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Letter From Cincinnati

Mr. Editor:—
In the April number of The Occident, you gave a short sketch of the Jewish Community of Cincinnati, the number of Congregations, Synagogues, Benevolent Institutions, Schools, etc., etc. Having observed several discrepancies, probably arising from inaccurate statements made to you, I take the liberty of correcting them, hoping you will give this an insertion in your invaluable periodical. By granting this, you will do no more than mere justice to a considerable number of your brethren, who are by no means behind other congregations of this country, in endeavouring earnestly, to advance with the progress of the age, so that our Holy Religion may be better known, understood, appreciated, and practised. If such endeavours have not as yet been successful, it was not because the will was not there: no, I must repeat, that the people are alive to all that is wholesome and conducive to advance true Judaism; but unfortunately the will and the means are not always associated. The majority of our brethren here are men who have emigrated to this country only during the last twelve or fifteen years; our means are consequently limited. Secondly, what is indeed to be regretted, is, that there are some men possessed of an illiberal spirit in our community, who once exercised great influence over a large portion of our brethren, and who used that influence to crush everything that might tend to promote true religion, decorum, and decency during divine worship, and the diffusion of knowledge of our sacred faith, among the rising generation.

Ultimately, the greatest obstruction to true advancement was, that we, now, never had a minister who could <<220>> gain sufficiently the confidence of the people, by combining learning, oratorical powers, and other talents, with a dignified conduct, true piety, energy, zeal, and independence, and labour effectually in the promotion of true religion. But despite of all these disadvantages we have advanced. We have in this city four congregations, namely, the Congregation Bnai Israel, the oldest, numbering from 160 to 170 members ; the Congregation Bnai Jeshurun, with 180 members; the Congregation Brotherly Love, numbering eighty members; a Polish Congregation which was started lately.

We have one Gentlemen’s Benevolent, and one Beneficial Society, both of which extend great aid to the resident poor, and indigent strangers.

We have three Ladies’ Benevolent Associations, and one Sewing Society, which are constantly engaged in the sacred mission of charity.

I am a member of the Congregation Bnai Jeshurun, Lodge Street; and I assert it with pride, challenging contradiction, that this congregation has ever since its existence taken the lead in the advancement of true Judaism in this city. We have been in existence as a congregation about twelve years; we began with a handful of members, and no funds. At present we number about 180 members, and are, in possession of a Synagogue, which is as handsome as any in this country, adjoining to which is a lot (lately purchased by us), on which a school­house is to be built, as we owe but a small debt on the whole, which will be cancelled in one or two years. Bat what I mostly desire you to know, is, that we have not neglected the basis upon which the stability of any system, and more particularly that of religion, is founded—I mean education. In order to supersede the necessity of sending our children to common or sectarian schools, and likewise to combine their general education with religious instruction from their very infancy, we established and chartered the Talmud Yelodim Institute, three years ago (the first Jewish school chartered in this country, if I do not mistake), and thus laid the foundation to the Temple, which we shall endeavour to erect within the hearts of the rising generation. At first, I must confess, we struggled hard, labouring under many disadvantages; and apprehensions were entertained that we should never succeed. But since our worthy minister has undertaken its superintendence, a new era has begun. Under his able and zealous guidance, and by his indefatigable exertions in the cause of education, matters have assumed a different aspect, and we live now in expectation of seeing our long-cherished hopes realized; for the Talmud Yelodim Institute bids fair to become one of the best schools in this country. We employ at <<221>> present, three male teachers and one female teacher, all able instructors and classical scholars, who teach all the branches belonging to a thorough English education, together with the German and Hebrew languages, religion, and vocal music. We also intend to attach a sewing school to it, to afford female pupils an opportunity of being instructed in all kinds of needle and fancy work, in order to supersede the necessity of sending them to other schools for that purpose. A certain number of poor children are also admitted gratuitously. Before concluding this statement, I must refer you to your article, in reference to the Sunday school, lately established by our worthy and energetic minister. You observed, “At the same time, we would urge on the projectors and supporters of the Sunday school not to rest satisfied with this fragment of religious instruction, but to do all in their power; and if that is done, they must succeed, to establish regular schools under proper teachers, to instruct all in the language of the Hebrews,” &c. I need not repeat that all this was attended to by Congregation Bnai Jeshurun, long before you kindly advised it, and that our school, in which not only the language of the Hebrews, but also all branches be­longing to a religious education, are daily taught, is open to all Jews who desire to participate in its benefits. But seeing that, in this city, hundreds of children are growing up, whose parents do not think it necessary to pay for their religious instruction, our pious minister thought it highly necessary to afford it to them gratuitously, as far as a Sunday school can possibly do so; and I am confident from the man­ner in which it is conducted, that much good will arise from it. One fact is clear, we have always striven to establish decency and decorum in our Synagogue, and we are the only congregation in this city in whose Synagogue sermons in the vernacular are delivered. Nor can I omit to state that since the Rev. J. Rosenfeld has taken charge of our congregation, matters have assumed a different form. His eloquent and soul-stirring discourses, which he delivers every Sabbath, alternately in English and German, always attract large audiences, and we live in the fondest hopes, that his presence in our midst may be of long duration; as we are confident that his labours in the vineyard must be productive of much good in the cause of our sacred faith.

Hoping that the Almighty may prolong your life, and bestow upon you his choicest blessings; that you may be able for many years to come, as you have done hitherto, to labour zealously, and effect Much good in the cause of our holy Religion, I subscribe myself,

Your very obedient servant,  
Henry Mack.
Cincinnati, June 8, 1852.

Note.—We insert cheerfully Mr. Mack’s letter, which gives so pleasing an account of the progress of the congregation to which he is attached; but we would call his attention to the brief statement at the bottom of page 47 of this volume, which will prove to him that we had not forgotten the existence of the school, of which he speaks with such hopeful terms, in which we trust he may not be disappointed.—Mr. M. must pardon us one remark, that it seems strange to us that be has overlooked the services of the Rev. James B. Gutheim, whose preliminary labours have most assuredly paved the way for the, perhaps, more successful exertions of Mr. Rosenfeld. Mr. G. needs not our defence; for his present position is every way a proud one; to be loved by a numerous and growing constituency, and to be re-elected without any solicitation, prove that he is not inferior to any now in the ranks of our ministry. We sincerely wish Mr. Rosenfeld ample success, a thousand fold more than he has yet met with; but we are sure that he himself does not desire to assume the appearance of being the first, when there was so able a labourer before him. May Israel have many, very many more, and may our eyes see it, who can and are willing to labour in the good cause; they are all needed, and all will be amply employed, so soon as their merits are known.

We have also received a remonstrance in regard to a remark we made, that some pious persons had opposed the Sunday school of which Mr. Mack’s letter likewise speaks. Two of the gentlemen alluded to, have written to us, that they opposed it, because they had asked for the use of the Synagogue room on Sabbath afternoon to teach Hebrew to those who do not attend the Sunday school, considering that the holy day of rest could not be better employed, than in diffusing a knowledge of the sacred language and our laws, and were refused a compliance with their request. We are deeply pained at this difference of opinion, and yet more, that it has led to a little unpleasantness of feeling. We had the pleasure of making the personal acquaintance of several of the gentlemen in question, during our brief visit to Cincinnati, and cannot help thinking, that it requires but a little mutual yielding to unite them all in the glorious cause of the regeneration of that portion of Israel scattered in and around the queen city of the West. Will they then listen to our publicly given advice, and unite hand and heart in the glorious work? Why should a slight misapprehension divide hearts that should beat in unison? We know well enough that sectional jealousies arising from a difference of our birthplace, early habits, and early associations, are great drawbacks to a thorough union of Israelites; but in the name <<223>> of our common religion, let us cease to call each other “bigots,” or “new lights,” or other terms of reproach, which littleness of mind is so ready to invent. We have at last all but one aim, “the promotion of the good cause;” at all events, we all employ this magical phrase; let us then show that we are in earnest, and our enemies will be confounded when they see the Jews united for Israel's God, and Israel’s Law, and Israel’s sons. Come, brothers! meet as friends who hare been estranged and been again united in peace, in God’s cause, for God’s sake; you are all able to effect much good by union; but you are powerless if you are divided.

Finally, we would state, that our exhortation to establish general schools, was not because we were ignorant of the existence of the Talmud Yelodim Institute, but because we wished to see all other congregations, not to rest satisfied till they have each such a seminary, and till all Jewish children shall have an opportunity in this free land to acquire, daily, a knowledge of our holy language and religion, so that a person who is a Jew, ignorant of these most important matters, shall not be found. And we are glad to say, that the desire is at length aroused, and we trust that it may lead to action and to many glorious results.—Ed. Oc.