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Charitable Institutions


In our last we presented some considerations on the general system of public charities, and ventured several strictures on their management. We fear that we may be viewed in an unfavourable light by those who give the subject but a casual thought, and who do not enter fully into the nature of what is done and what is required in the premises. Such as these will perhaps accuse us of a want of sympathy for the poor, since we assert that mere giving them all the necessaries of life is not charity; and because we wish to impose conditions on the recipients before we would grant relief. It maybe alleged against us, that it would be an act of cruelty to refuse relieving any one who needs; and that as the receipts of the public treasuries are derived from many who do not value religious observances, we have no right to impose any such conditions as we have hinted at before we grant aid to the needy. It is possible enough that those also who rather depend on others for assistance, sooner than labour for themselves, may blame the men who would force on them habits of industry, which under present circumstances are not always required; and thus our article may be from various quarters stigmatized as not propounding that system of universal charity which is the characteristic of the Jewish religion. Now we are free to confess that the benevolence of our people is a noble trait; nations of all sorts of religious opinions have often had to acknowledge with admiration the considerate kindness with which the Jewish poor are kept from becoming a tax to the funds raised for the relief of the general mass of the indigent; and daily experience exhibits the amplest proof of profuse contribu<<470>>tions for all sorts of objects, and that seldom a case of distress or any public calamity is presented to the view of Jews without at once being alleviated through a liberal bestowal of relief. Nevertheless we are not satisfied that by thus giving, the whole duty of charity has been discharged, and that the poor themselves are thereby much benefited in a permanent manner. We have in our view at present a city where, within the last twelve months, very considerable sums  have been distributed in money, clothing, fuel, and the necessaries of life, besides paying the funeral expenses of certain deceased; no doubt much suffering has been relieved thereby, and many have been the feelings of gratitude enkindled in the breasts of the recipients. But in all candour, we would ask the managers of the various charities, “How many families and individuals have you placed beyond the necessity of applying again this year for the same amount of aid?” In this, however, we maintain, lies the principal obligation of charity, to remove distress, to eradicate pauperism, not merely to apply a temporary remedy, which will, when exhausted, aggravate the evil to a yet greater intensity,

Imagine a family, who formerly contrived by well-directed industry to earn as much as was needed for their few wants; their table was sufficiently supplied with wholesome food, well seasoned by a good appetite, the consequence of honest labour; their hearth lighted up by a cheerful though not a large fire, for which their handiwork had paid, before it was lighted; and their limbs covered with plain, substantial, and clean garments, the produce of their well-directed exertions;—now imagine them deprived by unforeseen failure of work, by sickness, or by the death of their chief support, of the means of acquiring what they need: and do you think that you discharge your duty by giving them a few shillings from a beneficent society, sending them a few garments from an association which professes to supply clothing, and a  cord of wood from a Hebra which distributes a limited quantity of fuel during the winter? Perhaps you may express a little more pity for them than for common beggars; but where are the public means of helping them to help themselves? And suppose you do relieve their present wants in the usual temporary manner, and kill thereby their spirit of independence, make them taste the bread of idleness, and clothe them without labour on their <<471>>part: and will you not have succeeded in making the next asking less painful and even a mere matter of course? Perhaps it may be said, that honourable poor will not likely become beggars; there is no danger of their sinking to the low degree of alms’ seekers and alms’ receivers. But this is a fatal error; who knows into what degree of degradation we may sink, when once we begin to fall? This is true nationally; for instance our own people, who from the most industrious farming population have for centuries, through the force of oppression, been reduced to a set of small traders, money-lenders, pedlers, and itinerants of all sorts, compelled as they were to earn a livelihood in a manner at first revolting to their independent souls, but which has at length become so strongly incorporated with their very natures almost, that all the steps taken to induce them to resume their former habits of manual labour are surrounded with well nigh insurmountable difficulties; and our noble race is thus looked upon, unjustly, as men to whom labour is odious, and who prefer cunning to fair dealing. No doubt there will be an awakening among us, and, that before very long; but in the mean time the evil does exist, though it was originally of slow and perhaps imperceptible growth.—But if nations can deteriorate from a high feeling of honour to low pursuits, is it possible that individuals can escape unscathed amidst a contaminating influence? Who of us, who live among the virtuous and intelligent, would not be shocked beyond measure if the thing were uttered as prophecy, or offended beyond forgiveness were it uttered as a mere matter of opinion, that this one or the other, who is received as an equal, or regarded as a superior by the first and the best in the land, should become a drunkard? a thief? a forger? a beggar? or found at last amidst the vilest of the vile, whose breath is pollution, whose deeds are infamy? whose touch the virtuous avoid as though it were fraught with a deadly poison? And yet, reader, persons as good as you or I, many a one in intellect and attainments far above what either you or I can lay claim to, have expiated their crime on the public scaffold, or rotted unpitied in the jail, surrounded by the lowest felons, because they had swerved from the path of rectitude; and would they not have revolted, as well as you or I, had the very possibility been hinted to them in the day of their pride?—And there has been many a maiden, too, the fairest among the fair, the admired of all behold<<472>>ers, whose steps were followed by the eyes of the noble and the good, who was suddenly missed from the midst of the brilliant circle where she had shone so brightly, an outcast from her home, her name not mentioned among her lovers, forgotten as one whom the grave had long enclosed. And was this fall not also unlooked for in the hour of her triumph, when those who now loathe her envied her for her beauty, for the homage she received from all?—We will not pursue this thought any farther, as we merely gave it as an evidence that no one can allege with truth that bad habits cannot by degrees be imbibed by a worthy family of hardworking people, let them have been ever so respectable; since we only know what we are, and no one knows what we can come to.

So then we maintain, that as Jews you have no right to compel the worthy poor to become dependent upon your constantly renewed gift; you are not authorized to tell them, almost in so many words, “Be idle or industrious, and we will feed and clothe you.” It is true that the food, in all likelihood, will be very scanty, and the garments coarse and insufficient; but the misery in all this is, that their being supplied without labour, and nearly without any inquiry into the habits or condition of the poor, will cause the recipients often to content themselves with whatever little they obtain in this manner, simply because, little though it be, it relieves them from working by so much as is received for the time being. We know as well as anyone can tell us, that there are among the poor, men as honourable, women of as high a character, children of as lofty aspirations, as there can be found among the rich. But precisely this is the reason why we should desire to elevate their character, not depress it, kill off all independence of feeling, by the manner in which most of our charities are administered. To the common beggar, who has made receiving charity a part of the business of his life, it cannot make any difference how he obtains the bounty which he is in quest of. He wants something, and it is all one provided he gets it. To his wife it is of no moment that she has to wait in the anteroom of the rich, before the lady patroness deigns to hear her complaint, if only she does not leave the house without some gift, however grudgingly bestowed. To his children it is no disgrace to be habited in the uniform, or coarse garments of a sewing <<473>>society; for their feeling of honour is not shocked by being pointed out as those clothed from a public charity. But how different must it be with him who, though limited in means, has feelings alive to all the degradation connected with an appeal to the aid of his fellow-mortals, “whose gift is small, but whose shame is great,” as our prayers so eloquently express the idea. In what light is he viewed when he makes his appeal? In the same which any other applicant is regarded. What is likely to be the amount of the relief? Not more than is given to the most unknown stranger. And how often will he be welcome even for this pittance? We need not tell what every one knows, that the gift could not be often repeated, though the distributors of the public funds were ever so willing; for the simple reason that the means at their disposal are so lamentably deficient for any other object than granting a mere temporary relief, which is hence extended alike to all who come, say once or twice, be they mere sojourners, who perhaps stopped in the city for the chance of obtaining this bit of charity, or the resident necessitous, whose wants are not even approached by what can be given to him.—The pious women of Israel often do not disdain to visit the hovels of the needy, in order to administer to their necessities; and many a prayer has been breathed, invoking blessing upon the kindly messengers of mercy who left behind them, in their visits, that which cheers the heart and relieves the suffering frame. But how far can all this giving go to ward off penury, or open brighter prospects for the future? The food and comforts provided cannot last for ever, and the same bounty will have to be invoked again in the next season of winter’s severity, or when sickness invades again the poor man’s cottage.—And as regards the children, no one will deny that they will be marked as charity pensioners by their associates, when these discover that the garments they wear are furnished from some society or other; whilst they not rarely are taught early to depend upon the public bounty, if they have themselves to go to the place of deposit to obtain what has been prepared for them, perhaps at some public meeting of those kind-hearted ladies who spend some time weekly to work with their own hands for the children of the destitute. Now it is bad enough if grown persons are compelled to become pensioners on charitable societies; but it is absolutely pernicious to young chil<<474>>dren to become conscious, at their tender age, that they are dependent on the bounty of strangers; because first, it lessens their respect for their own  parents, and secondly, it instills in them the dangerous idea, that work or not they will be supported in some shape by public beneficence. And then how is it likely that these juvenile pensioners will be received and treated by the distributors of the donations confided to them by the benevolent for the purpose of clothing the naked? Have these the highly requisite knowledge to treat the young applicants with proper tenderness? have they sufficient kindness of heart not to render the bounty a burden to the innocent sufferers before them? are they always mindful that though their pensioners (we hate the word, but, use it as a well understood term) are but children, they may have as tender feelings as the pampered offspring of the rich? Do they not very often call up fierce passions, on account of unkind words and harshness of expression, in the souls of these scions of the needy, where they fancy they have planted the seeds of eternal gratitude?

Our readers, as we trust, have had, in the general ideas which we have just thrown out currente calamo, some reasons at least presented to them, why we have a right to demand a general reform in our charitable institutions, which, excellent though they are in their kind, are far from perfect. There ought to be funds raised, as they have always been, to relieve transient poor, and to aid in any unforeseen emergency which may occur. So there ought to be funds to provide all the necessaries of life as occasion may require. But with all this done, there is yet a higher duty left unaccomplished, which is, to raise the resident poor from a situation of lowly dependence to one of productive industry; to elevate them from the heart-rending necessity of looking to you or me for a pair of shoes, or a loaf of bread, or a ton of coal, or a pound of sugar, or medical attendance, or anything else, be it much or little. The Lord of all the world alone knows what the poor do suffer in spirit when they are so relieved piecemeal in their daily wants; and yet He has assigned to us the care of those whom He has endowed with so few worldly goods, in order that we might earn for us his mercy by becoming His almoners on earth. But how differently should God’s almoners act from what we usually see practised! He is never weary of doing <<475>>good to us. Hourly do we receive bounties; daily are we loaded with  blessings. And yet how speedily do we imagine that we have done enough, that our bounty has been taxed to the uttermost. And all this is owing to our not appreciating what claim the poor have actually on us. We have not given according to our means, if the good old Jewish charity be taken as a guide, whilst the tenth of our income has not been devoted to a general good; and we fancy that but few of our rich men, both in this country and abroad, come within a great distance of this standard. Perhaps they may not find any persons to demand their aid to so great an extent, and of course they need not then devote upon useless objects the means which they in that case ought to lay by for their own children. But whilst they could find opportunities of being really bountiful, they cannot allege that they have done enough, whilst so many could be lifted up from a lowly state by their well-timed assistance. The industrious poor, especially those who have been reduced to destitution by sickness, the death of the chief support of the family, or by loss of employment, do not in general require a large sum to help them again on their feet, to use a common though significant expression; and why then should not the rich try to earn for themselves the blessings of the sinking by thus restoring them to respectability, and by lifting them above the necessity of seeking alms?—Perhaps the aid may require to be repeated; the first few pounds bestowed may not have at once effected the measure of success which is required. But then what need a rich man care should he give a hundred times, as the Rabbins declare that it is our duty to do, in accordance with the tenth verse in the fifteenth chapter of Deuteronomy: “Thou shalt surely give him נתון תתן לו, and thy heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him?” Few indeed will ever impoverish themselves by their liberality; every one can easily judge for himself how much his means will honestly allow him to bestow on others; but, within this limit, it may with right be expected of those capable of granting aid, to see that they relieve the industrious and respectable poor from the grievous necessity to remain poor, or to apply to a public charity for the temporary succour which is all that can be demanded from such a source. And here we would observe, that for one we should be opposed, except under rare cases of actual <<476>>necessity, for societies to have regular pensioners, who would took to them for a weekly or monthly or annual allowance of any kind; for this would establish a claim in the persons of the recipients which does not of right exist, and by which many who deserve it more than they might be denied aid when most needed, should the regular pensioners have exhausted all the funds which are devoted to any particular object.

It is too often the case that the existence of public relief prevents private charity. It is vainly imagined that managers can and do enter into all the details of distress presented to them, and relieve it understandingly and amply. We once had such a dream ourself; but without casting any aspersion upon the excellent gentlemen and ladies who manage the institutions with which we are best acquainted, we must say, that they do not come up to the ideal of perfection in inspecting the cases of distress brought before them. They have not the time to investigate, nor the correct information to act understandingly in this matter. Besides, whilst a person is yet new in office, whilst the feelings have not become hardened in the process of being compelled to witness much suffering which he could not alleviate, with all his care and good intentions, he will naturally feel a strong impulse to do as much as can be expected of him; but when he has had to listen to the same identical tale of destitution a hundred times, and discovered perhaps that he has been at times imposed on, or that the recipients had proved unworthy or ungrateful, after all the sympathy felt for them: he will become (like a physician who is habituated to bodily ailments, and looks

upon his patients as those whom he is bound to attend only in his official capacity, without being especially concerned for their suffering,) almost indifferent to the special claims of those who apply to him as the director of a charity, and give too much or too little, with a bad or a good grace, just as the humours of the moment may direct him. It is not the special fault of any one man; it is human nature; and we have no right to expect of managers any more or a greater share of virtue than falls to our own individual lot. Besides there are few men among us of so much leisure, especially among those who are willing to be directors of our societies, as to enable them to devote the necessary time to look into the merits of all cases coming under their notice; and if this <<477>>is true in comparatively small towns, how much more must it be so in large cities, where the great distances which divide even friends are an absolute bar to a thorough attention to the concerns of the poor, especially if all that be done is embraced in the bestowal of a small sum, which the funds at command and the rules of the association allow to be given.

We also at one time dreamed that managers of societies could give with more delicacy than individuals. But in this matter too we have changed our views in a great degree. United benevolence, though the. individual contributions be but small, can do a great deal, and of this the blessed effects of the many excellent benevolent institutions afford the fullest evidence; and at the same time many a one would sooner  apply for a temporary relief to a public fund than to a private individual, by whom he might perhaps be repulsed. But for all that, there is but little delicacy exercised in the manner of bestowing public funds; and with all the care and management possible, it will generally be discovered who has been so relieved. It is, to be sure, no disgrace to be poor, if no misconduct has brought us to destitution; but at the same time, we need not remind any one that the feelings become deeply wounded, when we are compelled to let the world at large know that we have been aided by those funds destined for the unfriended wayfarer, or the helpless of any other class. It is an honourable shame, and is in itself the incentive to industry and to honourable pursuits of any kind. If therefore the wealthy know their duty, and knowing it are willing to fulfill it, they ought to act so towards all their fellow-men that these would not hesitate to apply to them in their need; and should they then be certain that a poor brother has been compelled from want to appeal to their benevolence, they will of their own kindness, and impelled by a sense of religious obligation, gladly relieve him from their own abundant store, and prevent him from appealing to societies for relief. We need not stop to say that aid thus given can be bestowed in the most delicate manner, and without calling up the blush of shame on the cheek of the needy, who will with grateful heart, as cannot be doubted, apply himself to labour, to rise by degrees, with the help of Heaven, beyond the want which now impels him to seek aid from his fellow-men.

We must again stop in the midst of our subject; but it is pro<<478>>bable that at a future day we may resume it again, as we have not yet said one-half of what the subject requires.