|Vol. III, No. 11
Shebat 5606, February 1846
Fourth Anniversary of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Cincinnati.
Cincinnati, January 5th, 1846.
Sir:--The Hebrew Benevolent Society (משיבת נפש) of Cincinnati celebrated their fourth anniversary by a dinner on the 28th of last December, Mr. Elias Mayer, President, in the chair, assisted by Messrs. P. Heidelbach, Vice President, and P. Moses, Treasurer. The stewards for the occasion consisted of the officers just named and Messrs. M. Heidelbach, J. Abraham, M. Bell, J. Seasongood, B. W. Symmonds, L. Abraham, D. Mayer, S. Kramer, and J. Jonas. The company was small, but of the proper spirit, and the prospects of the Society were much brightened by the day's proceedings. After the guests had partaken of an elegant and substantial repast, prepared in the best manner by Mr. Fechheimer, the Chairman announced the first regular toast, which was, "The day we celebrate; the joyful anniversary of the Benevolent; it records in the widow's heart our deeds of virtue, and instills in the orphan's prayers intercessions in our behalf." This was received with great cheering, after which Mr. E. Mayer rose and said:
"Gentlemen: I rise with becoming diffidence, conscious of my inability to greet you with an address equal to the enthusiasm I see evinced around me. As Moses said of old, when first commanded to rescue his enslaved brethren, that he was slow of speech and of a heavy tongue, that he was not eloquent, so answer I; but if the same Divine Providence, who, as He said, hath made man's mouth, the dumb, the seeing, and the blind, inspires me; if He will look kindly on my humble effort this day, then shall I indeed rejoice with a gladdened heart. The sentiment just now heard by you justly says 'the day we celebrate will serve to record in the widow's heart our deeds of virtue, and will make the orphan's prayers intercessions in our behalf.' And who would not exert themselves to gain such blessing and prayers? which, if merited, lead to immediate reward; for who among us has not felt the happiness which follows a good action? Whose heart does not beat with joy after having performed a virtuous deed? What satisfaction does it not bring at each recurrence to the mind in after times, and which of itself would be sufficient? But it leads farther; it leads beyond the grave to everlasting bliss; for 'he who giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord, and he shall be repaid therefore tenfold.' This does not refer to temporal reward alone, but speaks of the eternal return of bliss and happiness we shall receive for the small amount of good we are able to perform towards those whose lot has been cast among the unfortunate. All charitable actions gain us the goodwill of the Almighty, who listens attentively to the prayers of the widow and the fatherless. The children of Israel, more particularly than any other nation, are bound to protect the unfortunate. Few of our people, even among the poorest, like to apply to the usual public institutions for relief; they look to us, to their own brethren, for assistance; and, thank Heaven, they have never looked to this community in vain. You all recollect this, 'the day we celebrate' is one of the days of the Feast of Dedication, and we, in a propitious moment, have wisely thought proper to make it a day of dedication for charitable purposes, to set it aside as an anniversary for the celebration of the birthday of our institution; may it live until it is no longer wanted. And there is more that is typical in the day than might at first be observed; as the oil, that was set aside for one night only, became in time of distress amply sufficient for eight nights, so the trifle bestowed by one individual this day will send joy and gladness to the hearts of many,--as the light lit up the holy place with brilliancy, so will the charity given away this day lighten the sorrow of the afflicted, smooth the brow of trouble, and warm those suffering from the pinching cold of poverty. We are told that 'charity covereth a multitude of sins;' it does more, it covereth the limbs of the naked, it becometh the throned monarch better than his crown. I am sorry I cannot with many sister cities boast of the antiquity of our Society; but do not discard it on account of its infancy; rather foster it, lend it your aid, until it is able to run alone. Our members at present are but few, consequently our means but limited. Now, however, the severity of the season requires all we can obtain, we do not purpose hoarding up any funds, but apply as much as may be found necessary to the immediate wants of our needy brethren. Gentlemen, I will make no farther appeal to you, but will express a hope that you will make this day one which we shall be proud to point out as the day we celebrate."
Mr. Mayer was frequently cheered during his address, and when he had concluded, the second toast was announced: "The United States; her example of universal tolerance is worthy of imitation; may the Almighty bless her for the protection she affords our scattered brethren."
Mr. Philip Heidelbach then rose and said:
"The toast just given recalls vividly to my mind not only the intolerance and proscription which I have suffered, and which the scattered remnant of our people are still suffering in my native land; but the still more intolerable yoke, worse even than Egyptian bondage, that enthrals our people in other professed enlightened countries. If we take a retrospective view of the history of our people, when the bulls of popes and the edicts of kings were coupled with all manner of human inventions to torture, persecute, and annihilate the scattered remnant of Israel, and pause for a moment to reflect that even yet the bond of union is as firm, and unflinching, as on the day we left Palestine, that neither time, nor place, nor circumstance, nor persecution, has weakened our faith or diminished our affection: a thrill of gratitude must pervade every bosom present, that the God of our fathers has been with us through all the calamities that have befallen our people during the past generation, and has at last given its and a goodly portion of our brethren a country for our inheritance, where liberty of conscience is based on the supreme law of the land, and each and all of us can worship the God of Israel according to the dictates of their feelings, where we can sit under our own vine and our own fig-tree, none daring to make us afraid. What brother around our festive board this evening that does not rejoice that the Pilgrim Fathers braved the perilous ocean, and whose heart is not gladdened that Plymouth Rock gave them a resting place, and this broad continent a home, and a shelter, from religious persecution in their native land! And what tongue can express its gratitude to the immortal heroes of '76, because they tore asunder the chains that still bound them to their country, and proclaimed to the astonished world that to achieve their independence, they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honours! Sir, they have nobly redeemed their pledge; and that sacred document has secured to you, to me, and to our children, a citizenship in a great nation, that has no parallel for equal rights and equal privileges on the surface of the globe. But, sir, I come now to the purpose for which we have assembled. We meet to celebrate the anniversary of the Hebrew Benevolent Society; we meet, I was going to say, from all nations, kindred, and tongues, in one common brotherhood, bound together by unity of faith and unity of purpose, each striving to outvie his brother in deeds of benevolence. Having been honoured by the society during the past year to fill the office of Treasurer, I can testify with pleasure to its numerous acts of benevolence; and I am proud to say that the funds have always been sufficient to lend a helping hand to all the unfortunate that have applied for assistance during the past year; and from the zeal manifested on this occasion, I have reason to believe we shall have an abundance for the year to come. What we give is solely to relieve the distressed, dry up the tear of the widow, and nourish and protect the orphan; and it is but a duty we owe to our God and to our country. We all contribute according to our means, not considering it as a gift, but as a debt we owe so long as the Almighty grants us the blessings of health and the ability to bestow charity. Sir, it is a well-established fact, which redounds to our credit, that the Israelites as a people maintain their own poor, and suffer none, whether Jews or gentiles, if objects of charity, to be sent empty away."
After Mr. Heidelbach had concluded, the third toast was proposed:
"Judea, the land of our inheritance.
This toast was responded to by Mr. Benjamin W. Symmonds, in a strain of eloquence rarely surpassed. It is impossible to report his language verbatim, but he spoke nearly as follows:
"Judea, the land of our inheritance! With what feelings of love and admiration must every Jewish heart respond, when we revert to the memory of that once proud land, a land made holy as a gift from the Almighty to his chosen people, made sacred by the tread of angels and the voice of prophets; not a mountain, cave, brook, or valley, but what is made sacred to our recollections by the past history of our race. This was the land the Almighty covenanted to Abraham that his descendants should possess; and with wonderful manifestations of power He delivered us from bondage and led us through the wilderness; on Mount Sinai He delivered to us his thrice blessed law, and appointed us its keepers and its witnesses; in the cave of Macphelah repose the remains of our pious ancestors; on Mount Moriah did Abraham essay to offer up his son as a sacrifice, and on the selfsame spot stood our glorious Temple! We were indeed a happy people! sheltered under the shadow of his wings we dwelt in safety; our hearts were made glad by the fat of the land; we sat under our own fig-trees and enjoyed without molestation the fruit of our vineyards; our old men were reverenced, and our children walked in the paths of peace and wisdom. Verily the sight of those things must have gladdened their eyes; to hear of it only afflicts our hearts. Water gushed from rocks to quench our thirst, bread came from heaven to appease our hunger, avenging angels were sent to destroy our enemies; yet, notwithstanding all these marks of his goodness and benevolence, did we rebel against the divine commands. God in his mercy sent holy men to admonish us and lead us back to the paths of virtue; but their mission was disregarded, and their warnings were despised. As a consequence, our land was given to our enemies and made desolate, the tottering infant and the hoary grandsire, our young men and our maidens, the strong and the weak, the good and the wicked, alike were driven from it and led captives among strangers. 'By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,' and the All-merciful, whose eyes are never closed to the supplications of the unfortunate, brought us back to the land concerning which He had sworn unto our fathers that it should be ours for ever. But, alas! we did not gain wisdom by our adversities, but followed 'the delight of our eyes and the desire of our hearts;' and as our great prophet and legislator had foretold unto us with his latest breath, Zion was again laid waste, our holy temple was destroyed, our blood flowed as water, horrors innumerable came upon us, we were scattered over the world, dispersed throughout all nations, our very name became a byword and a reproach. Since then we have been driven from country to country, racked, burned, tortured, broken on the wheel; many of our sainted teachers have died martyrs for our holy faith; yet the protecting arm of the Almighty was stretched over us, and preserved us amidst all these persecutions as living monuments and witnesses of the truth of his holy word. And it is to the preservation of these very laws, that we owe the spirit of toleration that is fast pervading the Christian world. Time was when we could not, as now, worship our Creator in the form we chose; neither could we assemble round the festive board to commemorate the victories gained in olden times, or give full scope to that active benevolence which has ever been characteristic of the Israelite. Under far less afflicting persecutions other nations have been lost, and have disappeared 'like the baseless fabric of a vision,' leaving the wreck of some rude stones or remains of ancient songs to tell the tale that once they were; but our history remains with us. Nearly two thousand years have rolled over our heads since our last dispersion; still we remain unchanged, and we cling with instinctive fondness to our ancient forms; we are buoyed up by our reliance in Him who never fails, that we shall again be restored to our former state of splendour and happiness. Yes, Judea! once more shall we tread thy sacred shores; once more with humble hearts shall we worship on thy holy mountain; again shall we gaze on the green graves of our forefathers; and under the rule of the Son of Jesse we shall become a beacon of light and happiness to the human race."
Mr. Symmonds resumed his scat amidst the deafening plaudits of his admiring audience, in whose breasts he had by his soulstirring address awakened the slumbering glory of Israel.
The fourth toast was then proposed, which was, "The President of the United States and the constituted authorities." Responded to by Mr. Phineas Moses.
Fifth toast: "The German and English Hebrew Ladies' Benevolent Societies of Cincinnati; we wish them the success they merit, and joyfully extend to them our hands and hearts; will they accept them?
Responded to by Mr. M. E. Moehring in the German language. He stated in substance that according to the Jewish authorities charity performed by women is more acceptable than that performed by men. Charity, he said, is the greatest virtue known to the Hebrew faith: 'And thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' It is this feeling therefore which chiefly distinguishes man from brute; and he in whose bosom benevolence doess not dwell as a powerful trait in his character, is not deserving the name of man, he is not elevated above the brute creation, and desecrates the image of God which he bears.