Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

A rare Haggadah I just acquired tells a story of a mighty bank and the Jews that became destitute as it fell. The Haggadah was published as a promotion and with advertisements for the Bank of United States, with Yiddish ads on covers and free-ends.

The bank was the brainchild of a true rags-to-riches Jewish immigrant to the United States, Joseph S. Marcus. Born in Telz in 1862, he was schooled in Essen, immigrated to the United States at age 18, worked first as a tailor, then a businessman in the garment industry and finally as a banker. He founded Public Bank in 1906 and the Bank of United States in 1913. He was known for his philanthropy, supporting Beth Israel Hospital and the Hebrew Association for the Blind. He died on July 3, 1927. After his death his son, Bernard Marcus, headed the bank. It quickly expanded, acquiring many small banks in the New York City area and reaching 62 branches by 1930.

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On Dec 10, 1930, crowds gathered at the branch on Southern Blvd. in the Bronx, seeking to withdraw their money, and began what is considered the bank run that cascaded into other bank runs that led to the Great Depression. The New York Times reported that the run was based on a false rumor spread by a small local merchant, a holder of stock in the bank, who claimed that the bank had refused to sell his stock.

By the next day, the bank was taken over by the Superintendent of Banks, and the stock of the bank went from $91.50 to a low of $2. By the end of December 1930, 608 banks closed their doors, with the Bank of United States accounting for more than a third of the $550,000,000 deposits lost.

The ads in this Haggadah advertise the bank in Yiddish as “a bank for everyone” and “the largest, strongest bank in America,” offering 4 percent interest on deposits. Despite the failure of the bank and the Great Depression, the Jewish book world did gain from the failure, as the bank building on 77 Delaney Street was taken over by the Hebrew Publishing Company. At this location, for over 40 years until 1976, millions of Jewish books, greeting cards and sheet music were published.

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Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and JudaicaUsed.com. He can be reached at JudaicaUsed@gmail.com.