Female Hebrew Benevolent Society
Rebecca Gratz, 1781 - 1869
"Piety, self respect and charity will...make our wilderness bloom."
Gratz's experience with the Female Association and the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum had led her to believe that women, because of their aptitude for domestic duties, were particularly equipped to take care of the greater "house of Israel." Because her work with nonsectarian charitable organizations had convinced Gratz that even the most well meaning Christians were often eager to convert others, she became concerned about the growing number of needy Philadelphian Jews.
In 1819, she helped establish the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society to create a Jewish presence in the benevolent community. Gratz believed "it is not too much to hope—too much to expect from the daughters of a noble race that they will be foremost in the work of Charity— provided their young hearts are impressed with its sacred duties." The society provided Philadelphia's impoverished Jews with food, clothing, fuel, and other necessities. Like the Female Association, the Society sought to protect the poor without encouraging pauperism. The Society was the first non-synagogue Jewish women's organization in North America and did not require its clients to attend religious services or belong to a congregation. Again, Gratz chose to be the organization's secretary and served in that capacity for nearly forty years. She hoped to build women's stature in the Jewish community and show that Jews could take care of themselves.
The Female Hebrew Benevolent Society of Philadelphia remains the oldest Jewish charitable organization in continuous existence in the United States.
- "Piety, self respect..." From a "Report," published by The Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, 1835. Gratz Family Papers, Collection no.72, box 17, p.145. Courtesy of The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA.
- "it is not too much..." From a "Report," published by The Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, 1835. Gratz Family Papers, Collection no.72, box 17, p.143. Courtesy of The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA.