|Vol. VII, No. 3
Sivan 5609, June 1849
Hebrew Education Society
THE Hebrew Education Society of Philadelphia held its first annual meeting on Sunday, the 8th of Iyar, the 20th of May, being the Sunday preceding the Feast of Pentecost. From the difficulty of the undertaking to establish schools, in the face of the excellent free schools existing in this city and districts—schools in which wealthy families prefer to educate their children, to sending them to private establish <<170>>ments, it was not to be expected that our society should be able to go into successful operation during the first year of its existence. All that could be done was to prepare the way, to accumulate funds, and to organize prospectively a system of education, and to place the society on a permanent footing by the obtainment of a legislative charter. All this has been accomplished, and though the funds are yet small, they may secure an important end if once a school is commenced. At the meeting held at the above day the charter was unanimously adopted, so also were the constitution and by-laws re-enacted by a similar vote, this having become necessary from the wording of the act of assembly incorporating the society. The officers elected for the current year are: Solomon Solis, President; Abraham S. Wolf, Vice-President; Abraham Hart, Treasurer; A. I. H. Bernal, Secretary; David Van Beil, Assistant Secretary; and Isidore Binswanger, Marcus Cauffman, Myer D. Cohen, Zadok A. Davis, Moses A. Dropsie, Simon Elfelt, Jacob Langsdorff, Isaac Leeser, Moses Nathans, Hyman Polock, Joseph Schonemen, and Julius Stern, Managers. The president and treasurer presented an annual report of the respective duties devolving on them, and we give them both to the public, by the special direction of the society. The president’s report puts in a strong light the duties incumbent on Israelites to foster education among us, and we hope that its publication may draw to the society the firm support of all who are interested in the religious progress of our youth. The treasurer’s report exhibits that we have not been neglectful of the monetary part of our mission, and the only regret is that our success has not been a hundred-fold greater than it has been.—Ed. Oc.
The First Annual Report Of The President Of The Hebrew Education Society.
Gentlemen:—In presenting the first annual report to the society, it would be a pleasure truly gratifying, if I could state that the school for whose establishment this society was organized, was already under successful operation.
Gratifying, however, as this result would have been to the officers of the society, it had to bow to considerations of weightier importance. For, had the commencement taken place ere sufficient means had been collected for its permanent establishment, and through the operation of some untoward event, that commencement had been retarded or clogged in its course, much more damage would have been done to that cause, which we all deem so important,—that of permanently establishing a <<171>>school where religion and knowledge should equally contribute to the full development of the mental faculties of the youth of our nation: than by delaying the time of that beginning, until the foundation should be laid so sure that success could not fail.
The obtaining of a charter was thought to be one step towards the furtherance of this object, (and that we have succeeded in obtaining one so liberal in its provisions, is a matter of sincere congratulation: and to Mr. Matthias of the Senate, and Mr. G. T. Thorn, of the House of Representatives of this state, our thanks are justly due for their praiseworthy efforts in this behalf,) as it was supposed, that as this would place the stamp of permanency on our institution, the lukewarm and the doubtful would now lend their aid.
This act of incorporation will now be submitted for your approval, and in accordance with section 4th of the same, it will be necessary to readopt our constitution.
The committee appointed to canvass the various districts of the city, in order to ascertain the number of pupils that would be sent to our school when established, have not as yet made sufficient progress to enable them to give any opinion as to the result of this effort.
The committee appointed to communicate with the various boards of the different congregations of this city, and inquire what amount they would annually contribute towards the support of the school, will report to you.
“When it is considered that the congregation Mikveh Israel now annually appropriate the sum of $200 for educational purposes, it can hardly be doubted, but that they would transfer the said appropriation to our use, or that the other congregations together, would contribute annually, less than $300 for so sacred a cause.
The funds now on hand, belonging to the society, including the amount arising from the proceeds of the two School Fund Balls, held prior to the organization of this society, and the sums collected since, amount to about $1800, (as you will see by the Treasurer’s report,) besides dues still outstanding of several hundred dollars more, the interest of which, together with the subscription of members, will give us an annual income of $300. From past experience, we might count upon raising from the net proceeds of a ball, held exclusively for the benefit of our institution, a sum not less than $500; and should the congregations bestow upon us the moderate annual contributions above stated, it would raise a yearly income from these sources alone of $1300. This sum in itself would be insufficient for our purpose; but when we compute the amount paid yearly by the various families of our city, for the instruct<<172>>tion of their children in Hebrew alone, we shall not make an overestimate, if we place this sum at from $1000 to $1200. And even should these families, at first, not wish to take their children away from the English schools they now frequent, such arrangements might be made, so as to secure the funds for our use, by affording them a much better tuition than they now have. Thus might be raised, without a single additional member, or a contribution from any other source, a sum quite adequate to the wants of our school in its first starting. But when we call to mind the number of Jewish families living in this city, is it too much to say, “that with proper exertions of the friends of the cause,” the number of members might be trebled, and that the fund arising from the tuition of the pupils would amount to a sum far from insignificant?
The friends of the cause!—we know who those friends should be!— Every man, no matter what are his circumstances or position; every woman, no matter whether she graces the higher or lower walks of life; every Israelite who testifies in his heart to the Unity of the God of Abraham; these, these should he its friends. Friends in words; friends in actions! Not with that cold passive friendship—“The thing is very good if you can only carry it out—you have my best wishes for its success;” but that strong untiring support, that lends shoulder to shoulder, until sufficient strength is accumulated to triumph over those obstacles which so often over-ride new undertakings. I said new undertakings; but new only here. When, after deeds of valour and heroism of which the world shows no parallel, our forefathers were driven from that beautiful country in which their ancestors had dwelt for so many centuries, the only wealth which they carried with them into their captivity was their knowledge, and to perpetuate this glorious heritage for their descendants, they established those schools of learning from which emanated those tomes of wisdom, which shine still ‘midst the eventful history of our race, like the polar star to the storm-tossed mariner, telling, in a “still small voice,” heard even through the roar of the elements, that hope will have a brighter dawn.
And what did this knowledge achieve for us then? It gave us power, though outcasts and wanderers, to become nobles and magnates in the land; the counsellors of kings, and the equals of princes. And when ignorance hung like a pall over the benighted minds of nations, the descendants of Israel were renowned for possessing (to use the words of an eloquent modern-writer,) “the most profound and searching wisdom, the most vivid and beautiful imagination, the most elegant accomplishments;” and that all of mind and talent in the whole European <<173>>and Asiatic world, was possessed by them; and that gentiles of every denomination, and of every creed, came with humility and deference, to learn from the oppressed those glorious gifts of mind which to the oppressors were denied.”
This is a picture of the mental characteristics of the Jews of the fourteenth and the first part of the fifteenth centuries. When Spain, somewhat later, instituted that terrible engine of bigotry, the Inquisition, thousands left that sunny shore which had been to Them a second Palestine, rather than lay down their faith or principles at its unhallowed shrine. But Spain paid dearly for her cruelty, and in their expatriation she received a blow to her prosperity and greatness, the effects of which still hang like a millstone round her neck. And it is for us, once more, to realize this exalted pre-eminence in this glorious land of free institutions, where there are none to make us afraid.
Here we may rejoice in our noble heritage, and fear nought for the morrow; for are we not free, and equal to any in the land. But the greater our opportunity, the more abundant our means, the greater is our responsibility. To-day is ours—to-morrow we may be called hence—and when we appear before the judgment seat of the Supreme King of kings, and the ministering angels ask of us:—Hast thou cultivated with care the bright and fruitful patrimony committed to thy charge? Whilst the morning first smiled on the fruits of thy garden, didst thou pluck out the weeds that might overpower their growth? Didst thou water it with the dews of righteousness, and didst thou free it of those noxious reptiles who might pierce the tender shoots, and inoculate them with a poison so deadly, as to render thy after endeavour vain and futile; so that the fruit they might bear should be sweet and wholesome, rather than. being beautiful to look upon, but cankered and bitter at the core?
Would the memory at such a time console us, that we had only done nothing to retard the success of an institution, which, if properly conducted and amply endowed, would supply a want long felt, and fill a chasm long existing; and which might enable the coming generation to establish a name and reputation, that as a body, the Jews of this country were Israelites in thought, in habit, and in education, as well as being able to command the good will and esteem of every other sect of society, by their social and moral virtues?
To accomplish this object then, the only thing we must not do, is to let petty jealousies or misunderstandings mar the harmony of our institution. One congregation is as much interested in the success of this measure as another. It is a mutual beneficial association, the good effects of which will be felt alike by each individual of our nation. ‘Tis true, that each individual may think that his plan is the best; but, <<174>>because the will of the majority rules, should we, as individuals, withhold our support, unless each and all of us have their own way? This would indeed be despotism; and we should be in a fair chance of having as many systems as members. But, if we truly have the cause of religion and morality at heart, we should give our whole support to the furtherance of an object that tends to its advancement, despite of our individual opinions, in the strong faith, that right will triumph at last. Should we alone be sluggards, when others around us are up and doing? There are flourishing schools, conducted by members of our faith, in Cincinnati, New York, and Albany: are our means less ample than theirs? are we less alive to the importance and necessity of the work? do we fear a failure? If so, let us look around us, and behold the various establishments devoted to the dissemination of other doctrines, and take example from their energy and their devotion to the cause they have espoused. For is not the love of our venerable faith, as deeply impressed upon our hearts, as theirs can be? and yet from their small beginnings, from their incomes of hundreds per annum, by their unity of purpose, they have swelled it to hundreds of thousands.*
As from a little acorn, planted in a genial soil, a mighty oak has sprung into existence, whose roots spread far and wide, and whose branches overshadow the land. Let us, gentlemen, then take heart from the brilliant success of institutions organized for the attainment of the same ends for which we are striving; and, although the seed of your planting, may be of slower growth than you desire, through God’s blessing, and your heartfelt exertions, it will yet spring up into vigorous life; and as it increases in magnitude with the changing years, may you yet see it spread forth as a luxuriant tree, bearing abundant fruit, and you shall reap for the seed you have sown, the reward most dear to the parental heart; honour and success for your children in this world, and happiness for them in the next.