Giving Tuesday at AJHS

Join us Tuesday, November 28th in a Global Day of Giving

Today the world celebrates Giving Tuesday; a day dedicated to generosity and fostering kindness, which we at AJHS believe are more essential than ever. Together, we have been reflecting on the history and concept of Giving Tuesday and the significance of these values in Jewish culture. As we have, we’ve come to focus on a collection that mirrors and exemplifies Jewish generosity and kindness, and that is the archive of the Purim Association (AJHS collection I-20).

An invitation to the March 15, 1881 Purim Association dress ball. The design and messaging of this postcard nods to customs traditionally associated with the Purim holiday—wearing masks and costumes, public celebrations, and making charitable donations—while also conveying an air of whimsy and upscale entertainment. Proceeds from that year’s ball would be directed toward the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society.

This collection documents the work of the Purim Association of the City of New York, a fascinating and creative philanthropic organization that was created to support Jewish charities and mutual aid organizations in the mid-late 19th Century. The Purim Association collection includes precious minute books, a unique and rare scrapbook, announcements and photos of the Purim Association’s joyful fundraising events, and a beautiful miniature scroll that was sent to members as the invitation to the Association’s 1866 ball.

The Purim Association was the brainchild of Myer Isaacs, co-editor of the popular publication The Jewish Messenger, which later merged with Philip Cowan’s newspaper The American Hebrew. Isaacs was also a lawyer, and an enthusiastic participant in the growing ecosystem of Jewish organizations and philanthropies. Isaacs served in leadership positions in the Educational Alliance, the Baron de Hirsch fund, and countless other service-minded organizations, and in 1960, wrote a piece for his periodical advocating for a Purim fancy dress ball to raise needed funds for Jewish causes. Isaacs felt that Purim was an optimal occasion to combine the celebratory atmosphere of a holiday with its traditional impetus to provide gifts and charity to the less fortunate. The organization was an enormous success, actively planning events from 1862-1902.

Letters to the Purim Association from beneficiary organizations in 1892, acknowledging the receipt of donations. To augment the funds raised for recipient organizations such as the Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews, the Association also purchased bonds, charged member dues, and organized excursions to the theatre and the ballet. (Scrapbook, Purim Association Collection I-20)

Over the years, the Association raised significant and vital funds as its merry events became increasingly popular. The Purim Association’s annual ball became a staple event of society for Jewish and non-Jewish New Yorkers alike; the thoughtful decorations, invitations, and costumes became more lavish and elaborate over time, which also drew in new attendees. Events were held at splendid venues such as the Metropolitan Opera House, Madison Square Garden, and Carnegie Music Hall, further enhancing the appeal and allure. By the time the Purim Association wound down, it had raised over $300,000 for organizations such as the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society, The Hebrew Technical Institute, and the Young Men’s Hebrew Association of the City of New York.

These exquisite and beloved collection materials have been much in demand over the years for many exhibitions and publications; they are a magnificent and compelling exemplar of Jewish philanthropy in the 19th century. The aforementioned invitation scroll especially elicits enthusiastic conversations, and is a wonderful addition to educational sessions for virtually any age. The Purim Association collection not only honors the legacy of its founder and members, it also inspires future generations to continue the Jewish tradition of giving back to their communities. This collection preserves important history and sets an example for future philanthropists.

And now, these unique materials, which so beautifully document the spirit of giving in an important segment of the American Jewish community, are in need of generosity and kindness. The age of the materials (161 years and counting!), and well as the age in which they were created, mean the physical items are showing signs of their age. This collection is in need of preservation assistance and digitization for continued and essential access, and your commitment to this special Giving Tuesday project will allow us to stabilize the original items, digitally capture them, and create a new level of access for all interested in learning this history. Help us bring this collection to a whole new audience, just in time for Purim 2024! $15,000 is what we need to restore this extraordinary collection so we can go on sharing it for years and years to come.

This Giving Tuesday, I and all of us at AJHS thank you for continued friendship, support and interest in our mission and collections, and look forward to sharing this collection’s restoration with you next March. Stay tuned!

Melanie Meyers
Deputy Director Chair, Collections and Engagement