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March 22: The YMHA

March 21, 2015

6056995517_270f9fc336The first meeting of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in New York took place at the home of Dr. Simeon Newton Leo on this date in 1874. The organization would incorporate on September 10th, with the mission “to promote a better feeling and a higher culture among young men and to unite them into a liberal organization, which shall tend to their moral, intellectual, and social improvement.” The founding board included Isaac S. Isaacs, Adolph L. Sanger, Oscar S. Straus, Lewis May (the first president), and others, mostly German Jewish businessmen. Within two decades, similar organizations sprouted in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, San Francisco, and Louisville; smaller Y’s would eventually be established in Boston, Memphis, Pittsburgh, and numerous other cities across the U.S. (The first YMHA was established in Baltimore in 1854 to provide aid for Jewish immigrants.) In 1888, the Young Women’s Hebrew Association was established as an annex to the New York YMHA, which in 1898 was presented with a building at 92nd St. and Lexington Avenue by banker-philanthropist Jacob Schiff.

“The social work includes public lectures by prominent citizens, literary and debating meetings, free classes in Bible, Hebrew, stenography, book-keeping, mechanical drawing, and other subjects, as well as in physical culture.” —Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906