Page 125 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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The debate over the name for the new organization reflected
the quest of every generation to preserve, nourish and give con-
temporary meaning to the Jewish heritage and values in America.
From the 1880s until about 1920 the YM-YWHAs became part
of the vast effort to Americanize the immigrants. Some Jewish
philanthropists and many of the early Jewish social workers
sought to de-emphasize the Jewish character of the Ys, equating
Jewish learning and lore with ignorance and fanaticism. In the
belief that the abandonment of Jewish mores, culture and habits
was a prerequisite to Americanization, they saw the Ys more
as social service agencies concerned with adjustment to America
and less as instruments for furthering Jewish culture.
P o s t a l
—JWB ’s
R o l e i n C u l t u r a l L i f e
Early Jewish Cultural Objectives
It is true that there was a decided gap between precept and
practice in the Jewish cultural objectives of the early young
men’s Hebrew literary societies and of the YMHAs that succeeded
them. Their concern for Jewish intellectual pursuits was serious
but too often ineffectual. As early as 1908 Louis Marshall chal-
lenged the position of those in the Jewish community who were
hostile to Jewish cultural activity in the Ys. He demanded that
Jewish educational institutions “create for themselves a distinctly
Jewish tendency” or else “they have no reasons whatever for
existence.” He was supported by Jacob H. Schiff, Cyrus Sulz-
berger, Jacob Billikopf and Boris D. Bogen.
This view prompted Marshall to propose “United Jewish Edu-
cational Alliance” as the name for the new organization, but in
keeping with the wishes of younger leaders who pressed for the
idea of a federation, Marshall devised the name that was finally
chosen. Among the members of CYMHKA’s first “board of ex-
perts” were Dr. Samson Benderly, who was put in charge of
Jewish education, Dr. Mordecai M. Kaplan, to whom was as-
signed the training of teachers and social workers, and Dr. Judah
L. Magnes. High among the objectives of CYMHKA was the
development in the then existing 175 Ys of Jewish cultural
The unprecedented responsibilities American Jewry had to
meet with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the entry
of the United States into the war three years later seriously
handicapped the CYMHKA and prevented it from achieving
many of the purposes for which it had been created. But the
commitment was there and when CYMHKA merged with the
war-born JWB in 1921, the enlarged organization became part