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Examination of the Pupils of “The Society for the Instruction of Jewish Doctrine,” Charleston, S. C.

Mr. Editor,

We can scarcely recall to mind a more pleasing and edifying exhibition than that we witnessed at the examination of the pupils of the above school, on Sunday, the 4th May. The nature and objects of the institution are clearly set forth in its name. It has been founded but one year, when those who avowed orthodox principles, and were opposed to the innovations established in the congregation “Beth Elohim,” withdrew from that body and established this society; and it dates its origin from that circumstance, as well as from the benignant power of woman’s influence. Women have caused all revolutions. The Peloponnesian war was produced by Aspasia; Helen caused the famous Trojan war; and we have here in this city the daughters of Israel waging an interminable war against immorality and irreligion, by imbuing the tender minds of our youth with a knowledge of our ancient faith and a practice of its divine precepts. We begin to feel and recognise the true social position of woman; and the existence of this institution has so beautifully developed her latent resources, her zeal and perseverance, that with a heart gushing with grateful emotions (as a parent of one of the pupils), we exclaim, “Powerful and beautiful is thy influence, O woman!” To stand forth as the champion of religion and morality, is her appropriate sphere. No aim or object can be more noble or more worthy of an enlightened Jewish female, than that which seeks to advance the character of Israel by inculcating those lessons of wisdom and piety, which, like charity, extend beyond the grave into the boundless realms of eternity. By early instilling into the mind religious truths, the effect is most happy, the influence most salutary. It prepossesses the soul, and thus banishes vicious principles. It is the basis on which rests the chaste and beautiful superstructure of moral character, which cannot easily be undermined. Early religious instruction sinks deep into the mind; and thus becomes incorporated with our very nature; and in after life vice assails in vain. The soul imbued with vital religion is impervious to its insidious and baneful attacks. Let a child remain ignorant of its duty to God and of the holy precepts of religion, and its moral nature becomes tinged with vice, depravity, and crime, which only await the occasion to develope their blighting and devastating power. But we have wandered from our original purpose, for our thoughts throng thick when we dwell on such a pleasing topic.

A very numerous assemblage, composed of the parents and friends of the pupils, the fair, dark-eyed daughters of Israel, and several of our Christian friends, filled the spacious room of the Masonic Hall. As we gazed on the smiling, joyous looks of the children, the anxious hopes pictured in the faces of their parents, or turned to the teachers, whose modest deportment and timidity bespoke the intensity of their emotions, we could not refrain from thanking God that such a school had been established amongst us. The President’s desk glittered with a rich array of premiums, to be awarded to the most diligent, and on it were placed tasteful and rare bouquets of flowers, the offerings of those innocent beings whose hearts had been made joyous and happy under her teachings. The coup d’oeil was both imposing and affecting, and must have gladdened the hearts of all who saw it. The children who were present numbered about fifty-five, from the age of four to fifteen years; several being absent from the city, and indisposed. The exercises were commenced by twenty of the pupils singing “Ane Kaylehaynoo,” in a beautiful and feeling manner, their voices blending in harmonious unison; and while the sweet melody of infant voices filled the spacious hall and rose on high, our heart joined with them in the acknowledgment, “There is none like our God—there is none like our Lord.” When the hymn was concluded, the Rev. Mr. Rosenfeld offered the following prayer to the throne of Divine Grace:

Almighty God, Sovereign of the Universe! Thou who penetratest the most secret recesses of the heart, and before whose omniscience nothing can be hidden; Thou who understandest the lisping of innocent children, and who art the Protector of the faithful and good: behold us standing in thy divine presence, to hear the truths of thy holy religion pronounced by the lips of innocent beings who are taught to glorify thy holy name. Oh! our Father, we feel overwhelmed by thy infinite goodness and mercy, which Thou lavishest daily upon us; and our hearts overflow with emotions and thanks for thy fatherly protection, which Thou so mercifully bestowest upon us. Where is the human tongue that can praise Thee?—where the human heart that can conceive Thee?—and where is the human mind that can comprehend Thee fully, oh! Almighty God? If we consider this, oh, merciful Father, then we feel our nothingness; then we prostrate ourselves before Thee, and humbly acknowledge our insignificance. We pray Thee, oh Father, to look down graciously upon us, and upon these innocent beings who are trained up in thy divine precepts. Be Thou with them in thy attributes of mercy, and compassion. Guide them with thy infinite wisdom; protect them from the snares of vice and destruction; and cause them to brow up to be lights in Israel and supporters of thy holy religion. We invoke thy heavenly blessings upon the founders and teachers of this noble institution: may they be blessed with patience and perseverance, and may they continue successfully in their holy labours which they have commenced in thy name. Oh, Lord! mayest Thou reward them with contentment and happiness, and be Thou their Guide in thy unfathomable wisdom, and assist them in the arduous task which they have undertaken for the promotion of thy holy cause. Pour out thy divine blessing upon the members of this society: may their efforts be crowned with the happiest results, and may they reap the fruit of their endeavours in the prosperity of this institution, and in the happy state of our community that will originate from it. Bless, oh, Lord! this assembly, and all those who take an interest in the promulgation of thy Word.—Amen.—Hallelujah!

Miss Henrietta Hart, the President of the institution, then read the following Report; and her timidity and retiring modesty (so lovely a trait in woman’s character) consequent upon a first essay before an audience, impressed us with the belief that she deeply felt what she uttered; for when she concluded (in a voice tremulous from emotion) the ardent and sincere prayer, tears gushing from the depths of a feeling heart choked her utterance. We cannot allow this opportunity to pass, without awarding to this lady the sincere meed of our approbation, for the zeal, energy, and unwavering perseverance she has exercised in behalf of this institution (of which she can proudly claim to be one of the founders), as well as the distinguished manner in which she has presided over it for the past year. It would be a useless task to employ the pen of panegyric in her behalf, when the joyful emotions of her own heart, and the “still small voice,” have already assured her that she has nobly performed her duty.

“I rejoice that this occasion affords me the privilege of congratulating the members of this invaluable institution on the encouraging results which the past year has produced; results which will not only be exhibited to you in the examination of our pupils to-day, but will, I trust, be of incalculable value to them in their future intercourse with the world, testing the enduring advantages of early religious instruction. The lessons here taught are calculated to inspire them with a love for their Creator, and a desire to fulfil his holy commands. What better instruction, mothers and fathers of Israel, could be afforded to your children? The seeds of religious instruction, sown in youth, bud and bloom in maturer years, and yield undying fruit in the life to come. ‘Train up a child in the way he should go,’ (says our Royal Moralist,) ‘and in his old age he will not depart from it.’ Yes, the most proper season for acquiring the spirit of religion, and planting the germ of devotion and piety, is in early life. Lessons of religious truth then sink deep into the mind, and time cannot obliterate, circumstances cannot efface them. It is therefore with a heart overflowing with gratitude, that I offer my sincere thanks to our All-merciful Father, for his goodness and mercy in thus far prospering our efforts; and I fervently implore his gracious Providence, that he may still keep his protecting arm over our institution, and so imbue our minds with the spirit of our holy religion, that we may implant ineffaceable lessons of wisdom in those tender minds confided to our care.

“I take the greatest pleasure in bearing testimony to the industry and zeal which have characterized the conduct of the teachers, as well as the application and correct deportment of the children. Each and all have rendered the most efficient aid in carrying out our system of instruction; and it will not, I trust, be deemed irrelevant to this occasion to award them the just praise due their conduct.

“Permit me to suggest to your consideration the propriety of establishing a Library, consisting of works on our national history, for the instruction of our elder pupils, and of lighter and instructive works of a moral and religious character, which would render them highly attractive to the more juvenile classes. In connexion with this subject, I beg leave to state that there has lately been established in Philadelphia a society whose purpose is to disseminate books of this character, calculated to impress upon the minds of the rising generation the truths of our religion. The Rev. Mr. Leeser, who is at the head of this great movement, is desirous of procuring auxiliary societies to unite with that in Philadelphia. The congregation of Richmond has united, and both sexes of our people there have contributed a small amount per annum, for which the members will receive a copy of each work published. I respectfully suggest this matter to the earnest consideration of our society.

“In accordance with the 4th article of the Constitution, which invests the President with the entire direction of the discipline of the school, and with the power of rewarding the diligent, I had, on the very first day of my introduction into office, laid down certain rules, to the observance of which I intended most strictly to adhere, so that I might be ably to preserve an even-handed Justice in the distribution of prizes to the pupils. The rule therefore that I adopted to attain this desirable end was, that each pupil, on the recitation of a perfect lesson, should receive a ticket, as a voucher for the same;—twelve of these entitling the possessor to a trifling prize at each quarterly examination, or four times this number to a more important one at the anniversary. This explanation I think due to those to whom no prizes will be awarded to-day, having already availed themselves of the reward due their diligence. To Master Jefferson Tobias will be awarded the highest prize.

“In conclusion, allow me to express the sincere wish that your children’s future lives may beautifully illustrate the lessons of their youth;—that the three great precepts of our Holy Law—duty to their God, their neighbour, and themselves—may be the unerring rule and guide by which all their actions shall be regulated. May they ever stand forth as champions of our holy faith, and practically demonstrate our ancient usages and customs; and may this prayer be heard by the Father of the faithful, our Creator and Judge, the Preserver unto this day of his scattered though not forsaken Israel.”

The children were then thoroughly examined in Pyke’s Scriptural Lessons, Cahen’s Catechism, Peixotto’s Bible Questions, Henry’s Class Book, and Johlson’s Catechism. They were divided into eight classes; and we noticed, as a new and improving feature, that the geographical location and topography of each country and city were correctly given, thus familiarizing the minds of the children with the countries which were once our rich inheritance, which were forfeited by our disobedience and sin. They spoke as familiarly of Egypt, the land of our suffering and slavery, as if they were describing the locality of our own city. In simple yet eloquent language, they led us along the arid desert of Sinai, and accurately described its sacred mount, from which God, amid thunder and lightning, gave the Law. We travelled with them through Babylon, and listened with rapture to their description of the Assyrian monarch, with his pampered luxuriant appetites. By Babel’s stream we sat with them, and heard again the plaintive notes of out captive bards. The prattling of childish innocence lisping “ ‘Twas God who made my infant frame;” the explanation of our law, its precepts and commandments; and the reasons assigned for our sacred observances, must have sunk deep into the heart of each auditor, as it did in ours. The members of each class acquitted themselves with great credit; and where all did well; it would be invidious to particularize.

Miss Hart adopted the original and novel plan of requiring the most competent of the pupils to recite some appropriate piece at each quarterly examination, correctly thinking that it would strengthen their minds, add grace to their actions, and also destroy the monotony of the annual examination. In this she most happily succeeded. After the examination of each class, one of its members edified and delighted the audience (who could not restrain their plaudits) with a recitation. These pieces were so appropriate to the occasion, and the enunciation of each so clear, their gesticulation so chaste and impressive, that we cannot withhold giving the names of the youthful orators, as a testimonial of our approbation and delight.

1. Miss Rosannah Moses.—“The Parting between Rebecca and Jacob.”
2. Master Carson Joseph.—Hebrew Melody: “Oh! weep for those that wept by Babel's stream.”
3. Miss Miriam Levin.—“An Infant's Prayer.”—Original.
4. Master Joseph Cohen.—“The Return of the Israelites to their ancient inheritances.”
5. Miss Sarah Moses.—“The Rainbow.”—From the Occident.
6. Master Hertz Valentine.—“The Martyrs of Damascus.”
7. Miss Hannah Hyams.—“The Child of Mercy.”—A Talmudic Allegory.
8. Master Liza Joseph.—“A Vision of Jerusalem.”—By Miss Aguilar.

The distribution of prizes was then made; and among the beautiful volumes which graced the table of the President, we noticed with much pleasure several copies of “Caleb Asher,” richly bound, republished by the Jewish Publication Society of Philadelphia. We wish the society may prosper and flourish, and trust that the hint thrown out by Miss Hart may be speedily acted on.

The Rev. Mr. Rosenfeld then delivered a very appropriate address; his subject those well known verses of King Solomon, “Teach a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This gentleman possesses an acute penetration; his inferences are clear, and his analysis close; added to which, he is an excellent classical scholar. He pictured in bold colouring the evils that spring from irreligion, in its effect upon the ultimate destinies of man. He has little of the proud flash of words, but he has a sense, a sinew and muscle, and a compass and power of thought, that few could equal and none surpass in the time he has occupied in studying our language. When this gentleman arrived here, three years since, he was totally unacquainted with the English language. We regret that we cannot procure his discourse at this time, but trust that it will grace some future number of your valuable journal.

The exercises of the Society were then closed by the pupils singing the English version of “Adone Gnolam,” which was effective and impressive; and I rejoice to add, a very handsome subscription was realized.

The public exhibition of this school has made us feel that a crisis has arrived in the history of our people here. They have awakened from the moral slumber that enveloped them. Those who examine closely, can see plainly the features of a moving object; and these minute workings on the surface are not to be unobserved or disregarded. We who are passing away may remain inert and inactive, with our dearest interests at stake. Such is the anomalous constitution of our nature, active to ill, and sleepless in the pursuit of gain; but tardy and slothful in entering the contest, the prize of which is the happiness of our immortal souls. But the future opens brightly to the view, and to the rising generation, to those who are weekly imbibing the moral and religious precepts taught in this and similar schools, must we look for a practical illustration of the commandments and customs of our holy religion. Let the same zeal characterize the teachers, the same wise and salutary lessons be taught the children, and nothing will resist their forcible and most certain onward march in becoming the bright examples to Israel in the practice of the observances instituted by the Most High through Moses our inspired lawgiver. Our religion will then become the great moral and moving principle; and he who will expect to resist its progress will be as insane as he who attempts to dam up and intercept the course of a mighty, strong, yet gently flowing river. “Example is like statuary; it is sculptured into form—it is reality.” The eye dwells upon it; the memory recalls it; the imagination broods over it; its influence enters the soul. God grant that it may prove thus with the rising generation. Our heart glows with new animation while we dwell upon this joyful event; and to the President, teachers, and members of this noble institution, we say, Go on—God will speed your good work—your zeal and perseverance will command success.

Charleston, 5th May, 1845.