The Hebrew Orphan Asylum Band

The Hebrew Orphan Asylum Band

Credit:Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York Records; box 85; folder 2; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY

In the 19th century, throngs of immigrants came to the United States from around the world, many of them from Europe. And of these millions of new Americans, many of them were Jewish. Life was hard back then, even harder than it is today. And between shorter life spans, more dangerous jobs, and the tragic realities of immigrant life, many Jewish children were orphaned. Just as The Fellowship helps so many impoverished Jewish children today — in Israel, across the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere around the world — these orphans needed someone’s help.

And so the Hebrew Benevolent Society set up an orphanage in New York that housed several dozen of the city’s Jewish orphans. Later on, a large new building was constructed, which housed more than 1,700 orphaned children.

Life was still difficult in the orphanage. During the Blizzard of 1888, the orphanage was cut off from the rest of the city, but managed to subsist. In 1898, the city’s impure water supply caused seven of the children to die from dysentery. But during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 — a tragedy that killed millions around the world, many of them young people — not a single orphan succumbed.

But there were still small pleasures for the children of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. The children were taken to synagogues for holidays, girls were taught domestic skills, and boys were taught trades such as shoemaking and printing. The printing came in handy, as the orphanage published its own magazine called Young Israel, for which Horatio Alger even wrote a serialized novel.

But perhaps the most enjoyable pastime for the children who lived there was taking part in one of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Bands. From marching bands to the harmonica band seen above, these children who had suffered through so much were at last able to enjoy a bit of joy by taking part in God’s gift of music.

Tags: Aid Hebrew Orphan Asylum Band Jews Music History United States

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