Page 125 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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MO R D E C A I SOL T E S
1893-1957
By
A z r i e l E i s e n b e r g
M
ORDECAI SOLTES was born in Poland on August 27,
1893. He came to America as a child of seven, attended
the New York City public schools and was graduated from New
York University in 1915. He received his Hebrew education from
private teachers in
hedarim,
at Yeshivat Etz Chaim (1902-1907)
and at the Teachers Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary
of America. He also attended the School for Jewish Communal
Work (1917-1919).
In his late teens Soltes fell under the spell of that dynamic
and inspiring man of vision, Dr. Samson Benderly. He joined
the small but select group of pioneers in American Jewish educa-
tion who formed the “Bureau” group. Thus, in the fall of 1914,
while still at college, he became a member of the staff of the
Bureau of Jewish Education, serving as director of a number
of extension schools housed in the Educational Alliance and in
the teeming Talmud Torahs at Uptown, Brownsville, Williams-
burg and other neighborhoods. Through a program of informal
education utilizing stereoptican slides, story periods, special
holiday assemblies involving music, dance, dramatics and art
activities, thousands of children untouched by formal Jewish
education were brought under Jewish educational influence.
This successful experiment led to the organization of the Circle
of Jewish Children of America which subsequently was replaced
by Hanotim (The Planters) and Habonim (The Builders),
pioneer youth groups headed by him. Many a communal leader
today can trace his interest and commitment to Jewish life
from his involvement in the activities of these groups.
Mordecai Soltes’ training and experience in extension and
informal educational activities prepared and qualified him for
the position of Director of Education of the National Jewish
Welfare Board, a position he held from 1925 to 1943. During
these years he anonymously published many informative and
motivating pamphlets and brochures. He was on the faculty
of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Graduate School for
Jewish Social Work, President of the Jewish Book Council
of America, and served the National Association of Jewish
Center Workers. He also was active in the American Jewish
Congress, the United Jewish Appeal and in other organizations.
He will be particularly remembered for expanding the scope and
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