Page 73 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

Basic HTML Version

THE LITERARY CONTRIBUTIONS OF JEWISH
COMMUNITY CENTERS
By
M
o rd eca i
S
oltes
h
I 1HE Jewish Community Center, currently celebrating the cen-
־*־ tennial of its movement inaugurated in 1854 with the founding
of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in Baltimore, Maryland,
has always manifested interest in literary and cultural activities.
Its original name reflects this objective. According to Benjamin
Rabinowitz, in
The Young Men's Hebrew Associations
(.
1854-1913
)
(New York, 1948), Jewish youth movements assumed the form of
literary societies in the early 1840’s. These were forerunners of the
Y.M.H.A.’s and the modern Jewish Community Centers. The
first to adopt the name Young Men’s Hebrew Literary Association
(Y.M.H.L.A.) was a Philadelphia organization established in 1850.
Later, mergers of these youth groups were effected to broaden the
scope of the organizations into community-wide “Y’s.”
The programs of the early Y.M.H.A.’s encompassed lectures,
debates, dramatics and social activities. The larger Y.M.H.A.’s
had libraries, reading rooms and assembly halls to enrich the in-
tellectual background of the clientele.
The Israelite
of November
23, 1855, tells of the founding of the Hebrew Young Men’s Lit-
erary Association in New Orleans, which paid primary attention to
lecture courses on “Ancient and Modern History,” from Abraham
to the present, and which had a library of more than 600 volumes.
The
Occident and American Jewish Advocate
, a monthly edited by
Isaac Leeser and devoted to Jewish literature and religion, reports
in its December, 1858, issue that the newly formed Buffalo Hebrew
Young Men’s Association aimed to advance the members’ knowl-
edge of Hebrew and general literature, to engage in debates on
diversified subjects and to afford the members opportunities for
“mental recreation” and “literary training.”
The Cincinnati
Jewish Times
of December 10, 1869, quotes
from the constitution of the local Y.M.H.A., founded in 1867: “The
association was organized for the purpose of cultivating and fost-
ering a better knowledge of the history, literature and doctrines of
Judaism; to develop and elevate our mental and moral character;
to entertain and edify ourselves with such intellectual agencies as
we may deem fit.” The program of the short-lived “Y” in New
67