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Adjusting Our Lives

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Effects of the protracted depression on the standards of Jewish social work have been manifold and far-going. Nearly all forms of our communal organization, so far as socio-philanthropic work is concerned, have undergone momentous changes as a result of the economic depression. Also our immediate future program has to count with the new social and political conditions and their deeper implications.

First of all, there has been among Jewish and general communal leaders an alarming tendency to subordinate everything to relief, to the alleviation of physical needs, such as food, shelter and clothing. There was little thought of neglecting character-building agencies, such as schools and youth centers, whose work is now the more necessary because of the increased leisure occasioned by unemployment.

Consequently, there is a great need of influences to counteract the galling sense of despair that so often seeks an outlet and solace in vicious practices and crooked ways of life.

With the slight understanding, on the part of the public, of social work; a grave danger subsists that communities will become permanently and solely “relief minded.”

In the second place, there has been observable a decreasing consideration of the health needs of children and adults who are imperiled by the curtailment of the budgets of health agencies just at the time when they feel the pinch of malnutrition and other adverse home conditions.


In the past, the Jewish relief problem had to do largely with persons mentally or physically ill, but with the depression came a new clientele, the so-called “white collar group.” For the most part, these new clients were healthy persons, both as to mind and body. They were merely the victims of a change in the economic structure affecting the entire population—but them even more so.

And very soon the Jewish agency came to realize that it was confronted with a special problem—the problem of unemployment of Jews, not as workers, but as Jews whose trades became obsolete. Economic discrimination too has manifested itself as the most severe form of anti-Semitism in our social environment.

This new clientele of Jewish welfare agencies will be the last to return to industry, even with the return of prosperity. Take the case of thousands of musicians. The radio and talkies have wiped out their means of livelihood. There will be a long period of economic maladjustment for this group—long days of intense mental anguish and uncertainty.


Never before was there a greater need for group-consciousness through education. From ignorance of the group culture and inability to react intelligently to the problems and forces affecting Jewish life, a potential maladjustment of a socio-psychological nature arises.

In this light, Jewish cultural activities are a process of psychic adjustment of otherwise potentially maladjusted individuals to their own racial group as well as to the majority group.

Again, psychiatric service, so far from being a fad or frill, as some of the “economy hunters” assert, is a positive step in the procedure of adjusting the maladjusted, particularly in the specific circumstances of Jewish life.


Now, then the Jewish community, through the lay members on the boards of the social welfare organizations, must learn that increase in expenditures for personal service means real accomplishment. Additional funds so expended must be analyzed in terms of re-established families, reclaimed personalities, and self-respecting citizens.

Recreational work, to take but one example, is more than merely a nattempt to make people happier, though certainly that would be justification enough, and the result of its curtailment from budgetary considerations must be interpreted, in the long run, in terms of juvenile delinquency, crime, and corruption.

Curtailed budgets of health institutions, for that matter, mean not only preventable despair and sickness now, but the presently neglected health needs of children and adolescents spell disaster for the future adult, which circumstance, measured in dollars and cents, means ultimately increasing burdens, heavier social budgets, for the community as a whole.


As a result of the present emergency, several Jewish communities have come to realize that relief work can, under proper safeguards, be financed by public funds without detriment to the Jewish individual’ and families thus served. The administration of public funds, however, remains an important problem.

An interesting experiment was undertaken a couple of years ago, in Cleveland. There the city authorities have decided that the public funds destined for relief should be administered by the two existing family case-working agencies—the Associated Charities for the non-Jewish population, and the Jewish Social Service Bureau for the Jewish population.

This method has indicated a confidence, on the part of public officials, in the effectiveness and integrity of professionally manned private case-working agencies.

In conclusion, the depression has shown that the problem of meeting the cultural needs of Jewish communal life in America will never be solved, in the way a complex group of four and a half million people is entitled to, unless and until we succeed to bring about a capital change. We must unload, that is to say, the much simpler problems, such as the relief for the unemployed and the unemployable, upon the shoulders of those that can bear it; that is, society as a whole, or the State.

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