Page 123 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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J W B ’ S R O L E I N A M E R I C A N
J E W I S H C U L T U R A L L I F E
On the Occasion of its Fiftieth Anniversary
B
y
B
ernard
P
o stal
F
r om
t h e ir
v er y
in c e p t io n
,
the National Jewish Welfare Board
(JWB) and the Jewish Community Center movement have
kept an unwavering focus on the enlargement and intensifica-
tion of Jewish cultural activity among American Jews.
The young men’s Hebrew literary societies of the 1840s and
1850s, forerunners of the earliest YMHAs, reflected their found-
ers’ interest in Jewish literary and cultural enterprises. When
the Hebrew literary societies became the YM and YWHAs of
the 1860-1880 era, their programs too emphasized Jewish cultural
activity in the form of debates, lectures, dramatics, book reviews
and even formal classes.
The
American Israelite
of November 23, 1855, reported that
the new Hebrew Young Men’s Literary Association of New Or-
leans was giving primary attention to lecture courses on history
“from Abraham to the present,” and had a library of more than
600 volumes, including substantial Judaica. Rabbi Isaac Leeser’s
Occident
and
American Jewish Advoca te
noted in 1858 that
the newly organized Buffalo Hebrew Young Men’s Association
sought to further the members’ knowledge of Hebrew and gen-
eral literature. The constitution of the Cincinnati YMHA,
quoted in the Cincinnati
Jewish T im es
of 1869, stated that the
association was created “for the purpose of cultivating and foster-
ing a better knowledge of the history, literature and doctrines
of Judaism.” A short-lived YMHA established in New York in
1870 had as one of its objectives cooperation with the newly
organized American Jewish Publication Society (not the present
JPS). Oscar S. Straus presided over a lecture on Jewish litera-
ture at the first public meeting of the YMHA of New York (the
present 92nd St. YM &YWHA) in 1874.
When the American Hebrew Association was formed in 1880
as the first national association of YMHAs, the Hebrew literary
societies were welcomed into membership. The Association’s
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