web analytics
March 29, 2015 / 9 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Harry Fischel: Orthodox Jewish Philanthropist Par Excellence (Part I)


Note: Most of the information in this article is based on “Forty Years of Struggle for a Principle, the Biography of Harry Fischel” (referred to as B), and “Continuation of Biography of Harry Fischel, 1928 – 1941″ (referred to as UB.)
 
  
The front-page essay “The Multimillionaire Who Remained True to Orthodoxy” (Jewish Press, April 28) dealt with the early life of Harry Fischel. It sketched his amazing rags to riches story. Indeed, Mr. Fischel had arrived in America from Russia in 1885 with only sixty cents in his pocket and the clothes on his back. In a little more than thirteen years he went from dire poverty to affluence, becoming a multimillionaire at a time when being even a millionaire was nowhere near as common as it is today.
 
There is much more to the story of Mr. Fischel than just amazing financial success. He remained an observant Jew all of his life and utilized his wealth and position to do his utmost to foster Jewish causes, particularly Orthodox Jewish causes. In this article we recount some of his philanthropic endeavors. Next month’s “Glimpses” article will deal with his key role in the founding of Yeshiva College, his support of Eretz Yisrael and the founding of the Harry Fischel Institute for Research in Talmud.

Endeavors on Behalf of Basic Jewish Education

On July 18, 1931, Harry Fischel delivered a “report” to his family. He wrote, “I have given the best part of my life for the benefit of religious education. I have contributed large sums of money for this purpose, in America, Europe and Palestine.” (UB page 17.) Money, however, was not the only thing Mr. Fischel gave to support Jewish education and other Jewish causes; he gave unstintingly of his time and wisdom.

The first Ashkenazic yeshiva established in America was Etz Chaim, a cheder-style elementary school founded on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1886. In 1889 Mr. Fischel became a director of the yeshiva. When the yeshiva was forced to vacate its premises, it was Mr. Fischel’s expertise in real estate that led to the institution finding a new home. Not only did he find a place for the yeshiva’s relocation, he made the initial $500 payment on the new property.

In 1892 Mr. Fischel became a director of Machzikay Talmud Torah, the oldest Talmud Torah in New York. In 1894, after becoming the institution’s vice president, he made what was considered by many a revolutionary proposal, “that the Talmud Torah open a school for girls to be under the direction of a young woman teacher who had lately come to this country from Palestine. The idea was at first bitterly opposed. No one had previously conceived of religious classes except for boys.” (B page 88.) Mr. Fischel prevailed, and the result was that applications for girls soon exceeded the school’s facilities.As Lower East Side Jews became more affluent, they began to move “uptown,” which led to the founding of the Uptown Talmud Torah on East 111th Street. For a number of years this institution was poorly run and in severe financial straits. Mr. Fischel felt the need to devote himself to reorganizing the school. Shortly after he became its president, he introduced educational reforms that both increased enrollment and solved the chronic financial problems of the school.

Mr. Fischel noted that the wealthiest Jews, who did not live in close proximity to the Uptown Talmud Torah, often did not send their children to this school. In fact, many of these very affluent Jews provided no religious education for their children. He felt it imperative that every Jewish child receive an Orthodox Jewish religious education. This led him to propose the opening of a branch of the Uptown Talmud Torah in the neighborhood where the wealthiest Jews lived – and in 1913 the West Side Annex of the Uptown Talmud Torah came into being.

The Harlem Uptown Talmud Torah and its Annex became a “huge and virtually unprecedented” success, educating thousands of boys and girls. “This facility boasted an enrollment that fluctuated over the years, from 1,800 to 2,800 students.” In 1916 Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, a rabbinic leader and son-in-law of Mr. Fischel, called these Harlem schools “the most important Jewish educational institution in America.” (The Maverick Rabbi by Aaron I. Reichel, Donning Publishers, 1986, page 110.)

HIAS and Beth Israel Hospital

In 1890, at the start of his early business successes, Harry Fischel became treasurer of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), known at that time as the Hachnosas Orchim. Given the difficulties he underwent as a new immigrant to the U.S., it is no surprise that he became involved with this organization. In 1919 he played a crucial role in the relocation of HIAS to its new home in the former Astor Library. Rather than make a large profit for himself on this property, Mr. Fischel purchased it in the name of HIAS.

“The work of transforming the Astor Library building into the home for immigrants was commenced by Mr. Fischel in March 1920 and from that time until the middle of 1921 he devoted practically his entire time to this undertaking.” (B page 212.)

In 1889 Mr. Fischel began what was to become a longtime association with Beth Israel Hospital. He played a key role when the hospital built a new building on the Lower East Side. He was, of course, also involved when the hospital built a larger facility on Livingston Place, between 16th and 17th Streets.

“Mr. Fischel has always emphasized the religious side of Beth Israel Hospital. The observance of Jewish dietary laws helps greatly in the return to health of the patients, according to Mr. Fischel.” (The November 3, 1922 American Hebrew newspaper. Quoted in B page 280.) Over the years his donations to this institution totaled $75,000. (UB, preface)

From the time that he first owned a home of his own, Harry Fischel made sure that it had a sukkah. One should keep in mind that most people were negligent in fulfilling the mitzvah of sukkah during the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth centuries. In 1925 Mr. Fischel demonstrated how far his commitment to this mitzvah went when he built a 14-story apartment building on the southwest corner of Park Avenue and 80th Street. In order to be able to have a sukkah, he “omitted one room on each floor of the twelve floors of the structure above his own apartment on the second floor, entailing a loss in rentals of about $12,000 a year.” (B page 370.) Clearly, for Mr. Fischel Judaism took precedence over financial gain.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Harry Fischel: Orthodox Jewish Philanthropist Par Excellence (Part I)”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
PLO / PA / Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.
PA Back Down on ICC in Exchange for Frozen Tax Revenue
Latest Sections Stories
Neuman-Rabbi-M-Gary

Are we allowed to lie for shalom bayis? It would seem so, but what might be a healthy guideline for when it’s okay and when it’s not?

book-To-Fill-The-Sky-With-Stars

The connection between what I experienced as a high school teenager and the adult I am today did not come easy to me.

Respler-032715

Isn’t therapy about being yourself; aren’t there different ways for people to communicate with each other?

South-Florida-logo

Jack was awarded a blue and gold first-place trophy, appropriately topped off with a golden bee.

Participating in ManiCures during the school day may feel like a break from learning, but the intended message to the students was loud and clear. Learning and chesed come in all forms, and can be fun.

Building campaign chairman Jack Gluck has led the effort over many years.

When using an extension cord always make sure to use the correct rated extension cord.

There was no question that when Mrs. Cohen entered the room to meet the teacher she was hostile from the outset.

Szold was among the founders and leaders (she served on its executive committee) of Ichud (“Unity”), a political group that campaigned against the creation of an independent, sovereign Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael.

My friend is a strong and capable Jewish woman, but she acted with a passivity that seemed out of character.

“If you don’t stand straight, you’ll never get a husband.”

First, sit down with your helpers and a pen and paper and break the jobs down into small parts.

More Articles from Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Glimpses-030615

The ship’s captain apparently respected the Friedenwalds’ strict adherence to halacha because he allowed them to use his cabin for davening and other religious observances.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

I happen to believe that for a couple to spend a few years in kollel is a wonderful way to start a marriage.

Penn wrote the following to a friend in England: “I found them [the Indians of the eastern shore of North America] with like countenances with the Hebrew race; and their children of so lively a resemblance to them that a man would think himself in Duke’s place, or Barry street, in London, when he sees them.”

The special charm of these letters is their immediacy and authenticity of emotion and description.

There were many who believed that some North America Indians were descended from Jews.

One might think to attribute the crudeness of the calendar to the fact that it was produced by a frontier community unable to calculate a more precise table.

“Throughout his life, he observed Tisha B’Ab as the Nahalah (anniversary) for all of his relatives who were murdered, as this is the national Jewish day of mourning.

Practically to his last days the patriarchal founder was at his office almost daily and took an active interest in all matters connected with the business.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/harry-fischel-orthodox-jewish-philanthropist-par-excellence-part-i/2006/05/03/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: