the words of Avon's bard, say like
We are compelled, as usual, to condense the proceedings which have been sent us reported in full in the Plebeian; since our space is not so extensive as to allow us to give of all passing occurrences any more than a brief outline. It was much to our regret that we could not accept the invitation which had been sent to us; but official and private duties do not leave us the power of disposing of our time as we might wish upon all occasions. Yet though absent we were present in spirit, and we wish the Society and its worthy officers many happy returns.