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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘HIAS’

J Street Seeking a Seat at the Conference

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

In a move that will surprise nobody, for its effort to become a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, J Street has the backing of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The JCPA has long been clamoring to include J Street as part of its “big tent” approach to Jewish communal life. And no wonder, the two organizations are closely aligned on most issues, domestic and foreign.

What should also come as no surprise to anyone, those American pro-Israel organizations which see their major focus as global security, including Jewish communities worldwide generally and the Jewish state in particular, such as the Zionist Organization of America, are opposed to ushering in yet another organization into the 50 strong member group which they see as engaging in moral equivalency between Israel and her Arab neighbors.

The issue comes to a vote April 30. And members on both sides of the vote are busily lobbying people to make their voices heard by those who will be voting.

The Conference of Presidents includes most of the major Jewish organizations with which most people are familiar, but there are others who are members that would probably surprise most people.

For example, everyone expects such groups as the ZOA and the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League to be members, the same goes for the offices of the major branches of Judaism. But what Workman’s Circle (a blend of “workers’ rights” mit a bissel Yiddish?) Not to mention the Jewish Labor Committee(“The Jewish voice in the labor movement, and the voice of the labor movement in the Jewish community.”)  Then there’s the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society which is still very much involved in the needs of immigrants, but not too many of whom are Hebrews.

Other organizations such as CAMERA (which deals with media bias against Israel) and Hadassah and Americans for Peace Now and the Jewish Federations and the National Council of Young Israel all also have seats at the Conference of Presidents.

Early word was that the J Street leadership came in for heavy grilling by members, especially with respect to their support for and frequent partnering with organizations which advocate for various forms of economic and legal warfare against Israel, known as the BDS (Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel) movement.

An article in the Forward earlier this month revealed that J Street failed to garner the approval of a critical committee which would have smoothed the way to membership. That article explained that in order for J Street to gain admission there would have to be a 75 percent quorum present, and a two thirds vote.

According to the mission statement of the Conference of Presidents, at least one of the two primary issues on which the Conference focuses should signal a serious battle regarding the admission of J Street, the other one, only slightly less so: “The Conference is at the forefront mobilizing support to halt Iran’s nuclear program and to counter the global campaign to delegitimize Israel and the Jewish people.”

J Street was an early and consistent opponent of sanctions against Iran and when it ultimately was flanked to the right by the U.S. administration, it only slowly and very begrudgingly accepted the need for sanctions. J Street was once again a major cheerleader against enacting legislation that would provide for the immediate resumption of sanctions should Iran fail to comply with the obligations the U.S. understood it to have undertaken in the agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1.

There also continues to be a matter of say one thing, do another, with respect to the BDS movement. Although J Street consistently publicly claims to oppose the use of BDS, the J Street U members have been amongst the biggest cheerleaders of divestment resolutions on U.S. campuses (with Cornell University being a notable exception.)

US Jewish Groups Sending Aid to Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Friday, July 26th, 2013

A coalition of Jewish groups coordinated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is providing more than $100,000 in aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, which is made up of 14 organizations and coordinated by the Joint, convened Thursday in New York to allocate the money to several groups providing aid to Syrian refugees in refugee camps in Jordan, a JDC spokesman told JTA.

The money is going to the Jordanian Red Crescent, which is the kingdom’s version of the Red Cross; Israel Flying Aid, for food distribution; World Jewish Relief, which is working with the Save the Children program in one of the refugee camps; and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), for resettlement work.

Approximately 1 million refugees from Syria’s two-year-old civil war have fled in roughly equal numbers to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

Jewish Groups Rally for Immigrants with Sign What Would Moses Do’

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Carrying signs reading “Don’t Deport My Bubbe” and “What Would Moses Do?,” Jewish demonstrators representing several organizations participated Wednesday in the Rally for Citizenship in Washington.

The Jewish groups rallied on the west lawn of the Capitol alongside Latinos, Catholics, Unitarians, union members and women’s groups.

Members of Jews United for Justice, HIAS, the American Jewish Committee, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the newly created Jewish Justice Roundtable wore light blue shirts with the slogan “We Were Strangers Too” during the speech- and music-filled afternoon.

On the back of their shirts, in black marker, the marchers listed where their relatives had lived before immigrating to America. The countries varied from Russia, Romania and Poland to the more unusual Newfoundland and Norway.

“Jews are from around the world. We all have immigration stories not so far in the past,” said Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action. “We have personal and communal stories.”

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

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

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.

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

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