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September 20: Yom Kippur Anarchists’ Ball, 1893

September 19, 2015

The anarchist Yiddish newspaper Fraye Arbiter Shtime (Free Voice of Labor) sponsored its annual Yom Kippur concert and ball, “with a pleasant... and tasteful buffet,” at Clarendon Hall, 114 East 13th Street, in New York City on this date in 1893. This mass anti-religious event was met by “an estimated mob of five to six thousand people surrounding the hall,” writes Rebecca E. Margolis (in Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil: Yiddish Culture in Montreal, 1905-1945), “and the police intervening and making arrests. Anti-anarchist activity increased” that year, and a “six-year hiatus in the publication of the Fraye Arbiter Shtime” began. The Yom Kippur Ball “tradition” went back to 1888 in London and spread to New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago. It made a comeback in New York in 1900, when the revived anarchist Yiddish paper invited “all freethinkers to gather in the lovely Clarendon Hall where singing, recitations, and performances fitting for this occasion will be held.” This event passed without disruption, but the assassination of President William McKinley by an anarchist in September, 1901 put all anarchists on notice in America, and the Yom Kippur Ball tradition soon lost steam.

“By 1905... the previous anti-religious venom was lacking in the pages of Fraye Arbiter Shtime, and the New York Yom Kippur ball had become a Yom Kippur picnic held in Long Island, far outside New York’s Lower East Side.” —Rebecca E. Margolis