THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents
Living in America: The Jewish Experience
THE RUSSIAN JEW IN THE UNITED STATES
From an article in the New-York Tribune dated December 4, 1899.
TEACHING RUSSIAN JEWS.
THE WORK OF THE EDUCATIONAL ALLIANCE IN THE GHETTO.
USEFUL INSTRUCTION THAT TENDS TO AMERICANIZE THE UNKEMPT FOREIGNERS – HOW IT IS CARRIED ON.
If the guide has seen the Ghetto only from the street, and knows nothing about the people who inhabit that part of the city, the visitor will emerge from the crowded district fully convinced that the people are continuing the usages, habits and customs of their native land, and that no effort is being made by them to avail themselves of the advantages and privileges which are held out to them in a free country.
If, on the other hand, the
guide has seen the picture in all its lights, he will show the visitor that the
Ghetto population becomes Americanized more rapidly than some of its neighbors –
that the men who were born and reared in Russian slavery fully appreciate the
free air which they breathe here – and he will direct the visitor to the
building of the Educational Alliance, which has been a potent factor in the
education and advancement of the dwellers in the crowded district.
The Alliance has its home and does its work in a large building at East Broadway and Jefferson St., and the average daily attendance in its various departments is about five thousand. The founders of the institution were M. W. Mendel, Jacob H. Schiff, Louis Stern, Isidor Straus and Lazarus Straus, and at the outset the object was defined as the promotion of education by the erection and maintenance of buildings in the city of New York containing library, reading and class rooms, gymnasiums, and music and lecture halls and co-operation with other societies in the city, and the promotion of the well-being of men and women.
The Alliance has co-operated with the Hebrew Free School and with the Aguilar Free Library Society, and these organizations now have representatives in its Board of Directors.
The education which is
imparted in the various classes in the building is not confined to boys and
girls of the school age, but ranges from the four year-old tot to the patriarch.
The superintendent, Dr. David Blaustein, in a recent discussion said that the
work of the Alliance began with the little ones in the morning, and took in all
ages before the institution closed its doors at 10 o'clock at night.
In the evening the man who
works during the day and who has little knowledge of the English language comes
to the Alliance building to acquire the language, or, if he is sufficiently
advanced, to listen to lectures, take part in debates, work in classes to
perfect himself in bookkeeping, stenography, typewriting, or possibly study for
a Regents' examination, and young women who work in shops during the day come to
spend an hour in the sewing, dressmaking or millinery class. In the evening the
gymnasium is usually well patronized, and Dr. Blaustein thinks that there are
few more enthusiastic workers in that field than the young Russian Jews. "In
Russia," he said, "physical culture is almost a crime with the Jews. If they are
strong and agile they are taken into the army, and they prefer to be physical
wrecks to doing military service. Under the changed conditions they take to
athletics, and the fact that they are appreciative was shown in the late war,
when many of that class enlisted and were glad to be able to do military duty."
IN THE READING ROOMS
Although there is no line
drawn as to religion in the work of the Alliance, the building is given over to
religious work on Saturday, when the large auditorium is utilized for religious
service for adults. Nearly all the Jews who attend service there belong to the
ultra-orthodox class, and many of them hear there the first arguments in favor
of reforms and the abolition of customs and usages which may have been proper in
the Orient, but are useless in free America. A remnant of the ancient is
preserved by separating the men from the women and by having the prayers chanted
in the old way, but, on the whole, the service is of the modified reformed
order. On Saturday afternoon about eight hundred children attend service, which
is conducted in the English language. There is congregational singing, and the
superintendent speaks of the service as nearly like that in the modern Temple
Emanu-El Sabbath school.
Saturday evenings and all day Sunday are given over to social purposes. Forty-one clubs have their meetings in the Alliance building, and many of these have their meetings on Sunday. Concerts, dramatic entertainments and lectures are arranged by the various clubs, and each endeavors to outdo the other in making the entertainments enjoyable and instructive. The auditorium, which has seating capacity for more than 700 persons, is occupied every evening and nearly all the entertainments which take place there are free. For those who do not go to the entertainments, there are the assembly rooms – one for men and one for young women – where the young people meet and where many of the inhabitants of that part of the city get their first glimpse of "society."
Among the features of the institution is a Penny Provident Fund, which has 12,000 depositors, and is the means of saving much money for the poor people which would be lost to them if the institution did not exist.
The fourth floor of the
Alliance building is occupied by the Baron de Hirsch School, where about five
hundred children receive instruction in the common school branches. In the hall
of this department hangs an American flag which was presented to the school by
George Washington Post No. 103, Grand Army of the Republic. In this department,
as in all the others, it seems to be the object of the instructors to
Americanize the children, and the stories which they hear and which they repeat
refer to American subjects that tend to inspire them with love for their new
The Alliance is maintained by about thirteen hundred members, who contribute according to the class to which they may belong from $3 to $100 a year. But In order to do the work properly more funds are necessary, and to aid the cause $100,000 was subscribed recently, of which Louis Stern gave $25,000; Jacob H. Schiff, $25,000; Benjamin Altman, $20,000; Isidor Straus, $10,000; William Salomon, $10,000; Felix M. Warburg, $5,000, and Louis Marshall, $5,000.
The officers of the
Educational Alliance are: President, Isidor Straus; first vice-president, Samuel
Greenbaum; second vice-president, Albert F. Hochstadter; secretary, F.M.
Warburg, and treasurer, Albert Friedlander. Among the directors are Louis Stern,
Marcus W. Marks, Benjamin Altman, Benjamin Tuska, Edwin B. A. Seligman, Leopold
Lewisohn, Louis Marshall and Lee Kohus.
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