Neglect of, or inadequate support for character building institutions at this time would prove calamitous to the community as well as to the nation, declared speakers at the Annual Meeting of the National Council of the Jewish Welfare Board held on Sunday at the Manhattan Y.M.H.A. The depression, unemployment and idleness have placed heavy burdens on such organizations, they said, which must enlarge their programs affording moral and spiritual stimulation to thousands and thousands of men and women, and continuation of this type of service, it was pointed out, is just as important as is the provision of food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless. Reports submitted indicate, however, that the Jews in various cities, despite the present economic situation, are maintaining their Jewish centers and Y.M.H.A.’s.
Several hundred prominent Jewish men and women, leaders in Jewish Center and Y. M. & Y.W.H.A. activities in various parts of the land, were present at the Annual Meeting which marked the fifteenth birthday of the Jewish Welfare Board. Started as an agency to provide spiritual comfort among Jewish soldiers and sailors in the United States Army and Navy, it had expanded until today it not only continues its welfare work among Jews in the military and naval services, but carries on an extensive program of activity throughout the country, aiding institutions which are endeavoring to develop Jewish men and women into self-respecting members both of the Jewish as well as the American communities.
The importance of the work of the Jewish Center was emphasized in a letter from Newton D. Baker to Frank J. Rubenstein, Executive Secretary of the Y.M. & Y.W.H.A.’s of Baltimore, Md.
The convention was opened by an Invocation by Rabbi Henry M. Rosenthal of the 92nd Street Y.M.H.A., and was followed by an address of welcome to the delegates by Frank L. Weil, President of the local institution. Judge Irving Lehman, President of the Council, who presided, presented his annual message and addresses were delivered by Benjamin J. Buttenwieser, treasurer; Harry L. Glucksman, executive director and Col. Julius Ochs Adler, who read the report of the Army and Navy Committee for Dr. Cyrus Adler, its Chairman, who was prevented from attending the sessions.
Despite the present depression, Judge Lehman in his report announced that progress was made by the various Jewish Centers and Y.M.H.A.’s in the past year. In no case, he pointed out, was a building shut down or a professional executive relieved of his work. Five communities, he added, went ahead with building campaigns successfully. The Jewish Welfare Board now has a membership of 259 constituent societies, he added. One hundred and seventy-two of these institutions own their own buildings, which have a value of $27,000,000. The annual expenditures of the constituent societies, he pointed out, amount to $3,500,000 and 137 professional executives are in charge of the work of these organizations. The societies, he said, have a paid membership totalling 200,000. The Jewish people, Judge Lehman emphasized, will always support work of Jewish community centers and kindred associations.
“It is the character of our people that has enabled us to survive the ordeals of the past and present,” he said, “and which enables us to face a new and, as yet, mysterious, future bravely.
“The merger of various groups of Jews in efforts for the assumption of joint responsibility and for preserving Jewish ideals and spiritual traditions is one of our outstanding needs.
“Now we are in a new crisis, when we must fight again, not against men, but against forces and conditions. Again the need for the unification and mobilization of our forces is urgent.”
The Army and Navy Committee reported that there are 3,500 men of the Jewish faith in the military and naval forces in the United States and in hospitals for disabled veterans. The latter group consists of approximately 1,250, including inmates of soldiers’ homes, it was stated. In addition, the Committee looked after the religious and spiritual needs of 1,600 men who attended the Citizens’ Military Training Camps during the summer of 1931 and 1,300 during the summer of the present year. The Committee announced that it was in direct contact with 160 posts and hospitals in continental America, the Canal Zone, China, Hawaii, the Philippine Islands and Haiti.
Announcement was also made of the election of Major Benjamin H. Namm and former Congressman Isaac Siegel to membership on the Army and Navy Committee of the Jewish Welfare Board.
Mr. Glucksman in his report as Executive Director, announced that through the aid of the Jewish Welfare Board every effort was made to keep Jewish center activity going without, in any way, diminishing the influences of the organizations towards their communities. In the past year, he stated, 35 membership and deficit fund campaigns were conducted in which over $280,000 were raised, and in no case, he pointed out, were professional workers “laid off.” One hundred and thirty-seven centers. he added, are manned by professional workers as compared with 135 two years ago.
“Up to now, there has been no unemployment problem,” he said, “in so far as Jewish Center workers are concerned.”
Mr. Glucksman reviewed the Jewish communal situation resulting from the depression in this country and declared that: “Regrettable as is the fact there are definite evidences that reduced support of constructive Jewish activities is rapidly reaching the point of endangering their existence. Although we have for generations been characterized as ‘The People of the Book’ and ‘Lovers of the Ideal of Learning’ the work of many synagogues and Jewish educational institutions is being seriously impaired. And the Jewish community centers are more recently facing the same trying situation.
He criticized Jewish Federations for cutting their education budgets.
The morning session concluded with reports on activities of regional organizations. Six presidents of state Federations presented reports, and they included : Moritz M. Gottlieb, President, Pennsylvania Federation of Y.M. and Y.W.H.A.’s; Albert Rosenthal, President, New York State Federation of Y.M.H.A.’s, Y.W.H.A.’s and Community Centers ; Max Kabatznick, President, Associated Y.M. and Y.W.H.A. of New England ; Philip Dimond, President, New Jersey Federation of Y.M.H.A.’s and Y.W.H.A.’s ; Edward Rosenblum, President, Middle Atlantic States Federation of Y.M.H.A.’s, Y.W.H.A.’s and Kindred Associations ; M. Maldwin Fertig, President, Metropolitan League of Jewish Community Associations.
Mr. Fertig, who is counsel to Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, deplored the fact that the public does not respond as freely to appeals of support for work of this type, as it does for hospitals, homes for the aged, and other philanthropic institutions. He pointed out that Jewish centers and Y.M.H.A.’s performed preventive work of an important character, and he announced that in his study of criminal cases, he was unable to find one individual who was convicted who had any contact with Jewish center or Y.M.H.A. work, or institutions of a similar nature.
The afternoon session was given over to discussion of the problem of the Jewish youth in America. It took the form of a symposium entitled “What of Our Youthâ€”A Challenge to the Jewish Community,” in which officers and representatives of six national organizations participated. Felix M. Warburg, dean of American Jewish philanthropists, introduced the subject and others who spoke icluded : Ludwig Vogelstein, chairman of the Executive Board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations ; Louis J. Borinstein, chairman of the National Wider Scope Committee of the B’nai B’rith ; Louis J. Moss, president of the United Synagogue of America ; Mrs. Arthur Brin, president of the National Council of Jewish Women ; Benjamin Koenigsberg, member of the Administrative Committee of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America ; Bernard Semel, honorary secretary of the Jewish Education Association.
Mr. Warburg’s address, which was read by Leon J. Obermayer, reviewed the important part played by social agencies catering to the youth in character building, especially in abnormal times. He told of his own work many years ago when he, with others, organized efforts to develop “lads connected with the Hell’s Kitchen gang and gas house toughs” into useful citizens of the city. He referred to the establishment of the first Children’s Court and his appointment as one of the first probation officers in the city. Bespeaking the financial support for this type of communal service, he said:
“But who shall say that the need of character building and Jewish training and the strengthening of the moral fibre of our youth is less insistent than physical relief? If work of this character is a community responsibility in normal times, it is no less so in an emergency. In the community program it occupies an essential place, for in a unified program every need of the community must be considered.”
Continuing, he said : “The distress resulting from the business depression has so deeply engaged our attention and efforts in behalf of the unemployed and their families, that the work of our established social and religious institutions is threatened for lack of adequate support. Yet the fact must be evident to every thoughtful person that because of the economic condition these institutions are now more needed than ever before. They are a bulwark against the disintegration of character and a force for sustaining the morale of our young people.”
Mr. Vogelstein spoke on youth work of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, an organization dealing with the activities of Reformed Judaism. He said it was the oldest organization of its kind, and probably the largest in the world. Its purpose, he added, is the preservation and perpetuation of liberal Judaism in this country, and he reviewed the steps taken by his organization to inculcate an interest in Judaism among the growing Jewish generation.
A resolution calling on the President of the Jewish Welfare Board to convoke a conference of Jewish national organizations to consider the problems of adequate support for Jewish culture and communal institutions was adopted.
A resolution on the deaths of Mortimer L. Schiff and Edward S. Steinan, both of whom served the Jewish Welfare Board and the Jewish Center movement, for many years, was also adopted.
At the conclusion of the meeting the following officers were elected : Irving Lehman, President ; Felix M. Warburg, Vice-President ; Jacob M. Loeb, Vice-President ; Jacob K. Newman, Vice-President ; M. C. Sloss, Vice-President ; Benjamin J. Buttenwieser, Treasurer ; Joseph Rosenzweig, Secretary.