|Vol. IV, No. 4
Tamuz 5606, July 1846
Of The Pupils Of The School For Instruction Of Jewish Youth, Charleston, S. C.
It has seldom been our good fortune to witness a spectacle as salutary in its tendencies and imposing in its ceremonials as that to which the caption of our article refers. A genial sunshiny morning, such as the happiest of the seasons alone imparts, when nature, arrayed like a blushing virgin, rambles among her scented bowers and sylvan streams, ushered in the day, and an early hour beheld an anxious and numerous assemblage collected within the largest room of the Masonic Hall. It was such an occasion as our heart delights in; it was a scene which invited the smiles of beauty, and the graver intelligence, with the venerable wisdom of age, to witness the first efforts of innocence, in the attainment of those sacred gifts which unfold its purity into bloom even as the dew-drop expands the flower. We could not refrain from emotions of mingled pride and gratitude, as we looked around and marked the faces of the assembly, all apparently impressed with sentiments of delight and veneration as they dwelt upon the glorious objects which are contemplated and compassed by this invaluable association. The necessity of early religious teaching is one of those sterling truths which the voice of experience has too frequently and mournfully declared to admit of a doubt as to its vital importance; and in our day and generation it is a matter of hearty congratulation that its admonitions have not been unheeded, and that in this instance, at least, we cannot concede the melancholy truism of Coleridge,—“Experience is like the stern-light of a ship, which only illumines the track already passed.” Thanks to an all-merciful Providence!” we live in an age of constant and still-achieving progress; in all the departments of life—in all the sciences which assist and the arts that embellish it—in the workshop of the artisan and the study of the scholar, the motive impulse is being constantly felt, and the watchword is still—“Progress and toil, toil and progress!” It were strange, then, if religion should be neglected, when every thing that can supply the necessities, gratify the taste, or improve the understanding, is still advancing nearer and nearer approximations to the standard of human perfection—religion, that pharos which heavenly mercy has erected on the high places of earth, to console the weary pilgrims who journey through its solitary wastes—religion, the poor man’s comfort and the rich man’s guide—religion, the sweet prophetic voice by which the soul is taught to disdain its temporary subjection to the clay, and, with one foot on the verge of the grave, to gaze calmly and confidently on the shoreless ocean of eternity. And yet it was long ere the steps were taken which experience dictated as indispensably essential to the attainment and diffusion of its blessings; long did the minds of our children slumber in a species of moral lethargy, which, of all the enemies of the soul, is admitted to be the most difficult to remove. Youth, that precious period of life, when its first and most durable impressions of the world are received, was permitted to expand in the unpruned luxuriance of vice; the invaluable moment when Time reveals the blank page of a new spirit, and exposes it to the complicated influences of society, was overlooked, with a hope to the deceptive future; and the first fruits of the youthful heart were sacrificed to the arch destroyer, instead of being consecrated to the living God. This has been;—thanks to Heaven and the redeeming influence of woman, it is no longer so. By her lips was it decreed that the gracious mandate of mercy should be reiterated—“Let there be light!” To her glance, beaming with the mingled corruscations of affection and piety, was it left to ignite the redeeming blaze, and her hands alone were entrusted with the guardianship of the flame which her devotion had kindled. The Jewish community of Charleston are deeply sensible of the praises due to the efforts of the ladies connected with this institution, and the reader will forgive us for having enlarged upon a subject which, in our mind, cannot be too enthusiastically mentioned.
The exercises of the second anniversary of the society were opened with a suitable prayer to the Throne of Grace by the Rev. Mr. Rosenfeld, after which Yigdal was sung by the youthful candidates in full chorus, and with a degree of intelligence and feeling which did infinite credit to their powers of appreciation. This was succeeded by the annual report, which was impressively read by the president of the society, Miss Henrietta Hart. The active endeavours of this lady, and the zealous cooperation of the teachers, have established the school upon a permanent basis, from which (we prophesy) will spring up a living superstructure, that shall display to the admiring gaze of our people the palpable form of morality and virtue combined with the “beauties of holiness.” We annex a sketch of the report.
Report of the President.
“Another year has rolled round, and we have met to-day to celebrate the second anniversary of our institution. I assure you, my friends, that I want language to express the joyful emotions I experience, not only from the honourable position where your kindness has placed me, but also from the beneficial and salutary influence the society has exercised upon those entrusted to its beneficent care.
“We hail the religious education of our youth with the most ardent pleasure, for it will be sure to inspire an increase of virtue. It is among our youth that the seed of religion is destined to produce a harvest of moral and social happiness, which will lead to the most pleasing results. It is when first starting into life that the young are most tempted, and thousands of the most promising have fallen victims to the insidious snares which vice spreads for the unwary. Under this baneful influence the virtue of youth must wither, the opinions of the inexperienced became contaminated, and the principles of the immatured yield to the direful example of those whose vices are more frequently copied than shunned. Above all, it is the rising generation who are to preserve intact the hallowed faith of our fathers, the laws and precepts of our holy religion, and to transmit them unimpaired by the rude hand of innovation to their posterity.
“How shall these great results be accomplished but by early religious education? by the teachings of the law here, and precept and example at home? We hope then, that all parents and guardians will rally with us to the rescue, and feel it their duty to second our pious movement. There is no scene so deeply interesting as that of the commencement of life; and we look forward to this school as an auxiliary in this great work, and earnestly invoke the co-operation of the virtuous, the benevolent, and the good, to its glorious consummation.
“It is a source of great satisfaction for me to state, that the number of children attending the school, during the past year, has not diminished. Some of our elder female pupils have withdrawn, but have expressed the laudable desire of becoming, in their turn, teachers, to impart to others the lessons which they themselves have been taught. Their places have been filled by an accession of younger ones, little children of Israel, who have come here to learn the history of their glorious ancestry, and be instructed in the sacred and time-honoured faith of their fathers.
“In relation to the deportment and diligence of the children of the institution, I am most happy in being able to commend them, and I am performing but an act of justice when I add, that in their behaviour, particularly, there has been a decided improvement; as regards the progress in their studies, you yourselves will judge.
“In my last annual report, I suggested the propriety of establishing a library for the use of the pupils of the school. The alacrity with which you entered into the views therein expressed, and the zeal with which they were carried into effect, clearly demonstrate that the necessity was felt. The library consists of several hundred volumes, and the children appear to be sensibly impressed with the advantages it affords, by regularly availing themselves of its volumes and conning their little pages.
“Some numbers from the press of the Jewish Publication Society have been received. This portion of the library, illustrating our ancient history, and enforcing, with all the eloquence of deep conviction, a strict adherence to the tenets of our holy faith, are calculated to make a deep and lasting impression upon the minds and hearts of their youthful readers.
“In conclusion, I must remark, that in the distribution of the prizes I have not departed from the principle which I hope will ever regulate my conduct to my little pupils—favouritism to none, justice to each and all. May the choicest blessings be showered upon their heads, and may our Father in heaven imbue their minds with wisdom and their hearts with the desire and determination to pursue those religious duties, ‘the ways of which are pleasantness, sad all the paths are peace.’”
After the president had concluded, the first class was examined in the creed by the Rev. Mr. Rosenfeld; and, as each creed was recited in Hebrew and English, the pupil illustrated it by reference to various passages from the law and the prophets showing the basis of the same. The examination of six other classes came next in order,—Leeser’s and Cahen’s Catechism—Pexiotto’s and Pyke’s Scriptural Questions—Johlson’s Catechism—Questions from the Book of Genesis—Geographical Lessons relative to the Holy Land, and other text-books adapted to their age and capacity, were revised in the course of the examination; and the perfect familiarity which they displayed with these works convinced us that they had been carefully and assiduously studied. It was obviously not a mere exercise of the memory, as is too frequently the case with elementary students, but the spirit seemed to have been communicated with the letter to their minds. In the intervals which elapsed between the examination of the different classes, a member or two from each class were introduced to the audience, and delighted them with an appropriate recitation. We have not language adequate to the expression of the emotions which their juvenile performances excited in our minds, and we take much pleasure in giving their names, the limits of our hasty sketch not permitting us to do more.
Boy and the Lark; Master Alfred Moses.
Though it might be deemed invidious to make any distinction among performances equal in their general merit, we cannot forbear a passing and fervent tribute of admiration to that of Miss Hannah Hyams. Those who were present will appreciate the spirit in which we refer to this young and gifted child. The poem selected for her was “Hagar in the Wilderness,”—one of those chaste and beautiful offerings with which the graceful and poetic pen of Miss Aguilar frequently adorns the sanctuary of the muse. The expressive flexibility of feature—the changeful and richly modulated tones of voice,—the graceful change of gesture, and above all the mysteries which dwelt within “the magic circle of the eye,” were pre-eminently hers. She appeared for the time the very embodiment of her subject; we insensibly forgot the child in the scenes which the child depicted,—and it was only at times, when the illusion gave way to the consciousness of reality, that we awoke from the spell to dwell in wonderment on the frail form of the enchantress. Truly genius is a gift divine, and its sway is the sway of the skies! when the labour of years is fulfilled in the promises of childhood, and the gay blossoms of spring are mingled with the golden harvests of autumn. We have ever been—and who is not?—an ardent admirer of Eloquence in all her forms; but we had hitherto approached her only through her hoary oracles and venerable piles. Who shall limit the progress or confine the capacities of genius, when the linnet plumes its wings for the flight of the hawk, and the lips of maidenhood warble the minstrelsy of sages?
These interesting exercises were succeeded by the distribution of the prizes—some of them very costly; after which an address, prepared by appointment for the occasion, was delivered by Mr. N. Levin. The society has requested a copy for publication, which is now in progress of preparation for that purpose. Of this production our limits will allow us to say but a few words. Seizing at once on the most prominent features of the association, whose members he addressed, the orator dwelt with the earnestness of chastened enthusiasm on the beautiful aim and high moral tendencies of their labours. In the principle which lies at the foundation of the society, he beheld a high and important agent of that great moral law which the sublime consistency of Deity has stamped alike upon matter and upon mind. In that mysterious bond which combines and harmonizes universal nature, he gave the counterpart of our moral and intellectual system, with Love for its centre and its sun. “It is this universal principle,” he exclaimed, “which governs heaven and earth, reaching far and wide as the omnipresence of God, and pervading and controlling the works of his hand. It is the secret bond of fellowship with all intelligent creatures, the master principle of society, a spontaneous emotion of the soul, obedient to no motives save those which claim kindred with its own character. Fear cannot inspire, power cannot command it, wealth cannot purchase it, authority cannot suppress it. A slave in all its malignant passions, the soul is free in every exercise of affection, in every act of piety and benevolence. It has tamed the ferocity of brutes, subdued the wildness of nature, chastised the follies, purified the passions, and ennobled the character of man.” From this point, he travelled through all the relations and dependencies of his subject, and in showing the powerful workings of parental love, bid us—“Ask the fond mother what subject is dearest to the human heart? and she will answer with a sigh, if not with a tear, the happiness of my children. Question the anxious father what most deeply agitates his bosom, occupying his thoughts by day, and disturbing his dreams by night, and he will answer, the destiny of his sons. Fortune has its charms, wealth its joys, ambition can boast its pleasures, though beset by care; but all these are frivolous and insignificant, compared to the big and giant emotions that swell the bosom of man and woman, tingling the blood with the thrill of rapture, or piercing the heart with the pangs of anguish, as their offspring pursue virtue and enjoy happiness, or fill into vice, misery, and degradation. And why is this? Because vice degrades our nature. It preys on every thing around us, without producing one solitary pleasure to its votary; it preys on the peace and honor of fathers and mothers; it preys on society; it preys on the fame and reputation of families; it preys on industry, talent, wealth, and estate; it preys on the conscience, on health, on comfort, on all things. It produces disease, poverty, want, misery, bloodshed, and often self-destruction. And what does it give in return? Nothing, nothing of good, every thing of evil. Is there then no method that we can adopt to arrest this monstrous evil? Yes! thank God that we can turn from the polluted waters of infamy and vice, and direct the infant mind to the pure fountains and healthy streams that flow from this school. This work is emphatically a labour of love. Here the tender mind is imbued with religious instruction, the purifier of the soul. It is here made acquainted with the doctrines of our immortality and accountability to God, and directed to fountains of spiritual pleasure, that cleanse the heart, and place it beyond the reach or want of sensual indulgence, ridding it of gross desires, and so expanding the soul, as to enable her to dwell upon God as the source of all good. It is here taught the various duties that shall govern its future actions in life, to God, the world, and itself, and instructed that only the pure in heart shall see God,—with other religious education, by the pure rays of which the child may behold himself reflected in the mirror of perfection, where every duty stands revealed in distinct brilliancy, where every precept and commandment shine in attractive splendour.”
We regret that want of time prevents us from giving any farther extracts, and hasten to close our desultory reflections, by giving a list of the officers of the institution for the ensuing year:—President, Miss Henrietta Hart; Vice-President, Mrs. I. M. Hirsch; Secretary and Treasurer, Miss Priscilla Valentine; Trustees, Mrs. I. Woolf, Mrs. M. Loovis, Mrs. M. Levy, Mrs. Mary Levin. Teachers, Miss Priscilla Tobias, Miss Rachel Alexander, Miss Sarah Ann Hendricks, Miss Emma Woolf, Miss Rebecca Alexander, Miss E. Cohen, Miss Hannah Joseph.