The Jewish Quarter
of Philadelphia

Home       l       Site Map      l      Exhibitions      l     About the Museum       l      Education      l     Contact Us       l      Links


     Early in September 1884, an interrogation of arriving Jews at the Christian Street pier convinced Jews in Philadelphia that the newly arriving immigrants needed the help of the established Jewish community. The incident began in New York some months earlier when twenty-eight Jewish emigrants from Romania were not permitted to land, a decision that was based on the action of the Commissioner of Emigration who was reportedly aided by Superintendent Hirsch of the New York United Hebrew Charities. The emigrants were denied admittance to New York on the basis that they were paupers and were sent back to Hamburg, Germany, on the steamer Westphalia.9

     Several weeks later the United States Consul in Hamburg informed the Treasury Department in Washington, the department responsible for administration of the immigration laws, that paupers, supposedly the same Jews who had been returned to Germany, had somehow managed to secure passage to Liverpool and in Liverpool had boarded the steamer Pennsylvania. The Acting Secretary of the Treasury notified the Emigrant Commissioners; in turn, they notified Deputy Collector Smith at Philadelphia, who notified Peter Wright & Sons, the agents for the American Steamship Company, that the paupers were about to attempt to land again, this time in Philadelphia. With officialdom duly notified, the might of the United States government, its agencies, and affiliated private interests stood ready to confront the paupers, or those thought to be the paupers who were denied admittance into the United States at the port of New York some months earlier.

     The U.S. officials, however, were not the only ones awaiting the arrival of the steamship Pennsylvania...


Photos above: Poster, American Line in Philadelphia, cir 1875. Courtesy of the Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

      At the wharf to greet the steamer were three Jews: the Rev. Sabato Morais, the very popular Minister-Chazan of Mikveh Israel; Simon Muhr, a Philadelphia German Jewish philanthropist and owner of the imposing Muhr Building, Broad and Race Streets; and Jacob Judelsohn. None of these men were born in the United States, and all played a major role in assisting the new arrivals settling in this country. The least known of the three was Judelsohn, the only one from Eastern Europe. Born in Marionpol, Russia, in 1855, Judelsohn came to this country in 1879 and settled in New York City. He became secretary of the "Jewish Immigration Society, New York," perhaps, the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society of the United States. Moving to Philadelphia, Judelsohn became the Philadelphia representative of H. Bernstein & Co. of New York, a banking exchange and insurance business dealing in foreign coins, drafts, and money orders. Judelsohn had an office in Northern Liberties, but he soon moved to 510 S. 5th Street. After a short time Judelsohn left Bernstein and went into the exchange business for himself at the S. 5th Street address.10

     Of the 538 steerage and intermediate passengers (those in the poorest classes of passage) aboard the Pennsylvania when it docked at the pier of the American Line near the foot of Christian Street on Monday, September 8, 1884, eighty-two Jewish men, women, and children were corralled off on the deck and were not allowed to land with the other passengers. Inspector Rodgers informed the captain of the ship that no Polish or Romanian Jew was to be permitted to leave the vessel until proof was given that he or she was not a pauper, nor likely to become one.

    When the other passengers had been landed with their bags, Count Peter Wodzicki the interpreter for the American Line, began interrogating the Jews individually. When asked the amount of money they had, many drew up their shoulders and innocently responded: "Ich habe kein Geld [I have no money]." When they were told that paupers with no money would have to be returned to Europe, "there was considerable whispering, after which, from the most unexpected places, were drawn five, ten and twenty mark notes." These were unrolled from folds of dirty linen, taken from the bottom of trunks, or produced, after much trouble, from bootlegs.

     Through the efforts of Muhr and Judelsohn (Judelsohn spoke Romanian, Russian and Yiddish), the immigrants, except for a mother and her child who requested to be returned to Jossi, Romania, were permitted to land; the mother and child were eventually landed also. Whether the immigrants aboard the Pennsylvania were the same paupers who had been refused admittance in New York was never established. Muhr pointed out to the authorities that although a number of the immigrants had the same names as those denied admittance in New York, it was not uncommon in the old country for many persons from the same place to have identical names.ll

     Judelsohn, not willing to let the methods practiced upon his coreligionists go unchallenged, called a meeting to discuss the protection of Jewish immigrants at the port of Philadelphia, distributed circulars at different synagogues, and requested Sabato Morais to be present.12 At Wheatley Dramatic Hall, the idea of forming an association for the protec­tion of Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia was proposed. Word of Judelsohn's ideas quickly reached the established Jewish community of New York and Philip Cowen, the publisher of the influential American Hebrew. In a letter to Henry S. Morais, the son of Sabato Morais, Cowen wrote: "Judelsohn has turned out to be a great mischief maker. He tried it here but could get no countenancing and now his head has been so completely turned that he is crazed."13

     The letter reflected the thinking of many American and German born Jewish leaders in America at that time. The active encouragement of east European Jewish immigration was viewed with great alarm. Jewish leadership in Philadelphia was already supporting the Jewish Hospital, the Jewish Foster Home, the Jewish Education Society, the Young Men's Hebrew Association, the United Hebrew Charities of Philadelphia, and other worthy causes. They also supported recently arrived Russian immigrants with food, clothing, coal, money for rent, matzo for peysekh (Passover), sewing machines, etc., and while the Jewish community readily assumed a duty toward immigrants already landed here, a similar duty was not envisioned toward those still in Russia. That was where the community drew the line.

     Judelsohn may have gotten word of Cowen's opposition (Henry S. Morais and Judelsohn lived in Philadelphia and corresponded with one another) because Judelsohn advised the elder Morais that efforts were being made to thwart his, Judelsohn's, plans to found a society devoted to assisting Jewish immigrants at the port of Philadelphia and helping them find work. In a letter to Sabato Morais, Judelsohn wrote: "In order to prevent the interference of shortsighted, ignorant and prejudiced parties to disturb us in our movement, with the display that we are going to burden our charities with an Immigration and Labor Society, I found it necessary to publish a part of my yesterday's communication to Geo. L. Lyon, Esq."l4

     Judelsohn wrote to Lyon, the Secretary of the Jews' Emigration Society in London, that although the immigration movement in Philadelphia was strong, the Philadelphians were already overburdened. Judelsohn begged Lyon to communicate with the Committee of Hamburg and urge them to send no emigrants to Philadelphia until a regular organization could be established, estimated by Judelsohn to be in a few months.l5 At a subsequent meeting in Wheatley Dramatic Hall, which was attended by over four hundred recent arrivals from Eastern Europe, the Association of Jewish Immigrants of Philadelphia was founded.

     Judelsohn's pivotal role in the establishment of the organization not only confirmed in Cowen's mind the belief that Judelsohn was crazed but also convinced Cowen that Judelsohn was dangerous. Writing to the younger Morais, Cowen stated:

     As to Judelsohn, he is no riddle. I did not wish to give you any instructions about him as I preferred not hampering you. But you will find him a meddlesome, troublesome individual who is never so happy as when in his zeal he gets others in hot water. It has been a marvel to me that your best men should have been led around by the nose by a person who has neither ability, standing or influence, nor anything else to recommend him, except that he was opposed to the meth­ods of New York because he had not the brains to grasp the situation, and it pleased Phila. to do anything to show its olden hostility to US.!6

     Who were the best men who were led around by the nose by Judelsohn? Elected president of the Association of Jewish Immigrants was Alfred T. Jones, the respected Jewish editor of the Jewish Record, 1875-1886. Other best men included Simon Muhr; Charles Hoffman, a lawyer and one of the founders and first editors of the Jewish Exponent; Abraham Kessler and Lieb Levine, founders of Chevra B'nai Abraham; and many other community leaders.

     Judelsohn refused to accept a position in the Association of Jewish Immigrants of Philadelphia and returned to New York. He became an accountant, kept abreast of matters in Philadelphia, contributed articles to the Jewish Exponent, and continued to correspond with Sabato Morais. He remained deeply interested in immigration matters, testifying before a sub-committee of the Joint Congressional Committee on Immigration in New York City. Several years later, on December 15, 1891, at the age of thirty-six, Jacob Judelsohn died of pleuropneumonia.17

      The Association Judelsohn helped to start, however, began to flourish immediately. By November 28, 1884, the Association rented a twelve-room house for newly arrived immigrants. A total of 1,076 Jewish immigrants arrived at the port of Philadelphia by steamer during the Association's first year, but of this number only 145 persons remained in Philadelphia. The majority left the city within days after their arrival for final destinations in other cities.18 In a letter to the headquarters of the Alliance Israelite Universelle in Paris, the president, Alfred T. Jones, explained the workings of the Association of Jewish Immigrants of Philadelphia:

     I will take this opportunity, dear sir, to acquaint you with the modus operandi of our organization. When a passenger steamer arrives, we are notified by telegraph six hours before it reaches the wharf. Our agent (the only paid officer) is thus enabled to be on the spot, & is duly empowered by the U.S. Commissioners of Immigration to board the ship to confer with the immigrants. He superintends their conveyance to the Railroad trains of all who are destined for other cities, thereby expediting their departure & saving them from the exaction of illegal charges or other impositions practiced on strangers in large cities, & also notifies their friends, if they have any, of their departure. Those who remain in this city are provided temporarily with lodging & meals in a large house rented and furnished by us for the purpose (for which we have engaged a man & wife as superintendents in which also the office of our Labor Bureau is established).

     We then seek homes for the families that remain, saving them from drifting into the slums of the city, & from herding together. Employment is sought for all old enough to work, & for some, tools or machines are provided, where we think it is necessary & the recipients worthy, although to find work in the present depressing state of the manufacturing & mer­cantile interests is most difficult. Besides this we are often compelled to furnish articles of clothing & assistance towards the purchase of furniture.19

     Three years later the house was closed and the Association rented facilities when needed. The organization continued to expand, grow, and aid immigrants at the port of Philadelphia, but it suffered a reversal when Jones, the staunchest American-born ally of the Russian immigrants in Philadelphia and throughout the country, died on October 3, 1888. At the time Russians began to arrive in Philadelphia in large numbers, Jones, in editorials in the Jewish Record, zealously supported their efforts.

     Few in the established Jewish community of Philadelphia thought that the Russian Jews would continue to arrive, and most hoped that things would soon return to normal. The first years of east European Jewish immigration saw relatively few of the newcomers settle in Philadelphia. Most were transmigrants on their way west or south and for them, Philadelphia was the penultimate haven on a long journey. But some did stay and made Philadelphia their home.
 Text  from "The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia" by  Harry D.  Boonin, 1999.





Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links

Copyright © 2008. Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved. 
Image Use Policy.