Jewish Foster Home
Rebecca Gratz, 1781 - 1869
In her 70s, Gratz had come to be seen as a visionary and indispensable community leader. By the 1850's, the Hebrew Sunday School was an established institution, but a growing number of poor Jewish children were still being sent to live in non-Jewish orphanages. Gratz's experience at the POA made her aware that even non-sectarian institutions had a Christian focus that could undermine a child's Jewish convictions. By 1844, Gratz had begun to lobby the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society to create a Jewish orphanage. Her friend and teacher Isaac Leeser recommended that she write an article to rally support in The Occident, a magazine widely read in the Jewish community. Leeser hoped to link the Gratz name to the institution and was upset when Gratz declined because she believed that "the more quietly [people] go about doing good the better." Eventually the two compromised; Gratz agreed to write the letter, but the article rallying support for the Home was published anonymously under the pseudonym "a daughter in Israel." In 1855, the Home, which received children from all over the United States and Canada, finally opened. The Jewish Foster Home was the first Jewish orphanage in the U.S. and was made possible by donations from across North America. At the age of 74, Gratz was elected secretary of the Jewish Foster Home. Nevertheless, she continued to sit on the boards of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum, and remained the superintendent of the Hebrew Sunday School for several more years.
- "the more quietly..." From a letter from Rebecca Gratz to Isaac Leeser, November 9, 1849 Rebecca Gratz Papers, Manuscript Collection no. 236. Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center at the American Jewish Archives Cincinnati Campus, Hebew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, OH.