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Charitable Institutions


If we look abroad over the congregations of Israelites in England and America, as also in the West India Islands, we shall have but little cause to accuse them of a want of charitable intentions. But we very much question whether the sums spent annually are applied in such a manner as to produce the greatest amount of good which they could do by more judicious management. It is true that seldom does any one apply for aid without obtaining the necessary relief for his present wants, and committees  of various kinds charge themselves with providing the things requisite for housekeeping and the like; but still we honestly think that not much real good is thereby dispensed. There is one great evil attending on alms-taking, which is, that once commenced, people lose the idea of independence, and feel but little shame from exposing their wants, and soon become clamorous in demanding what at first was regarded as a great favour. And the more even necessary charities are multiplied, the greater will become this unnatural state, unnatural, not because it is not a beautiful thing to aid those who are in distress, but because it deprives many of the incentive to industry and self-dependence, traits so admirable in the poor and rich, and which prompts to all the deeds which are noble and beneficial in human life. Show us the contented beggar who is willing to be fed by charity, housed by charity, clothed by charity, and warmed by charity, and we will point out at once a worthless encumbrance on the earth, of whom to be rid at all expense would be a blessing to society.

<<422>>The Bible teaches, “By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread;” these words were, it is true, spoken as a curse on Adam for his disobedience to the divine commands; but they also point out to us the destiny of man on earth, to wit, that he is to labour with his own hands, and toil and busy himself into fatigue and lassitude so that he may be enabled to eat the dry bit of bread, if no more can be got, which his constant exertion may be permitted to procure. The greater, therefore, the deprivation which the poor submit to, short of injuring their bodily and mental health, the more honourable must they become in the eves of those who think correctly, and the more will they entitle themselves to the aid and sympathy of their better-endowed neighbours. But by multiplying societies whose sole object is to give relief in various ways, you contribute largely to foster the spirit of dependence, of alms-seeking and indolence, and destroy in some persons entirely all motive for exertion, seeing that all receive alike, those who are unable to work from youth, age, or sickness, and those whose limbs are strong in the full enjoyment of robust age and health.

We trust that no one of our many intelligent readers will for a moment accuse us that we are speaking against the blessed charity which so characterizes the house of Israel, and which drops, (like the dew of heaven in a clear summer’s night, over the extended landscape, to refresh the fields exhausted by the heats of day,) into the lap of the needy, to bid them cheer in their hours of suffering, when want oppresses the heart and brings despair to the soul. God forbid! that one of our people should through anything we have said, or may say hereafter, give the smallest item the less; on the contrary, we contend that not enough is contributed in the right direction, and that only the manner of giving is defective and ought to be thoroughly revised and modified. So then we assume for granted, and save the argument if need be for another time, that the mere giving of money, of provisions, fuel, and clothing, is not encouraging industry and elevating the character of the indigent; but teaches them in a direct manner to ask for whatever any respective association may be raised to contribute. For instance, establish a society for the distribution of fuel during the winter months, say from, December to March, and limit the amount, for instance, <<423>>to one and a half cords of wood, or an equivalent in coal; and though in the preceding winter the poor got along well enough without obtaining their fuel from the public purse, you will at once find that either there was great cruelty in letting them suffer in previous seasons, or that the establishment of your association has raised a demand for the new supply, just in the same manner as the manufacture and exhibition of any new article of luxury cause it to become introduced first as a superfluity, and not long afterwards as a necessary element in housekeeping. And thus let it be known, that the limit of distribution consists of three half cords of wood, &c., and many poor will not be satisfied with being once relieved, but they will claim as their vested right the whole of the quantity which the managers are permitted to give them during the season. Not alone this, they will often apply before the time of distribution arrives, and complain when not immediately relieved, as though a personal wrong was done to them in not attending to their wants at the moment. This does not prove, however, that societies of this kind should not exist, but that whilst granting the bounty they should impress upon the minds of recipients that it is the intention to aid those whose labour will not furnish an adequate supply, but not to encourage any one to depend, for what he could procure for himself, upon public contributions. There are, it is true, those who world sooner freeze with their families, than make their wants known to such a charity as we speak of; but the number of those who would take unblushingly, without sufficient necessity, is equally great, to say the least. We have taken a fuel distributing society as an example rnerely, and anyone of ordinary common sense can extend the application to other institutions of whatever name and character.

We think then that we have proved that we do often no actual charity by giving, whilst at the same time we afford occasion to hard-hearted misers to send their poor connexions to the public treasury for a relief which it ought to be their pleasure no less than their duty to give out of their own pockets. “Apply to the congregation; go to such a Hebra,” is often easier said by many, than “Here is what will make you comfortable;” and thus we often assume a duty obligatory on others, whilst these very ones are giving but little, or quite in disproportion with their means to the <<424>>funds of congregations and societies. We know well enough that it will be urged in reply to this, that whether there were public funds or not, the miser would not aid his poor kinsfolk, and that therefore this consideration ought to have no weight in the eyes of the managers. But we do not know that this view is altogether correct. At all events, the trial should be made when occasion presents itself; and those who have rich relations, ought in the first instance be induced to apply to them before they claim relief from funds which are evidently destined for the unprotected poor. It would indeed be an outrage to deny aid to the unfortunate who have rich and powerful connexions, if left by them to suffer the pangs of want and penury; but it is on the other hand an equal outrage, that the wealthy should have it in their option to leave those who have the strongest claims on them, dependent on the cold charity of strangers, or compel them to lay their distress open to a board of managers, who in most instances will have to treat alike the respectable poor who had never to apply before, and the sturdy beggar who stretches out his hand wherever there is the least chance of obtaining a trifle for which he has not laboured.

Our readers will then understand us that we object on two grounds to mere giving, first, because it teaches people practically not to depend on themselves under the blessing of Heaven; and secondly, because it places all the poor on the same level, whilst many are as much entitled to gentlemanly treatment as the wealthiest merchant or the most exalted in office. In the latter connexion we would impress on the mind of our readers the galling effect which public injudicious charity often engenders. Imagine a female of fine education and of a respectable family, who “in her early days in her father’s house,” was the almoner to many a suffering sister, whose steps were heard ascending the creaking staircase with joy by the aged sufferers, to whom she was wont to carry relief quietly and unobtrusively, unseen by the eyes of men, satisfied of being engaged in the conscientious discharge of a sacred duty;—imagine such a one, we say, in a distant country, away from the scenes of her childhood, a stranger in the midst of strangers, herself compelled to make a state of destitution known to the directors of any charity, whilst at the same time another of coarse habits and vulgar ideas appeals for relief likewise; and will you assure us that the first will meet <<425>>with that kind consideration which her former position fairly entitles her to? will oil be poured in her wounds? will a kindly sister’s voice bid her to dry up her tears? will those who have no greater claim to distinction than a present possession of wealth, regard her as an equal more than they do the common beggar whom she finds asking alms at the same time? Who can measure the anguish of such a heart, when she knows and feels that the almoners have no thought of her wounded spirit; that they merely give her a pittance from what does not belong to them, and which still they regard as entitling them to the respect and gratitude of their pensioners? O, fearful are the sufferings of the distressed, yes, more through what they endure from their fellow-mortals than the immediate inflictions of Providence. Say even that many are reduced through their own improvidence and even misconduct; there ought, for all that, a great degree of delicacy be exercised in aiding them from a public fund; who knows but that a kind word spoken in season may awaken even an erring brother and sister to better thoughts, and re-open a career of goodness and piety which an unkind expression may keep closed for ever.

But this is not the precise point which we wish to discuss at present; our aim being to direct the attention of our friends to the necessity of employing their superabundant means of doing a more permanent good than the mere bestowal of alms. They ought to feel it their duty to raise the character of the recipients of their charity, so that the relief afforded may go farther than the mere temporary alleviation of a pressing want. We know not how others may feel on the subject; but we for one do not think that we have done more than getting rid of an importunate person, or shoved off from our mind an unwelcome sensation by bestowing any gift upon a person who asks us for aid, since we would feel more uneasiness by refusing than giving; and hence we cannot imagine that the amount bestowed has been any particular sacrifice, or that it deserves barely the thanks of the petitioner.At the same time it is evident that any alms given must leave much more to be done; since, unless under extremely rare circumstances, the request, or demand as we may call it, for assistances has to be constantly renewed, there being little or nothing left to the poor after supplying their craving for food by the <<426>>means their prayers can collect from the charitably inclined. But is there one among those who have any regard for religion, who is not convinced that in this manner the demands of Scripture are not satisfied? Is this pitiful doling out of petty sums the whole of the duty incumbent on us “to sustain our brother that he may live near us?” Evidently not. And yet the poor are our brothers; they are of the same flesh and spirit as the best of us; and even many who now are flourishing have felt in their younger days all the effects of straitened circumstances and a dependent position. Have these not some slight conception of the obligation of raising the character of the needy? of teaching them how to value an independent character, and to live by the fruits of their own industry? There can be no question of this; only the point at issue between them and their good resolves is: “How can we carry such a plan into operation?” The means are twofold: the first, by raising the character of the recipients of charity through a proper discrimination, by aiding those who are the most deserving more abundantly than those whose only claim to relief is their poverty; so that the surplus relief granted there may give them a chance to lay up by degrees a trifle by which. they may be enabled to commence a little work for themselves,  and thus slowly but surely escape the necessity of a constant application for relief.—And the second, by the establishing, as has been done in several parts of Europe, of Loan Offices, from which the respectable poor may obtain small loans, with or without interest as the case may be, either to continue in a successful employment or to commence a pursuit of some branch of industry for which a small capital is needed as a start. We need not mention that a proper discrimination ought to be made in these distributions of public funds; as otherwise no good could be effected, and the funds of such societies would soon be dissipated, and causing at the same time a spirit of recklessness and dishonesty in those whom it was intended to benefit. We cannot in this one article go into minute details of the management of such institutions as we should like to see in every city and neighbourhood where Israelites dwell; our only intention being merely at the present instance to throw out hints to which we would respectfully invite the attention of our readers and correspondents, and on which we may probably speak more at length hereafter. But for the <<427>>moment we recommend the general idea only to the public, satisfied that much can be done with proper management and a general conert of action.

There need not be any diminution, however, in granting temporary relief whilst taking active measures to diminish beggary and a tendency to indolence, which hates to labour because there is a public purse from which all pressing wants will be relieved on demand. There are always the aged, the infirm, and the unfortunate, who cannot obtain a livelihood: let these be aided as often as they ask; whilst at the same time you do not hold it up to them as a right to be constantly expecting aid from whatever charity may be established.—At the same time it should be looked into that the children of the poor who thus receive your bounty shall not be brought up in ignorance, slothfulness, and the want of a religious education. We say, and mean it as a sacred truth, that it is a disgrace to Israelites to supply families with whatever they need, without exacting from the parents a useful training for their children. There are poor houses and hospitals in this land and Europe; and what entitles the Jews to better treatment than they could receive in the abodes of pauperism? Nothing but the consideration which one Israelite feels for the other on the grounds that he sees in him one of the same glorious descent, and endowed as his birthright with the same noble faith. It is not therefore the mere being a Jew which appeals to our heart, it is the profession of the religion which constitutes the claim. Hence it is self-evident the managers of our charities do an absolute wrong, if they fail to impress on the mind of the parents whom they relieve, that they are bound to train their children in the path of religion; nay, they should couple with the relief the condition that the recipients should send their children, at least on the Sabbaths and other days of assembly, clean and tidily dressed to the houses where our God is worshipped, and to take due care that they attend school in order that they may obtain religious instruction. Probably we shall be told that we would establish a species of inquisition, a sort of religious test by which standard alone charity is to be given. We are free to confess that this is in part our intention, and do not hesitate to avow it. We repeat what we just now intimated, it is only on religious grounds that we establish separate charities among ourselves; <<428>>and though we may fail to reclaim the adults to a religious course of life, we have the fullest right to insist upon their offspring being religiously educated, or to refuse giving the sinful parents any portion of the funds which were raised for the relief of the deserving poor; since under the worst circumstances the usual remedy of the poor-house is open to them as well as to the indigent of other persuasions. Let no one however imagine that we would not assist the persons in question from our private purse; this is something else; any one has the undoubted right to give to any and every one, even the most undeserving; with his own money he can do as seems best to him, and distress, no matter how brought about, has a claim to private charity; but we only address our remarks to managers of public trusts, and these are bound, according to our views, to make their offices subservient to the cause of religion, and the improvement of the condition of the indigent in every sense of the word. They can speak and remonstrate before giving, which one who merely gives out of his own pocket cannot do; and as they are generally selected from the influential members of society, and because they are popular in the community, they have the prestige in giving their advice which others less favourably circumstanced cannot have.

Before we close, we deem it our duty to call the attention of all our readers to the suggestion contained in the twenty-eighth annual report of the managers of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society of Philadelphia, which will be found under the proper head in the present number. It emanates from the pen of the honoured secretary of that valuable institution,—one which has carried comfort and relief to many a suffering family and forlorn stranger, during the  long period over which its operations have extended. We do not wish to praise the author of the report; but those who know her, (and there are but few in this. country who do not,) will not require our admonition to listen to whatever her well-stored mind inay suggest, with the deference which we all gladly yield to ripened female excellence and experience. It will easily be perceived that we allude to that part of the report which recommends the establishment of a home for destitute children of this city; only that we would add our earnest entreaty to all who feel an interest in the progress of society, to include in the advice all congregations of Israelites in every land, <<429>>but especially in this country. We are well aware that many difficulties are in the way of a speedy accomplishment of this desirable object—that one of the greatest obstacles would be found in the unwillingness of Jewish parents, however poor, to part with their children on any terms. Nevertheless, we really think that an institution of the kind indicated, once established, would not alone improve the children of the poor, but would also do away in a great degree with the necessity of affording relief to the adults, who, were their little ones provided for, could employ all their time in labour and industrious pursuits, by which they might be enabled to provide for themselves, independently of public alms. We all know that poverty is often the result of improvidence and crime; hence it becomes a matter of the gravest consideration to withdraw the children from the contaminating influence of such paternal example. The atmosphere of vice cannot produce a healthy, vigorous growth of industry and piety; and although the number of Israelites who are unfit to rear a family is not very large, there are, for all that, several who ought not to be entrusted with this sacred charge. They are the very ones who are often clamorous for relief; and they ought to be forced to forego the education of their children before we extend to there the aid they demand. But how can we do all this, and take care besides of orphans and the helpless aged, if we have not a refuge, an asylum where religion is taught, and its practical workings clearly exhibited to those on whom its influence is to be exerted? We therefore earnestly recommend the general idea of an educational establishment, under the direction of the various congregations of this country, where the destitute children of the labouring classes, and orphans, might be received and educated as the adopted of the people; and whence might issue, not the vitiated brood of lazy paupers, familiar with vice and steeped in falsehood, but servants of the Lord, pure in mind, vigorous in body, endowed with knowledge, given to industry, who can well in after life regard as equals, and nothing more, the children of the proud and wealthy, and who would thus have ample reason to bless the protectors of their childhood, the pious managers of the Foster Home.

We close for the present, but not after having exhausted the subject; and we trust that the opportunity thus given may not be <<430>>lost, of awakening reflection in the minds of the liberal, who, we hope, will not let the matter drop, and leave the plan merely a pious wish of a true Israelite. There is wealth enough among American Jews; their means seem to be increasing: let them not then forget their brethren the poor, and especially not the precious souls of the children of the destitute; by which means they will not alone do a charity, but also elevate their own character in the eyes of the world, and render themselves worthy in the sight of Heaven.