|Vol. IV, No. 11
Shebat 5607, February 1847
The Cincinnati Hebrew Benevolent Society.
The fourth anniversary of the משיבת נפש Society of Cincinnati was celebrated by a dinner, which took place pursuant to previous arrangement on the 16th of December last (3d day of Hannuckah, 5607), at the Assembly Rooms, Pearl Street. The company consisted of about seventy persons, principally members of the society; Mr. Philip Heidelbach presided. The evening passed off with the utmost hilarity, and the company was enlivened from time to time with music from an excellent band. After partaking of a substantial repast, prepared by Mr. Bernheim, the president rose and said:
Gentlemen,—We have met this evening for the purpose of celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, a society purely benevolent; its object being to alleviate the afflictions of our fellow-men, having neither sectional nor geographical limits. I have had the honour through you of filling various offices since the first formation of the society, and have thus had ample opportunities of witnessing your unwearied zeal in relieving the sufferings of the distressed, and I must congratulate you on the success that has attended your efforts; what you have done, has been done nobly.
The regular toasts were then read as follows:
1. The Day we Celebrate.—It recalls to our minds sacred recollections of the Past, cherishes good-will and love for the Present, and opens to us a vista of benevolence for the Future.
This was responded to by Mr. Lewis Abraham.
“I am fearful, Mr. President and Gentlemen, that I shall not be able to do justice, to the excellent sentiment just now heard by you; but I throw myself on your clemency. In the sacred cause of philanthropy, though our influence be ever so small, we should not withhold it. It is not the advocate nor his advocacy that is looked to, but the holy impulses that inspire him. ‘The day we celebrate’—a day set apart solely for the promulgation and encouragement of benevolent feelings and actions, as has been justly remarked, affords joy to its participators for the past, present, and future. Who is there around this table, of those who were present at our last anniversary, who does not revert to his co-operation on that day with feelings of pride and pleasure? The many faces I see around me that I recognise as having met on a previous similar occasion, convey sufficient assurance of the fact; of the present, and feelings of good-will and friendship engendered by this day’s meeting, the unanimity, the harmony, the enthusiasm, I see evinced on all sides, is a forcible demonstration that the proper spirit exists among you, that you view this day as a day specially one of rejoicing over your ability to answer the cries of distress that on all sides assail the ears of the benevolent; of the future, and the joys it may unfold, what can I foretell? How can I hold up to your gaze the vista of benevolence and its consequent happiness that may result from this day’s assemblage of holy brotherhood?—the woes that will be alleviated, the tears that will be dried, the sorrows that will be turned to gladness, the grief that will be assuaged?—no! the task is not mine.
"The prayers of the widow and orphan that ascend with gratitude and humility to the throne of grace form the best record of deeds of charity, and the same kind Providence that listens with an attentive ear to the voices of the widow and the fatherless, the same Omnipotent power that knows all our actions, that sees all which transpires, so that not even a sparrow falls without his knowledge, will graciously remember those in their hour of trial who have been merciful and generous to the afflicted. This day, my friends, ‘the day we celebrate,’ has, as you are aware, been dedicated by the Hebrew Benevolent Society as their anniversary, on which occasion, it is customary for its members and their friends to meet at the festive board, and, by a free interchange of sentiment, to commemorate the birthday of the institution, and endeavour to increase its welfare and extend its usefulness; but to the true philanthropist, every day is a day of celebration with deeds of benevolence. It is not, however, alone by bestowing alms that true charity is performed; there are other methods equally as impressive, equally as salutary, equally as imperatively our duty, which can be prosecuted as well in the humble tenement of the peasant as the proud gilded palace of the prince; actions that everyone in his common intercourse with his fellow-man has a daily opportunity of performing—I speak of that extension of benevolence of thought, of opinion, and, of feeling, so frequently inculcated in holy writ, a forgiveness of injuries inflicted on us, loving our neighbours as ourselves, protecting the oppressed of whatever clime or sect, nursing the sick, burying the dead, and kindly but gently reproving those wandering from the path of rectitude; these are pursuits that make every day a day of offering on the shrine of charity, every hour an hour of communion with our Creator, every house a temple, every hearth an altar. But besides these duties, which every feeling of humanity solemnly enjoins on all of us; it also behooves those who have been blessed with an abundance of worldly comforts, to relinquish a portion of them towards diminishing the wants of the needy, ‘For the poor shall never cease out of the land, saith the Lord;’ we must also remember, ‘from those to whom much is given, much will also be required;’ and what human reward can be sufficient recompense for the gratification experienced in the performance of acts of charity? few of our pursuits carry with them as many joys, either in remembrance, actual execution, or anticipation, past, present, or future, all is one constant theatre of action, one happy epoch of celebration to the benevolent man; he looks back to the days of his youth without one pang of remorse, he sees whole families that have been comforted through his instrumentality, he recalls to his mind’s eye the time when with maternal care and tenderness he was first taught to lisp the prayer of charity to all mankind, and, as days of yore reappear, the tear of honest grief dims the eye in token of friends departed or scenes passed in the old house at home, but not one drop dampens his cheek in repentance of injuries inflicted on his fellow-creature. A change comes o’er the spirit of his dream—the boy is changed to manhood; mark him now, he stands the centre of a circle of friends, who look up with admiration and esteem to his numerous good qualities of head and heart; the mendicant applies to him for assistance, and goes not empty away; he has ever a cheerful word far the suffering, a solace for the desponding. His present existence he makes a constant source of enjoyment to himself and all who surround him; to the future he looks forward without a fear. Watchman, what of the night? A return, after many days, of the bread cast upon the waters, a promise of eternal bliss, a happy and a peaceful old age awaits him; and when he passes to that bourne from whence no traveller returns, his epitaph is written not on the proud, pompous scutcheons of Fame, but in the hearts of those who have been relieved by his bounty; the grave may close over him the turf may enshrine him, but they cannot erase from their breasts remembrance of virtues for evermore blest. Thus we see the halcyon days of our youth, bright, brilliant, and enticing as they appear, contain no more real pleasures than any other period of life; each has its enchantment and charm when properly applied; glorious, blissful as the prospective has been, the realization and retrospect can be made equally so if we act with forbearance and without selfishness.
"But I am encroaching on your time. I see around me members of the press, the pulpit, and the bar, who can occupy your time with more gratification than I can. Of the merits of the society whose anniversary we are celebrating, I will say nothing, its very name speaks its excellence. I will leave to its financial officers the task of informing you of its fiscal affairs. The time is now fast approaching when the institution will be called into active operations; even now, while I am speaking, the snow is descending thick and fast, as if to recall us to a sense of what we are assembled for; the bleak, cold, wintry wind is whistling without, as if to whisper in our ears an incentive to action. As I watched the white flakes fall and cover the earth with a cold shroud; as I listened to the cheerless blast as it wafted by, lovely Nature herself seemed to lift her voice and intercede for those suffering from the pinching pangs of poverty, speaking in tones far more impressive than the most finished oratory or the most powerful human eloquence. She must have spoken to you all in the same way; her language needs not the interpretation of words to convey their signification. With such an advocate as this, what need I add more, but to express a hope that this day’s action may give the recipients of our bounty cause, long and lastingly, to rejoice over the ‘day we celebrate.’”
2. The United States.—Prosperity to her institutions, happiness to her citizens, victory to her arms. Responded to by Mr. J. Abraham.
3. The Land of our Ancestry.—Glorious things are said of thee, oh, Zion! Responded to by Mr. J. Jonas.
“With considerable diffidence, I arise to respond to the toast just named. Many here present are more capable than myself to dilate on the subject, more especially as I am not accustomed to public speaking. It is one of those subjects which brings to every Israelite heartfelt pleasure and enthusiastic feelings; I shall therefore proceed without farther comment. The subject naturally divides itself in two parts, retrospective and prospective; but time will only permit me to review the sentiment retrospectively. The Great Architect created this world, and placed our first parents in what was intended for an eternal paradise. Man was a free agent, and a simple command was made the test of his virtue; he fell! and with himself drew his posterity into sin and death; respect for their progenitor was consequently much diminished, his experience and teaching were not appreciated, and their lives extending to near a thousand years, all sense of dependence became lost, and ‘every imagination of their hearts was evil continually.’ All but Noah and his family were drowned in the flood; but with this new progenitor, man’s life was gradually curtailed, and he became more dependent on the great Author of their being.
“The subsequent life of Noah was not of that purity as to become a bright example to his posterity, and man again gradually forgot his Maker. At this period, for their abominable wickedness, Sodom and Gomorrah only were doomed to the penalty of fire! Then it was our great ancestor arose,—the father of the faithful, the friend of God, who, for his exalted piety, for his undiminished faith, for not withholding ‘his only son’ from the Lord, received this everlasting promise, ‘That in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;’ this was repeated to Isaac and Jacob. Thus were the children of Israel taken under the especial care of Providence, to become a blessing to mankind, by preserving and spreading the revealed will of God, witnessing and retaining the true faith. He, therefore, became their Father, their King, and their Saviour. In his province as their Father, He watched over the infant nation, and severely punished their cruel persecutors, the Egyptians; as their King, He became their lawgiver, proclaiming from Mount Sinai, and promulgating, through our great Prophet Moses, the most glorious code of laws that ever nation was blessed with; and as their Saviour, He became their protector, defender, and guardian, against the tyrants, despots, and persecutors of the ancient and modern world.
“What has become of the Egyptian monarchy?—Where are the great empires of Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome?—Echo says, Where? But Israel remains! a distinct people from the nations of the earth, even in its present scattered and dispersed condition, and, according to the blessing given to Abraham many ages since (in every clime) ‘possess the gate of their enemies.’ When the King of kings brought his people into the land of Canaan, He caused the lands to be distributed equally according to the numbers of each family in every tribe: thus they became a social and happy commonwealth. The civil and religious code which was established, whilst they were obeyed, prevented the wealthy from accumulating real estate, and the unfortunate from becoming impoverished, and ‘every man lived under his own vine, and under his own fig-tree, and none made them afraid.’ In this state of things they formed a pure democratic republic; and, for four hundred years or more, this government continued.
“Happy would it have been for Israel, had it so remained to the present day: every tribe had its separate government, united by a social or federal compact for the general good, supervised by an overruling Providence; but, continually rebelling, they at length changed their form of government to a monarchy. Still they were protected, and even enlarged, under David and Solomon; wonderfully defended against all their enemies. And when their wise sovereign erected the splendid temple on Mount Moriah (the former scene of Abraham’s faithful triumph); when the sons of Asaph filled the air with their divine melody, and the chorus of the Levites ascended on high, singing the Psalms of David; when the Prayer of Solomon their king was answered in the sight of millions of Israelites, by the Shechinah (glory of God) filling the whole house, and the fire from heaven consuming the offerings on the altar: what must have been the heartfelt, divine feelings of our ancestors? can we not appreciate it at this moment, and exclaim, with the psalmist, ‘Glorious things are spoken of thee, O Zion, city of our God!’
“The reminiscences of the land of our ancestors are indeed numerous and glorious! Shall I ascend with you to Mount Carmel with the Prophet Elijah, and listen to the divine enthusiasm of our brethren, when the celestial fire descended on the altar, unanimously shouting, ‘The Lord he is the God!’ descending with you to a later period, when the government was upon the shoulders of Hezekiah, and our ‘everlasting Father’ ‘the mighty God’ sent his angel, who destroyed one hundred and sixty thousand Assyrians (their enemies) in one night? or shall I bring you with the captives to the rivers of Babylon, where ‘they sat down and wept, when they remembered Zion? they hung their harps upon the willows; those that made them captives required a song; those that wasted them required mirth; but they could not sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.’—Shall we return with them, from their captivity, and view their beloved Jerusalem in ruins, but soon again to arise? The temple was reared, the commonwealth again established; happiness and prosperity was once more spread over the land. The monarchy of Persia was swept away, and the Grecian empire prevailed. ‘A change came o’er the scene.’—Persecution and destruction covered the land, Jerusalem was given to the spoiler, her walls dismantled, the temple plundered and dishonoured, her altars desecrated, ‘the daily sacrifice taken away,’ and ‘the abomination which maketh desolate set up;’ thousands of all ages and sexes were assassinated for keeping the Sabbath, and performing the ceremonies of our holy religion; but our holy Father had not yet forsaken us; he caused the banners of the Asmoneans to arise, and the children of Judah, under the patriotic brethren, the Maccabees, drove the myriads of Syria from their country, and restored the daily sacrifice, government, and religion, with additional splendour. At length bigotry and superstition prevailed in the church of God, divisions and anarchy became prevalent; the purity of religion was destroyed, murder and rapine became the order of the day, and the children of Judea fell under the mighty empire of the Romans. The patriots struggled in vain, the sins of the nation were numerous, and their great Protector for a ‘time’ deserted them. Thus fell the glory of Zion, land of our ancestors.