Historic Congregational Items
Resolution for the Federation of Jewish Charities

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Record 4/9
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Collection Leeser
Abstract Presented here is the resolution which was the forerunner of the Federation of Jewish Charities signed by Isaac Leeser in April, 1851

Isaac Leeser was twenty-two years old when he accepted the post of Mikveh Israel and his reticence in doing so was no secret. His reputation as a defender of Jewish rights, earned in Richmond where he resided about four years, was an enviable one. It thrust him into the mainstream of Jewish life from which he was not to retire until a malignancy of the throat forever silenced his voice on February 1, 1868.

Leeser was not only a defender of Jewish rights but an initiator of the Jewish Sunday School system which has been nationally accepted. He was the author and publisher of the first Jewish textbooks, the editor of the first successful Jewish journal and the founder of the first Jewish Publication Society in the United States. All of his ideas were not immediately accepted but many were adopted in the decades that followed their introduction. Through his monthly journal, The Occident (1843-1868) he communicated with Jews in every quarter of the land. And if all other Jewish literature of the antebellum period vanished, it would be possible to reconstruct the story of Jewish life from the pages of The Occident.

Leeser edited and published bilingual prayer books to meet the requirements of major rituals. They are a monument to typographic accuracy and taste. However,, he did not confine his words to the pulpit or restrict his labors to literature. His interest in establishing institutions vital to Jewish life was boundless. He was the earliest advocate for the care of the aged and for orphans and was the first to urge the organization of hospitals under Jewish auspices. In each of these undertakings he was an active participant. His forthright views were a challenge to the pulpit and in the fall of 1850 he withdrew from Mikveh Israel.

In the midst of these arduous tasks, Jews from Germany were reaching the United States in large numbers. Impoverished and eager to obtain a foothold in their new surroundings, many were confronted by the economic depression of the mid-fifties. A number of small charitable societies had sprung up to meet their needs. They duplicated each other's work, and innocently undermined their own goals. To overcome these haphazard conditions Leeser initiated a movement to combine all charities, a step which ultimately led to the present Federation concept. It was the first united venture of its kind in the country.

But to unify Jewish forces on a broad scale, Leeser drew upon his earlier proposals and the first steps were taken in 1859 that led to the founding of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites. An unorganized community had reached to world-wide events that required organization among American Jews. The Board was successful in many of its undertakings, weak in others, but it grew from year to year. It was the forerunner of the American Jewish Committee whose first president, judge Mayer Sulzberger had been a student of Leeser's.

Leeser's last major undertaking was the establishment of Maimonides College, the first training school for rabbis in the United States. The College struggled for six years and owing to sectional interests failed in 1873. In less than fifteen years two seminaries were opened that adopted the priciples set forth by Leeser.
Object Name Resolution for the Federation of Jewish
Title Resolution for the Federation of Jewish Charities
Images courtesy of Congregation Mikveh Israel.

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Last modified on: April 19, 2012