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Fifty-Sixth Anniversary of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Charleston, S. C.


In the year 1791, the Israelites of Charleston deeming that the obligation of being charitable and benevolent comes from a high and sacred Source, determined to establish a society to relieve sorrow, to succour distress, to pour the balm of sympathy into the wounded heart, to give to the poor, and to clothe and feed the hungry and naked. How nobly they have performed the work, is plainly exhibited in the records of the institution. As a people, we are not prone to forget or overlook the misfortunes of Israelites. Yet were it not for voluntary associations of benevolence, our hearts would sometimes become callous. There is something in prosperity that at all times hardens the heart to the misery of others. How little do the prosperous feel for the destitution of the wretched! How proverbial is it that the poor feel for the poor! If they have but little gold to give they have abundance of feeling, and in this they enjoy a source of luxury, which far exceeds the voluptuous and sensual pleasures of the worldly man, who hugs his wealth to his heart, and shuts out from his bosom the divine throbs of charity. We have always deemed the poor to be the favourites of Heaven, because they enjoy more happiness of feeling, more sympathy, more rapture, without wealth, than the rich with it—and yet how small the space that separates the two classes. The wheel of fortune is in perpetual motion—the rich man of yesterday is among the poor of tomorrow,—the poor man to-day, rides in his coach next week. Thus runs the world away. Yet the same amount of misery remains to assuage, the same cold-hearted selfishness clings to the golden image which infatuation worships as the idol of felicity, when it is only the representation of delusion. Let then the rich give to the poor while they may, and by example provide against that sad vicissitude which pride and a hard heart are often doomed to feel. Let our people found and enrich benevolent institutions to alleviate want and misery. We <<42>>have been led into these irregular and digressive remarks, from having been a visitor at the anniversary meeting of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Charleston, which took place on Wednesday the 24th of November; and it was no common gratification to perceive the prosperous condition of an institution so deeply interesting to the best sympathies of our nature. A more complete and benevolent charity, we venture to affirm, does not exist; we may well boast of it, therefore, as an honour to our people, and invoke with confidence the aid of all Israelites to farther its usefulness.

The meeting was attended by a large number of members, and alter the regular business had been transacted, the President, Mr. S. Valentine, made the following address:


“It is with the most deepfelt gratitude to an all-wise Disposer of events, that I address you this day, to congratulate you on the return of another anniversary of the Hebrew Benevolent Society.

“A year has passed, since last I had the honour of addressing you on a similar occasion, and all who were present then, are again here; not one is missing. The pestilence which visited other cities, was not among us. Death, whose sickle has cut off many in other places, passed by our doors; famine, want, and sickness, were strangers to us, and from the large number of members of this Society, not one has been in any way afflicted. On the contrary, health and prosperity have been our lot, peace and plenty our share, and none of the vicissitudes of life have been visited on us; and it therefore behooves us to return our fervent thanks to the God of Israel, for the benefits and blessings bestowed on us, and we cannot better show our gratitude to Him, than by exercising the most noble attributes of the Deity—charity and benevolence.

“It affords me great pleasure to be able to say, that these noble principles have been fully exercised by this Society during the past year. On looking over the treasurer’s accounts, you will perceive that nearly the whole income of the society has been expended for charitable purposes, and that a large number of poor and needy have been relieved, the sick nursed and provided for, the naked clothed, and not on a single occasion has any aid been refused to those needing it, to the full extent of the means at the disposal of the Committee on Benevolence.

“It is very probable, that among so many who received the aid of <<43>>the society, there were some undeserving, and in one or two instances, it has been found, that the applicants have actually been imposters.

“However improperly bestowed such charity may be, it is impossible to be avoided or guarded against.

“Under the present state of emigration from all countries of Europe, many of our people, driven from their native land by various circumstances, seek refuge in this our free and happy country. Many of them are actually poor and in distress, not even acquainted with the language  of the country, without friends or even acquaintances, and who look to the Hebrew Benevolent Society alone for aid, which, if refused, would either lead them to commit some dishonest act, or seek refuge in a poorhouse. To avoid this, the Committee on Benevolence have promptly responded to every call, and as they had no opportunity to discriminate, they acted up to the noble principle,—better to relieve five undeserving ones, than that one deserving one should be refused.

“For many years past, the charitable inclinations of the Society have been greatly restricted, and their desire to ameliorate the conditions of the poor prevented, by the limited funds under their control. To enable the Society to extend their usefulness to a much wider sphere, they determined last year to make some effort to increase the funds, and the committee to whom the matter was referred, determined to recommend a subscription ball, which was unanimously agreed to. Although I deem it unnecessary to recapitulate particulars, I should consider it an injustice to the committee who recommended the plan, and to the managers who superintended it, were I to omit on this occasion to refer to the same. The splendid manner in which the Ball was got up, is deserving of our highest approbation, not only for the large surplus of eight hundred and forty dollars returned to the Society, but for the judicious arrangements made, their indefatigable exertions to carry the same out in a manner to reflect credit on themselves, on this Society, and on the Israelites of this city.

“Although the Society promptly and unanimously bestowed on them the only reward in their power to give, the expressions of their highest  approbation and their most sincere thanks, yet, there is a higher reward theirs,—the knowledge that their exertions have been crowned with success,—that by their exertions the Society has been enabled to increase its charities; and when the poor, sick, and needy, relieved by these means, offer up their prayers to the Father of all mankind, for the prosperity of this Society, when they pour out their thanks for the aid afforded them, they will be able to say, This was our work, and their <<44>>hearts will throb with increased pleasure, and they cannot but feel fully compensated for their labour in this noble cause.

“Let me therefore indulge the hope, that at some future period, a repetition of the same will take place, or some other means devised still more to increase the funds of the Society, to enable us still farther to extend our bounties, and to carry out to a much larger extent the motto of this Society—charity and benevolence.

“Among the many who partook of our bounty, there were several sick, who required medical aid; and it affords me much pleasure to state, that although the instances were not numerous, yet, whenever they were required, the services of our highly esteemed and able physician, Dr. M. H. De Leon, were promptly given, and fully attended to, and, on all occasions, the skill, kind attention, and medical aid of Dr. De Leon, contributed much, next to divine aid, to restore those placed under his care. Dr. De Leon is entitled to the thanks of the Society for his philanthropic spirit, in gratuitously attending on the sick, under the care of the Society.

“It would be an injustice to our worthy Secretary and Treasurer, were we to omit mentioning his noble and disinterested act, in declining the ten per cent. on the receipts of the Ball fund, although by the constitution he is entitled to that amount on all funds passing through his hands, an act deserving the most grateful thanks of the Society.

“Among the applicants for aid during the past year, there was one from a family consisting of a father, mother, and five or six children. That family, once wealthy, and moving in a respectable circle, became reduced from circumstances beyond their control, and from no fault of theirs. Exposed to the bitter cold of a northern winter, turned into the street without food and shelter, not able to soften the hearts of those to whom they appealed, and who remained as hard as the frozen ground on which they dwelt! they came to this city, where they found not only a warmer climate, but warmer hearts to receive them, and the Committee on Benevolence, to whom they appealed, and who were fully made acquainted with these facts, promptly relieved them to the full extent allowed by the constitution; and it is highly creditable to many individuals, who came forward on that occasion to add to the funds appropriated by the committee, and thus a respectable and efficient sum was raised and tendered to that unfortunate family, and I am happy to say that it amply provided for their necessities, and that at this very moment, they are comfortably situated in our city. Were this the only instance of the usefulness of this Society, it would amply repay us for our exertions in behalf of the poor and needy. The grate<<45>>ful acknowledgements of the father, the tearful eye of the mother, the smiling and happy faces of the children, raised from poverty to comfort, from distress to happiness, must be an ample reward to all of us.

“Can there be anything more gratifying to the human heart, than the knowledge of having aided a fellow-creature in distress? That we have fully carried out the wise and noble maxim of the greatest Prophet and Lawgiver, ו א ה ב ת  ל ר ע ך  כ מ ו ך Do unto others as you wish to be done by? Yes, gentlemen, that gratification is yours, and as individuals cannot accomplish these things, we have formed this Society, whose combined efforts enable us to do so, and I hope and trust, that we will continue united, foster the Hebrew Benevolent Society, and that every one will strive to contribute to his utmost ability, to the prosperity and welfare of the same.

“In conclusion, gentlemen, please accept my most sincere thanks for the honour conferred on me, in having placed me at the head of the Society for the last, as well as for many years previously, an honour that I duly appreciate. I have endeavoured to discharge the duties of my office to the best of my feeble abilities, seeking no other reward than your approbation. Trusting you will excuse me for having thus trespassed on your time, and with my best wishes for the prosperity of the Society, I have now to request of you to proceed to the election of officers for the ensuing year.”

These remarks were warmly applauded, and immediately afterwards the Society went into an election for its annual officers, and the following were duly elected:—

S. Valentine, President; S. Moses, Vice-President; N. Levin, Secretary and Treasurer; H. N. Hart, B. Levy, M. D. Hyams, Trustees; Dr. M. H. De Leon, Physician; D. Schur, Messenger.

The company, (among whom we noticed several of our brethren from New York and Philadelphia, together with three invited guests, who had voluntarily offered their services as Managers at the Charity Ball,—Messrs. Cleaveland, Corrie, and Edwards,) proceeded to the spacious Hall of the Hebrew Orphan Society, where a sumptuous dinner was provided. The blessing was pronounced by the Rev. J. Rosenfeld, and the work of demolition upon soups, viands, &c., soon commenced; after ample justice had been done to the dinner, prayers were again said by Mr. Rosenfeld, and the dessert and wine were introduced. Upon the removal of the cloth the following toasts were read:—

  1. Our anniversary! consecrated to charity. A sentiment which ennobles humanity, and forms the connecting link between man and his Creator.<<46>>
  2. The founders of the Hebrew Benevolent Society! they have erected a monument more enduring than marble.
  3. The President of the United States ! he stands before the the chosen constitutional guardian of the liberty of millions.
  4. Religious liberty ! the ruler who would wound its spirit, or its privileges, is false to humanity, his country, and his God.
  5. The memory of Arari—the Martyr of Damascus! his death under the torture of the tyrant, affords an example of virtue, piety, and fortitude, upon which the world may dwell with admiration.
  6. Our Palmetto Banner and our Palmetto Regiment! the former still floats in the breeze unsullied by defeat, and the invincible daring of the latter has shown to the world, that Carolina chivalry has not degenerated.
  7. Sir Moses Montefiore! the pride of Israel, and a model for mankind. His character exhibits the heroism of Brennus, beautifully blended with the benevolence of Howard.
  8. The Governor of the State of South Carolina! his official mantle covers a heart devoted to the honour of his native State.
  9. The memory of Grace Aguilar, the gifted poetess, the pious teacher, and the friend and advocate of our people. Among the ancients, her genius would have procured for her a monument as imperishable as the Pyramids, and an eulogium gilded by the spirit of eloquence, or perhaps hallowed by the music of poetry, when touched by the charm of inspiration! Israel deeply mourns her loss.
  10. Woman! what can man say of her, when God deemed Paradise unfinished until she smiled amidst its bowers.

Upon the announcement of the 6th toast, the cheering was most deafening. The Palmetto regiment numbers in its ranks four Israelites, two from this city, and two from Columbia, viz., Jacob Valentine, a brave and daring boy, not 18 yet, who was severely wounded at Cherubusco; a son of Mr. Elias Levy, of this city, and two sons of Mr. Levi Polock. It was therefore joyful feeling of pride giving vent, that greeted this toast so enthusiastically. Israel had been represented on our battle-fields, and had not been found wanting. The 4th and 7th toasts were also warmly applauded.

Before the reading of the 9th toast, the secretary rose and remarked, “that he could not allow the opportunity to pass without briefly alluding to the virtues and talents of one whom we all delighted to honour. The characteristic of genius,” he observed, “is universality. It spreads over every surface; it reaches to all objects, it influences all ranks, it sheds a light like the luminary of heaven upon all being; it warms, animates, <<47>>and vivifies wherever it beams, and it beams upon all creation. Versatile and penetrating, its active powers pervade every department of life; creative and stupendous, its force moulds all it touches, leaving the charm of beauty on its path, and the lustre of taste glowing in radiant bloom upon its finished productions. The sudden extinguishment of common minds darkens but one path, but when the orb of genius is quenched in the waters of death, the shadows and gloom of darkness spread over many paths, and multiply regrets for the aggravated loss which society sustains. On ordinary occasions the hand of death but strikes down a mortal whose place may be filled by one every way an equal; but when it prostrates a shining mark, and a bright intellect falls beneath the blow,—a universal sympathy deplores the misfortune which has caused a vacancy so difficult to supply, in many cases impossible to repair. In the demise of Grace Aguilar, the Jewish people have sustained a loss of no inconsiderable magnitude, not only in relation to the living productions of her pen, but in regard to that living fountain of creative genius, welling up from religious zeal, which made her intellect a teeming mine of precious ore; which, while in our possession, inspired us with the confidence of wealth, and which to lose, seems the sudden extinction of a rich domain, swallowed amidst the ravages of the convulsion of the earth. She deeply sympathized with our people, and promoted their character, position, and welfare. Let us do honour to her memory—her spotless spirit rests upon the bosom of her God who gave it.”—These remarks elicited the most earnest attention, and when closed, the toast was drank standing and in silence, deep feeling exhibited on the countenances of all present.

After the regular toasts had been concluded, the President remarked that he had some information to bring to the notice of those present, which he felt assured would be a source of mingled pain and pleasure,—pain that our brethren were in distress, pleasure that it was in our power to afford them aid and comfort. The President then stated the indigent and needy condition of two Jewish families, in all eleven persons; who had that day reached the city from the lazaretto, where several of them had suffered from that horrible disease, small-pox, contracted in a vessel shipwrecked on her passage from Havre to New Orleans. No farther appeal was necessary,—liberal offerings commenced, and a sufficient sum was realized to procure substantial relief for all of them, and their passage paid by steamer to New Orleans, where their relatives reside. After pouring the balm of comfort into the withered heart of the destitute, a fresh degree of warmth and animation seemed to be imparted to the company. The merry laugh, the <<48>>joyous sentiment, the sparkling wit, and last though not least, the inimitable song of Sloman, set the table in a roar, and drew forth the most rapturous applause. During the evening a complimentary toast was offered to our talented townsman, A. Moise, Jr.; we regret that we are unable to furnish you with a copy of his remarks, to which we listened with the greatest delight. We shall long remember their Demosthenian harshness, their elevated simplicity, their fire and spirit, their breathing thoughts and burning words, in every period the thunder and lightning of ancient Greece. Mr. M. received the warmest congratulations, and when he had concluded, the cheering lasted for several minutes. Many volunteer toasts were offered during the evening, which passed off in the most cheerful and enlivening manner, and at a late hour the company separated, each one highly delighted with the festivities of the occasion.