The Lower East Side of New York
Jewish Education

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From The New-York Tribune, November 12, 1899.

One of the schools of New York which is unknown beyond the Russian district has recently been enlarged and improved, and the building which it occupies, Nos. 225 and 227 East Broadway, has been changed into one of the most attractive structures in that part of the city. Many educational and charitable institutions in that neighborhood receive contributions from members of the Jewish community living in the upper part of the city, and some of these institutions could not exist without the support desired from that quarter. But the Machzikay Talmud Torah School depends for funds entirely on the Russian-Jewish population. This seems only natural when one knows that the school is maintained for the pur­pose of teaching the Hebrew language and Hebrew literature.

"The reformed Jews who live uptown," said a patriarch of the East Side, "know nothing about the Hebrew in their service. They still have a few words of the old language, but the young men and women who read and chant them, and even many of the older people, don't know their meaning unless they look at the printed translation. Another generation, and the little that they have now will pass away and the Hebrew will be forgotten. The beautiful poems in the holy books and the great writings of the Jewish philosophers cannot be translated, and we maintain this school so that our children may not grow up in ignorance of the language in which our fathers wrote."

And then he explained the difference between the language which is taught in the school and the German jargon known as Yiddish, in which the East Side newspapers are printed and for which Hebrew characters are used.


The school was established about fifteen years ago, and has grown with the Jewish population from one class of twenty-five pupils to twenty-two classes having about eleven hundred pupils ranging in age from six to fifteen years. There are no charges for instruction, and besides being a free school in all that the term implies, needy children who attend are supplied with shoes and clothing. The money for maintaining the institution comes from the annual dues of the mem­bers, of whom there are about two thousand, and from contributions from Russian Jews who wish to pay more than the stipulated $3 a year.

Principal Robison in charge.

There is probably no schoolhouse in New York in which less money has been expended for interior decoration than this Hebrew school. The rooms are absolutely bare except for the plain benches and chairs and the desks of the instructors. The pupils are for the most part children of poor parents, and as a class would not bear close inspection for neatness, but they display an earnestness in their work which shows that they share, even in a childish way, the sentiments of their parents and regard the tasks set before them as more than ordinary school work.

In order that the work required of them in the Hebrew school may not interfere with their regular school duties, the sessions are from four to seven o'clock on weekdays and from nine to one o'clock on Sunday.

"We take no pupils," said Mr. Robison, the head of the school, "who do not attend the public schools, 'and the translations which the children make are from Hebrew into English."


On entering the building during the school session the stranger is likely to think that he has entered a place where boys are being instructed in chanting queer melodies. From all sides come wailing strains, sometimes uttered by a single voice and again in chorus. In the classroom the teacher stands at one end, directing not only the proper pronunciation of the words, but the intonation, and when a pupil has recited a line or passage, the rest of the class repeats it in concert. All sit with their hats or caps on, because according to the Jewish law - a relic of the Orient -no man may appear before God with his head uncovered.

In the upper classes the Bible is the textbook, and the lessons are selected in keeping with the season of the year or the proximity of a holiday. In these classes the boys are also drilled in translation. In the lower classes the rudiments of the language and short words are taught, but even there the boys acquire the sing-song mode of recitation which seems to be a part of Hebrew. In speaking of this characteristic, one of the supporters of the school said:

"The Hebrew prayers are chanted in a certain way. The sing-song which you consider queer and which our boys are learning is the same as has been used for thousands of years - not a note has been changed or modified. The music is not written, but it has outlived many compositions which were carefully put on paper. Our boys learn these chants here as we learned them from our fathers, and they will in turn hand them down to their children as we do.


"This all sounds queer to you, and so it does to the Reform Jews, but we hope to see it survive through many generations. That is why a school like this one is necessary. The boys learn to sing patriotic songs in the public schools, and then they come here to learn the sacred music."

Some of the boys who are graduated from the Hebrew school go from there to the theological seminary and become rabbis, but that is only a small minority. Many of the graduates become East Side merchants, with the usual ambition toward a Broadway store and an uptown home. A fair percentage of the graduates have become practicing physicians and lawyers. Thirty of the graduates are now teachers in the public schools of New-York.

"Why are there no girls in the school?" the visitor asked one of the teachers.

"The girls may learn at home," he answered, "and they do, but we have no place for them here."

This is also a remnant of Orientalism, like the custom by which these people compel the women to occupy a place apart from the men in the houses of worship.

The formal opening of the Machzikay Talmud Torah (Supporters of the Teachings of the Bible) School will take place on November 26, and the $55,000 building will be thrown open for the inspection of the public.

The officers of the Board of Trustees of the school are H. Pasinsky, president; B. Klyff, first vice-president; Leon Zadikow, second vice-president; Lewish Isaacs, secretary; A. T. Henigson, second secretary, and M. A. Herman, treasurer.







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