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Dinner of the New York and the German Hebrew Benevolent Societies.


On the evening of the 13th of November,* these two excellent insti­tutions celebrated their anniversaries by a joint dinner, at the Apollo Saloon, in Broadway. Being then in New York, we were politely furnished with an invitation, which we accepted the more eagerly because we had never been present at a public celebration of that kind, and felt, therefore, naturally a strong desire to see how such affairs are managed. The commencement of the festival was announced for six o’clock, P.M. At that hour we accordingly repaired to the Apollo, and were shown up into the reception room, where the various gentlemen, on arrival, were presented to the president of the evening, Judge Noah, the worthy presiding officer, for many years, of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, the <<512>>doings of which we have had frequently the pleasure of laying before our readers. Near him was Mr. Jacob Stettheimer, the president of the sister institution. On our first arrival, which apparently must have been too soon for the generality of the guests, though we thought precisely at six meant the hour we went, the number assembled was not large; still the stewards of Judge Noah’s society with their rosettes, and those of Mr. Stettheimer’s association with their badges of gold, red, and black, the colours of the German nation, which, by the by, does not yet exist,† were kept pretty busy in marshalling the new arrivals to the head of the room for the above-mentioned presentation.

* This article was to appear last month, but was accidentally omitted.

† Germany did not become a united country until 1871. The flag referred to here, which is the same as the flag of today’s Federal Republic of Germany, was adopted by the supporters of the failed 1848 Revolution as their national symbol.—[webmaster, Jewish-History.com]

One by one there came up the Rev. S. M. Isaacs, Rev. A. Leo, Rev. Mr. Samuelson, Dr. Shlesinger, Dr. Lilienthal, Dr. Merzbacher, Dr. Raphall, Rev. Mr. Noot, Rev. Mr. Danziger, and Rev. Mr. Sternberger, the newly elected minister of the Henry Street Synagogue; besides these Jewish, there were two Christian ministers, the Rev. Mr. Burchard, and Rev. Mr. Taylor. Among the laymen, (we would not use such a word, had the English language another to express our meaning; there is no such distinction among the Jews, between ministers and their flocks, as there is among Christians, and we trust it never may be,) well then, among the people present, there were men from all the New York congregations, and a great number of Christians, as also persons from various distant places; and, among others, we met Mr. Moses Ehrlich, the president of the Boston German congregation.

At about half-past seven the reception-room was amply crowded, when the guests were called out by name to repair to the dining saloon. We found it decorated with the armorial bearings of the various states of the Union, painted on shields, and standards bearing the arms of several nations, which our unacquaintance with heraldry prevents us from describing. In the gallery there was stationed a band of music, which discoursed rather too loudly, though well, the compositions of various eminent writers. On both the east and west ends of the hall was erected a raised platform, on which were seated the presiding officers of the societies, the ministers, and several other gentlemen, among whom we noticed the president of the Elm Street Synagogue, and a former trustee of the Portuguese congregation. In the centre of the hall, between the two platforms, were ranged four tables the whole length of the room, having merely space enough to pass around the heads and sides. On the eastern platform, Judge Noah occupied the centre seat, as the president of the dinner, supported by Mr. Israel D. Walter, the vice-president of the German society. On the right of these gentlemen was seated the Rev. Mr. Leo, and, on their left, Rev. Mr. Isaacs. On the other plat<<513>>form, Mr. Stettheimer presided, supported, by Mr. H. Aaronson, the vice-president of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. On the left of these, sat Rev. Dr. Lilienthal, Mr. Sternberger, Drs. Merzbacher and Shlesinger, on the right, Dr. Raphall, the Editor of the Occident, and the two Christian clergymen, named already.

The stewards, having seated all the guests, who must have amounted to about three hundred and twenty-five, the president announced that the Rev. Mr. Leo would ask the blessing, (המוציא) which having been done, ample justice was executed on the viands provided, in the shape of a cold-meat dinner, and copious draughts of wine. Great credit is due to the managers for the excellence of their arrangements, and the care they took that every one should be properly attended to. If anything, they were too painstaking; since, when people meet for the object of dispensing charity, the mere eating and drinking ought not to be even a secondary consideration with them. But as it was, the opening of the evening’s proceedings was truly creditable, and the tables looked as having been arranged with an eye to appearance as well as comfort.

When the eating had proceeded to a sufficient length, the president announced that grace would be said by the Rev. Mr. Sternberger; and, we must say, that his elegant voice and clear enunciation (it was the first time we either saw or heard him), made a good impression upon us, and, we have no doubt, on all present. When the reverend gentleman had finished, Judge Noah made a short statement of the expenditures and receipts of his society for the past year, which, we learned, were each about three thousand dollars, and we subsequently heard that the German brotherhood received and spent about the same sum.

The toasts were next announced, Judge Noah giving them in English, and Mr. Stettheimer repeating them in German, at the other table. We regretted to observe, that, in the progress of the evening, the good order observed at the opening greatly relaxed, which could hardly have been prevented among such a crowd of persons, add to which, that the activity of the stewards, and the running about of the waiters, did not contribute to deepen the silence. Hence it was that we could not catch clearly the toasts as they were read from the chair, and, not having been furnished with a copy, we cannot insert them in our report. When the usual toast on Charity was given, “as blessing him who gives no less than him who receives,” Mr. Isaacs, by appointment, addressed the meeting in English, and was followed by Dr. Lilienthal, in German.

The former gentleman, with his usual fervour; spoke of the necessity of elevating the poor from their lowly condition, of supplying them with the means of improving their condition; and he urged his hearers to the <<514>>work, by the well-known fact, that a timely assistance may enable the humble often to rise to distinction, and that the mighty men of the earth, and the great in all callings, have sprung from humble parentage, often raised to a high position by the helping hand of charity. He feelingly alluded to a case happening in his own family, where a timely succour enabled a father to educate a large family, to be themselves the dispensers of good to others, and to stand forth as the teachers of Israel in many and distant lands, carrying the tidings of peace abroad, in England, America, and even the distant Australia, thus practically proving that the bread will be found when cast on the waters in the process of many days.

This is but a brief and unsatisfactory sketch of the reverend gentleman’s remarks, which were received with reiterated and loud applause. When he had sat down, Dr. Lilienthal spoke from the other platform, and feelingly alluded to the great demands and constantly increasing applications made upon the charity funds of all the societies in the commercial capital of the United States. He stated, in eloquent terms, how the late commotions in Europe [the 1848 German Revolution] will banish hither many a guiltless man, deprived of his all for the share he may have taken in the struggle for liberty, which was lately so universally witnessed on the other side of the ocean.

“The Jews,” said Dr. Lilienthal, “felt their hearts beat high at the call of liberty, and in the field, in council, and with the pen, they started up as its defenders. They, who had for ages been oppressed, now hoped to see their chains broken for ever; their native lands needed their service, and they, true to their descent, were ready to give it. But the struggle ended in favour of power; and the friends of freedom must, therefore, be wanderers. And shall they,” he asked, “not be received with a hearty welcome, with ready assistance, if they are thrown, bereft of all, upon these shores?” He adduced several feeling instances to prove the usefulness of the two charities for which he was pleading; how they helped strangers in distress, how they provided physician and medicine for the sick, and how they were ministering to the comfort of the needy.

And then he reverted again to the political state of Europe, which will urge many hither, where they need not fear a tyrant’s frown, and spoke of one whose arrival we may expect, the General Preczel, (pronounced Pretzel,) whose Jewish name he stated to be Rabbi Mosheh Ben Peretz; “he was a brave associate,” spoke Dr. Lilienthal, “of Kossuth, executing in the field what the other proposed in council; he remained faithful to the standard of his unfortunate country, while resistance was practicable; and when all was lost, he followed his heroic chief into exile, upon the Turkish territory; and, when the bigotry of <<515>>the Turk, seconded as it was by that of Austria and Russia, urged the fugitives at Widdin to embrace the Islam as the price of the protection afforded them, Preczel nobly seconded his leader in refusing the disgraceful boon. And then, added Dr. Lilienthal, “Now, perhaps, he soon may ask the shelter which is denied to none in America, with the great Kossuth; and will you Israelites not be ready, with ample means, to aid him in his exile?”

And after a few more words of earnest appeal Dr. Lilienthal closed one of the best orations we ever listened to. It was the first time we ever heard him address an audience in his native tongue, the elegant and flexible language of Germany; and we can freely say, that he fully confirmed to our mind the reputation which induced the community at Riga, in Russia, to send for him as their preacher, and also justified Uwarow, the minister of education of Nicholas, to consult with him on Jewish affairs.

But we must not speak of persons, as we were to write only about the dinner. So let us then proceed. When Dr. Lilienthal had finished, one of the stewards, Mr. Mawison, read off the donations which had been offered during the evening, and after proceeding with this for some time the toasts were resumed, when, a sentiment on education having been offered, Dr. Raphall addressed the company, according to previous arrangement. He dwelt on the benefits derived from the training of the youthful mind, and then adverted to the superior happiness enjoyed by the inhabitants of the United States, and referred it to the fact of the universal diffusion of knowledge among all classes of the people, and their superior enlightenment above the masses of Europeans, instancing the large number of persons, even in France and England, who are unable to sign even their name. He at last came upon Hebrew education as such, and enforced the necessity of making a strong effort to render our ancient language familiar to all Jewish children, inasmuch as the Hebrew Bible only, and not any authorized translation of it, no matter how well executed, can become the standard of faith to Israelites. He adverted to the fact that he himself was a translator of Scripture (having at one time, associated with Rev. David De Sola, undertaken to issue a revised translation of the Scriptures, of which the book of Genesis is before the public); “but,” said he, “there is a sublimity or force in the glowing language of Israel which no cold European tongue can equal.” He also adverted to the fact, that Hebrew literature has gradually become the legacy of all civilized men, who all speak familiarly of the events told in our story; hence, then, the greater necessity that we, who are the original possessors of the Bible, should preserve it in its purity, and enable our successors to understand it in its original <<516>>words, and hence, then, he hoped that no effort would be deemed too great which would cause the foundation of a seminary of learning, on Jewish principles, by those to whom he appealed to bestow the blessing of education. 

This is but a meagre extract of what the truly eloquent preacher advanced. His manner is so solemn and impressive, his words, though extemporaneous, drop so slowly and easily from his mouth, without confusion of ideas, or incorrectness of grammatical structure, that he must be heard to be truly appreciated, and we hope that many of our readers will have the opportunity of doing this in the course of the winter. We had no opportunity of taking notes; hence we give only what the addresses left impressed on our memory; and, we need not say, how little one can recall, after the lapse of a week, of what has been heard but once, and that not under the most favourable circumstances. Suffice that all the three speakers were listened to with marked attention, and were frequently interrupted by tumultuous applause.

When Dr. R. finished, it was past ten o’clock; and then two gentlemen resumed reading off the donations. At one time Judge N. was reading a letter from Daniel Webster, in reply to an invitation; but we could only catch a phrase here and there, consequently we cannot report it. So, also, there was a letter from Senator Seward, which we think had no chance of being heard. We remained about a quarter to eleven, when we left, as the interest in the proceedings of the night had ceased with the speech of Dr. R.

There was an expectation entertained that some other gentleman would speak, but it became entirely impossible; and this was chiefly owing to the proclaiming aloud of the donations, which consumed, we think, more than an hour; and as it was of little importance to the guests, it was not to be expected that strict order could be preserved. It strikes us that some mode might be devised to make the offerings public and known, which they are not by the reading system. We think that, were a regular list of donations printed in one or the other Jewish papers; or some other public vehicle, and a copy furnished to each donor, it would answer a great  deal better, besides leaving more time for addresses on various subjects, and keeping up more the decorum of the meeting. However, as far as the object of the dinner was concerned, the offerings amply responded to the expectations of the managers, as we hear they amounted in the evening to $3,800, and enough more donations are expected to swell the whole to $4,000, thus enabling the societies to dispense many benefits during the year.

The officers, in addition to those already named; were:—Treasurers, John Levy and Joseph Ochs; Directors, G. Bernstein, Jacob Mack, <<517>>M. A. King, A. H. Lissack, Geo. S. Mawson, E. Hart, Abm. Kastor, H. M. Ritterbaud, J. Dittenhoeffer, E. A. Stern, Morris Wilson, Dr. Lehwess, H. Bernheimer, Hy. Jones, L. Laderer, and M. Cooper; Henry Goldsmith and Gustave Bernhard, Secretaries. And though we have frankly found fault with some parts of the doings of that evening, we cannot in justice otherwise say that the preparations for the festival were on the most ample and liberal scale; there was enough for everybody, and the stewards exerted themselves to the utmost to give satisfaction, so that none could be more zealous than they were during a long evening, and they must have laboured hard for days before to accomplish all that was done; and the poor will have ample cause to thank their kind benefactors for the means they have heaped up to relieve the calls of the distressed. May they all be richly rewarded.