|Vol. IV, No. 10
Tebeth 5607, January 1847
Third Anniversary Of The German Hebrew Benevolent Society Of New York.
The above Society celebrated its Anniversary by a public dinner at the Apollo Saloon, Broadway, on the 12th Nov. Two hundred and fifty gentlemen were present. The Chair was occupied by Henry Kayser, Esq., President, supported on the right by the Rev. Dr. Lilienthal, Alderman Purdy, &c.; and on the left by the Rev. S. M. Isaacs, M. M. Noah, Esq.; and the lower Chair was occupied by Israel D. Walter; Esq., Vice President, supported on the right and left by the officers of the institution, and a number of influential Christian gentlemen. The various congregations were fully represented. The dinner was provided by Mr. Bachman, and grace said by the Rev. Mr. Levin, of the Attorney Street Synagogue, when the President rose to make the annual statement, from which it appeared that the institution was performing the greatest practical good to the many unfortunate beings who daily crowd our shores, the statement delivered in the German language was ably enlarged on in English by the Vice President. After the President had submitted the first toast to the meeting, the Rev. Dr. Lilienthal delivered a most heart-stirring address, which was repeatedly cheered, the reverend gentleman speaking in the German language. On the second toast being submitted, the Rev. S. M. Isaacs was called on to respond, when he commenced as follows:
Mr. President and Gentlemen—
Although perfectly ignorant, till this moment, that I had the honour to be selected to respond to the toast which has just emanated from your worthy Chairman, still, charity is a theme so well understood by the humblest capacity, that I will not detain your time by apologizing for my deficiency, but will at once enter into the heart of the subject.
The principles of benevolence are so well known, so duly appreciated, and so extensively practised, that it may well be observed, the being who can pass through the rugged paths of this existence without halting on his route to sympathize with misfortune, that monster should be doomed to dwell in the cheerless clime of Siberia, there to drink deep of the bitter draught he permitted others to imbibe unnoticed and uncared for. Charity is the unseen cement which binds the poor to the rich, returning in tears of gratitude the mite received from the hand of benevolence; but for the influence charity extends in society the world must ere this have been depopulated; what, I would ask, would be our condition on earth, either in the pursuit of war, or in the cultivation of peace, were charity not considered the magnet of attraction? In war! what can extenuate or palliate that effusion of blood, that fell slaughter of millions, that terrible machine for manufacturing widows and orphans, that fearful carnage through which the warrior wades to emblazon his fame, if his heroism be not employed to free the oppressed, shelter the persecuted, sever the bonds, rive the fetters, and burst the shackles which despotism has forged? Yes, to cast away the manacles of slavery, to diffuse light, to extend civilization, and enlarge the boundaries of virtue and benevolence, such intrepidity, the exercise of such noble prerogatives, adorn society when pure zeal and undaunted bravery combine together to dignify and embellish the state of humanity. Thus in peace, what avails wealth, talent, or distinction, unless our riches, our learning, our might, are devoted to their legitimate uses, to educate the ignorant, support the fallen, raise the desponding, embolden the timorous, give warmth to the cold, clothing to the naked, and renewed vigour to those ready to perish, such I conceive to be the true meaning of the divine precept,ואהבת לרעך כמוך “Thou shalt love thy neighbour, because like thee,” he has been created in the image of that Being who best knoweth the wants of his creatures. He has consequently endowed the noblest of his creation, man, with an innate love to wipe away the tear from the cheek of sorrow. Distress appears to have been sent on earth for the benefit of the wealthy, so that the heir of grief might ask that as a boon which Agrarian laws would give him as a right. It would indeed be futile for us to argue the poor man’s rights, when it is so obvious to every one gifted to feel for another, and that you are thus impressed may be asserted by your very appearance here. What brings you here but the voice of humanity? You are here to return your thanks to the gracious Father of all for the happiness you enjoy as American citizens; that, whilst a large portion of the old world is suffering from the effects of a bad harvest, whilst the cry of their poor makes the welkin ring, and their anguish reaches heaven, you respond to that cry by demonstrating that here there exists no scarcity, that your fields are blessed, your storehouses full, and in order that your gratitude to God shall not be an empty sound, you manifest your sincerity by giving a little of your superabundance to aid those who still find poverty in the midst of plenty. You are here as Western Jews, with Eastern principles, to give to all who ask, agreeable to the Rabbinical maxim כל הפושט יד תן לו without inquiring whether they worship in the mosque, the church, or the synagogue. You are here surrounded by members of another faith, to enjoy that inbred satisfaction resulting from your hallowed creed, which never fails to stanch the bleeding heart, relume the sunken eye, and suffering genial hope to shed its rays over the brow furrowed by grief; this is a sight at which angels might weep for joy, to see the wealthiest merchant and the humble mechanic at the same festive board, the rich with his gold, the poor with his copper, each giving according to the means in his possession; and what sight can be so congenial to the taste of the philanthropist, than to see the inhabitants of this glorious Republic so laudably employed? When I look round and see those divided in faith united in charity, I ask is there any thing in their varying faith which should prevent this cordial union? Before the God of Israel I solemnly asseverate, No. As theologians we differ; there we are as far divided as the poles are asunder; yet as moralists we are as near to each other as the meridian to midday. Bright, then, is the sun of charity, which, eclipsed in despotic lands, shines here so clear and resplendent, illumining the heart of Christian and Jew.
Let tyranny boast of her power, oppression of her chains; let Russia be proud of her autocrat and persecution: be it thy pride thou glorious eagle to mount thy pinions as thou halt ever done, bringing the wayfaring traveller to the havens of repose. Gladly would we dwell on this theme, so congenial to our taste, were we not reminded that, in delineating the general principles of charity, we have scarcely noticed the institution whose third anniversary you are celebrating this evening. It must suffice to assert that it was formed for the noblest purposes; to clothe those who come naked to our shores, and aid others whose sickness or poverty requires a helping hand, and sure I am that your munificent liberality last year will be continued to-night. Oh, it is a glorious cause in which you are engaged! For a moment let your thoughts accompany ours whilst we look at the poor man’s home; the prospect is hard and gloomy; no light shines upon it; no variety appears to cheer it, but one wild waste of life appears before it, overhung with clouds; in one corner you behold naked and starving children, whose innocent minds had been taught that when once they arrived on American soil, their cares would cease; that here the eagle would spread forth her wings to shelter them; yet their naked forms, starving condition, and roofless tenement, falsify the assertion. In the other corner you may see some poor sick creature, the mother of these children, repining in solitude at the wretchedness she cannot ameliorate, whilst the care-worn man’s misery can only be drawn in a tint borrowed from tears. Sorrow and commiseration are his only feelings; his household is one nest of destitution; his present being is desolation, his future, poverty; he beholds his wife and children grown haggard with their penury, and sees no way to alleviate their suffering; he feels like an Anchorite of old, who voluntarily quitted the sunshine and richness of cultivated nature, to plunge into the gloom and sterility of the desert; he has no hopes for the morrow, but traverses through the arid wilds of existence with no one to support or cheer him; with not one spring of the waters of comfort to give him hope along his desolate course. Barren indeed are the years before him, and as he looks through the long sunless vista, it appears as if an open tomb was all that closed the far prospective, to receive him at the end of his weary journey, as if death alone was destined to bring him life.
Such is the state of the poor man; such the condition of a number of those you are called on to relieve to-night, think not ye benevolent souls, that in placing the poor man thus before you, I have a desire to inflame your feelings, or to excite your passions; alas, in the school of experience have I studied the theme. I have drunk too deep of povertys dregs, ever to be forgetful of the misery it entails; I have been too much fostered by benevolence, ever to be unmindful of the blessings it confers on the recipient and the donor. Yield then a cheerful compliance to the dictates of an enlightened conscience, and by extending your liberality to the utmost bounds, convince the most sceptical that you are of the true Abrahamic stock, Christian and Jew, by faith separated, in charity united; let your donations be as liberal as the poor are many; and in return for your generosity, the widow’s sigh and orphan’s prayer, will bring you to the realization of your long-cherished desires; in the night surrounding death, the tears of those you have cheered will slope life’s decline, without dread or alarm, nay, with unruffled composure, will you pass on to the fruition of your bosomnursed hopes. Remember the Scriptural words, “His soul draweth near to the grave, and his life to the destroyer, if there be but with him one intercessor, one messenger even among a thousand to speak of his righteousness: then is God gracious to him, saying, Deliver him from perdition, I have found a ransom.” Be entreated then to pursue benevolence, in order that your reward may be here and hereafter. In conclusion be thus admonished:
After the cheers which followed the above appeal had subsided, Henry Jones and Moses Wilson, Esqrs., two of the committee, expressed their readiness to receive donations in behalf of the cause, and after the lapse of some time spent in proclaiming the names of the different donors, the amount declared to have been received was $2500! Where all were liberal, it would be a waste of the pages of The Occident to enumerate individuals; the business of the evening was then continued. On the health of M. M. Noah, Esq., being given, that gentleman addressed the meeting in a speech full of humour and wit, followed by the Rev. M. Mertzbacher, who delivered a truly eloquent address, full of sound reasoning and noble sentiment; he was loudly cheered by all those who wore fortunate enough to understand German. Alderman Purdy followed. Henry M. Morrison, Esq., a young member of the bar, succeeded the worthy Alderman, and delivered a neat address, which evidenced that Israel is still a fruitful vine. R. Lyon, Esq., was the next to address the meeting in his usual able manner; several gentlemen followed, and the evening was spent in hilarity; and when the company departed at a late hour, they left with the pleasing reflection, that they had not forgotten the poor. H. November 14th.