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A Foster Home

“The poor shall never cease out of the land,” is a prediction still constantly fulfilled after, the lapse of many centuries, and this despite of the multiplied discoveries of art and science that according to human calculation should have given occupation and consequent sustenance to all; so that it would be an obstinate rejection of the prophecy to doubt that until the end of time, “the poor shall never cease out of the land.” Under these circumstances let us examine what is the duty of those to whom the prediction was given, and what was the purpose of it? It is found in connexion with the command “Open wide thy hand to thy needy brother.” But if it were only intended to apply to such as require immediate aid, the command would be sufficient without the prediction. This therefore appears to have another object, and seems to demand that whilst providing for those who need present aid, it is incumbent on us to lay the foundation for aiding those that will be the poor of the land when we are rendering at the judgment seat of our God an account of the deeds which have marked our career whilst sojourning on earth.

Of all the institutions that charity has suggested and liberality is needed for, a Foster Home or Hospital seems most to combine provision for the present and the future requirements of the poor. Some slight efforts have been made, and strong wishes have been expressed, to establish such an institution; but good wishes alone will not avail, or the wants of helpless childhood <<2>>had ere this found protection, and the pangs of disease been alleviated by the kind hand of brotherly love. The pecuniary means are wanting. Ye who have abundance of God’s gifts, ye who are clad in purple, and dwell in palaces, remember that to “open wide thy hand to thy needy brother” is the command of that God who hath so blessed your store; remember that “the poor shall never cease out of thy land” demands, that from your abundance provision shall be made for them; remember that your children, or your children’s children, may be among the poor of the land who will seek the aid and require the sympathy of their generation; but, above all, forget not that your deeds, and not your wealth, will on the day of judgment lead for you to your God.

NOTE BY THE EDITOR.—Our readers will recollect that we have several times urged the propriety, nay, the necessity, of establishing a home for helpless infancy, and a refuge for decrepid age, and to have connected therewith a hospital, where the Jewish sick can be attended by those of their own faith, and be nourished by a wholesome diet, and without violating their religion in their last days, or in moments of recovery. Whilst the German paper, Israel’s Herald, was in existence for a short time, its intelligent editor, Mr. Bush, admitted several articles, advocating the subject strongly; but as yet no response has been made by those having the means to aid in the premises, and the foster-home, house of refuge for the aged, and the hospital for the sick, remain but a pious wish, the accomplishment of which, we fear, will have to be postponed till several liberal-hearted men, now unendowed, acquire wealth, or till those in possession of it shall acquire a heart to devote a considerable portion of it to something else than the obtainment of a larger store, or self-gratification. But we will do the rich the justice to suppose that they do not think that there is any distress in the world; or else they would not be enveloped in their warm dressing-gowns, whilst the poor child of beggary stands shivering at their door; they could not sit down to their well-spread board, whilst they know that near them the destitute are starving for want of a little of that superabundant food which they cast to their dogs; they would not rest in their beds, could they be made to believe that a fellow-being, a stranger in a strange land, is wandering houseless in the deserted streets, amidst the pelting of the drenching rain and the howling of the<<3>>pitiless storm; they would hardly dare to provide for their own children all the superfluities of an over-refined education, could they realize that a brother’s child perhaps is reared in ignorance, vice and misery, for want of a little kindly aid, for the absence of a little consideration for the wants which neither it nor its parents have voluntarily caused. And still we can assure the rich, that such agonizing scenes as we have just hinted at are constantly witnessed, and that there is distress which a well-directed philanthropy could easily remedy, if those who have the means were to act in concert, and if they would feel in earnest that charity is something more than a mere almsgiving, a bestowal of a little superfluous matter which they do not need, and the absence of which they cannot appreciate.

No one need tell us that all mankind could not, as society is constituted, relieve all the distress and prevent all the crime the world. But surely much can be effected if the will be there to smooth the path of those doomed to sorrow, and to lead many, who otherwise might become a curse to society, to attain the highest stations among the learned, the virtuous, and the public benefactors. Often and often the experiment fails, it is true, lamentably true, and the vice imbibed in early infancy, the improvidence engendered in the hovels of wretchedness, will cling like the poisoned shirt of Nessus to the sufferer, till his last breath is drawn. Still is this no reason to abandon the unhappy to a hopeless misery, to omit rescuing, as it were, twenty of a whole crew of a thousand, because we cannot save all from drowning. It is not ours to accomplish impossibilities; but surely it is not doing our duty to attempt nothing, when, to a surety, something is within the reach of our means.

Now, we contend, to second the idea of our correspondent, that something is due from wealthy Israelites, and those of moderate means, toward the children of the wretchedly poor, and those helpless through age and disease; to snatch the first from the pollution of ignorance and its baleful consequences, and the others from the despair of utter helplessness in their downward course to the grave. Let us first speak of the Foster Home. Whoever is acquainted with large cities will readily acknowledge that there exist always in them a degraded population, who are addicted to vice and improvidence, and thereby sunk into poverty and degradation. Children educated, or neglected rather, by parents so situated, become speedily the reflex of their progenitors, and young thieves, young drunkards, young idlers, young debauchees, are seen in all directions, and exhibit early the disgusting characters of low vice and cunning. And why? Because crime and its debase-<<4>>ment, low propensities and their cunning, have become ingrafted on their tender natures, and they exhibit them publicly, without shame, without remorse, because they have never known the restraint of virtue, and been left without the blessed influence of religion; hence their nature is callous, their feelings are blunted to the nicer sensibilities of shame, and they exhibit their corruptions to the public view, without, perhaps, dreaming that there is ought unbecoming or reproachful in their conduct.

You may say that this is rare among Jews; we acknowledge it, cheerfully and gladly, that this is so; but we know ourself of instances like those we have cited, which came under our own observation, and where the house of correction for juvenile offenders received within its walls several children belonging to one family, besides some belonging to other households, and we are free to assert, at the same time, that if they had been removed from the evil influence of improvident parents, the jail would not have been the receptacle of those, who only needed instruction and a good example to render them honest, intelligent, industrious, and happy, by which we mean we mean their religious and physical condition could have been cared for.

It is possible enough that, as we observed on a former occasion, parents might not be willing to surrender their children to any society, no matter how well organized; and indeed it would be a laudable feeling in the poor were they to object to giving up the highest, the tenderest duty of humanity, to fashion themselves the mind of their offspring. But again, it may be said, that when you find such poor persons, who so highly value their position as parents, you may freely leave their children with them, for these will learn nothing but what is good and truthful, if even their home be ever so humble, their food and clothing ever so simple. Wherefore, all you would have to do in this case would be to give such occasional aid and advice, as would enable the parents to execute, in good faith, their duty as guardians and protectors of their children, and with this your interference should end.

But we chiefly speak of improvident parents, who would, if left unchecked, rear their children to a life of infamy; and these would gladly part with them to be relieved of the trouble of providing for them, or, if they meant to keep them, to make their crimes productive to the seniors. These should be compelled by the strong arm of the law, to place them where they would be properly cared for, on the principle that it is more noble to prevent crime than to punish it.

Houses of refuge, so called, which are in other words nothing but places of detention and punishment for minors, are but poor schools for reformation, at best, and then they only punish crime in children, but do not prevent it. And then, besides, <<5>>there is no classification possible in such institutions; the child of misfortune and the one grown old in crime before reaching his thirteenth year, are placed on a level, for no one would think even of punishing young children with solitary confinement at hard labour.

But there are scenes of misery in such places which none but a hardened jailor could witness unmoved. And once, we recollect, we were in the Philadelphia House of Refuge, to look after some Jewish boys imprisoned there; it was a beautiful spring day; the sun shining bright and warm, and as it was the first day of the week, the usual labours were suspended, and the boys were, according to the humane rules of the institution, allowed to play about in groups in the prison-yard under the inspection of the keepers. We noticed one boy, about twelve years old, sitting apart from the others, basking in the sunshine near the door at which we were standing speaking to the superintendent. He appeared wan and dejected, his youthful cheeks hollowed by the insidious hand of a consumptive disease. He did not appear to our view one reared to crime; his countenance did not betoken him hardened in sin, and, upon inquiring, we found our opinion correct. He was an orphan boy, was neglected and cast on the world, committed some little offence, perhaps vagrancy, which the good of society was bound to punish, and the jail became his home for a while, but, the superintendent thought that he could not long survive, death having marked him his own by the unmistakeable traces of inward decay.

We pitied the poor child; but what could we do? at least where he was he met with kindness, and the jail perhaps, where no doubt he soon expired, was to him the only home on earth, the only place where he was in no one’s way, where no one could upbraid him with his poverty, his helplessness, his forlorn position. But still he appeared a bright intellect, kind and gentle in disposition; and had his infancy been watched over by affection and kindness, had he been tended as are the children of the great and wealthy, might he not have lived and become the ornament of society, instead of the inmate of a prison for juvenile offenders?

We regret that we did not inquire deeper into the fate of this unfortunate being; but we can never forget the painful impression his pitiful condition made on us, and the conviction it produced on our mind, that society owes something more, much more, than merely providing prisons for delinquents, whilst it does so little, so nothing at all, if we may judge, to prevent crime, and to train those exposed to the danger of contamination in such a manner that they should benefit instead of injuring their fellow-mortals.

Now, we know of many instances in America where, even among <<6>>Jews, the wrong-doing of children is clearly traceable to the vicious influence of their parents or guardians, and where, if they had been removed, we can see no reason why they should not have been as good as the offspring of those who are reared without a vicious example. Now, we ask, could not such a virtuous home be provided?

Could not the Israelites of America make a common cause to establish a permanent fund, the interest of which should endow a true refuge for the children of the unfortunate or the vicious, that they may bear and see only what is good and religious before them? We know well enough that there are other objects equally deserving the attention of American Israelites; but we believe there are means enough, if the wealthy only would think so, to endow a foster home, a hospital, and a college, besides leaving ample mean for the accomplishment of all other good schemes.

It is possible enough that the funds may not at once be obtainable; but a commencement might be made by some having the means, to let a fund accumulate by degrees, which, when it attains a certain amount, should then be applied as its donors might direct. One such an institution would be enough for the whole country, and the more so, as then the children would be effectually removed from the vitiated atmosphere of their paternal home; and the more remote the situation from the crowded walks of a city, the better would it be for the permanent reformation of the objects of the public care.

The green fields, the quiet of the country, the cheerful view of outward nature, and the gentle manner of their superintendents, aided by the bright and cleanly appearance of all things in their new home, would contrast strongly and, even to their minds, favourably, with the squalor of their dingy huts, the filth of their neighbourhood, the stifling atmosphere of narrow alleys, accompanied as these sights are by universal profanity of the neighbourhood, and the discord and contention always attending on vice within doors.

Of course the schoolmaster must be there also; for on him mainly devolves the task of reformation, and on his powers of persuasion or his skill of eradicating evil and implanting virtue, it chiefly depends whether the nurslings of the public shall become what we wish them to be, or to degenerate, notwithstanding all our care, into the οffshοοts of humanity, which deform the image of their Maker.

We speak from no sickly sentimentality from no love for the low, and contempt, or rather fancied contempt, for those having ease and affluence. We are equally, however, removed from a contempt of those who are afflicted and in humble circumstances, since those who have themselves known affliction, we imagine, should not, without de<<7>>spising themselves, cast a slur upon those who for the moment happen to stand in a low degree in the scale of human fortune. We esteem the rich in their sphere; they can be useful if they choose to use the blessing of God, if they have the heart to part with what has been loaned to them more than given. But beyond this we value not the wealthy above the poor; for there all the real distinction ceases, for “a man is a man for a’ that!”

Hence, we say, that both from reason and revelation the poor, especially the innocent, helpless offspring of the needy, have a claim, a paramount claim on the superfluity of the other, better endowed portion of mankind; and they may demand, both as men and servants of the universal God, that they shall be aided in their hour of distress. Not that they have a right to sit down in idleness and ask food, clothing, fuel, and shelter of the wealthy; but that, if with all their honest labour, the hand of distress falls heavily on them, they should not be allowed to starve whilst there is food, go naked whilst there is cloth, sit shivering in the cold whilst materials for kindling a fire can be procured, wander about houseless whilst plenty of room is in the city to enable the favoured few to erect palaces which they cannot occupy, and finally to roam about in vice and ignorance, and to sink into degradation and debasement whilst there are ample means to kindle the lamp of knowledge in every hovel, and space enough in the houses devoted to God to invite all to enter, whether they can or cannot aid in defraying the necessary expenses to rear the buildings and reward the officers of religion.

Our words may sound somewhat agrarian; we acknowledge it; but we speak as a disciple of Moses, the first agrarian on record in history; we fear not to promulgate his doctrines, to defend what he commanded by the will of the Supreme; and as such we are taught to know of no difference between man and man, and that the poor have a claim on our bounty, and that all have a right to be instructed in the way of life. Do the Israelites in America understand their duty? Do they feel their mission both as Jews and freemen? We trust they do; and hope, therefore, that these loose thoughts we have thrown out in response to our correspondent may not fall idly to the ground, but become fruitful in after years, if even not immediately. We close for the present.