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Selina Greenbaum

1866 – 1925

by Estelle C. Williams

The life of the turn-of-the-century working girls of New York City’s Lower East Side was often one of austerity and exhausting drudgery. Alarmed by the horrific conditions of the tenement houses and sweatshops, the Board of Jewish Ministers issued an urgent call in 1898 for the provision of healthful recreational facilities for Jewish working girls. Selina Greenbaum was among those influential East Side women who responded to the call, devoting time and energy to the organization of much-needed educational and recreational activities for women.

Selina (Ullman) Greenbaum was born on April 6, 1866, in New York City, the sixth of seven children and third of four daughters of Israel and Julia (Blumenthal) Ullman, emigrés from Bavaria who had made their home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Israel Ullman’s dry-goods dealership provided a comfortable living for the family, and Selina was educated in the New York public schools and at Normal College (now Hunter College). On March 13, 1888, she married Samuel Greenbaum, who was supreme court justice for New York from 1900 until 1929.

Like her husband, whose prominent communal leadership included the presidency of the Educational Alliance, Greenbaum was notable for Jewish charity work. One of the early members of the board of directors of the National Council of Jewish Women, she also became involved with the nascent Young Women’s Hebrew Association (YWHA), organized in 1888 under the leadership of Julia Richman as an auxiliary to the YMHA. Greenbaum was a president of this first downtown auxiliary, as well as an active member of the board of directors of the first recreation rooms on the Lower East Side, which opened in May 1898.

It was in 1890, however, that Greenbaum made her most important contribution to public service. She was instrumental in forming the Jewish Working Girls’ Vacation Society and took office as its first president, a position she held for many years. Incorporated in 1892, the society maintained homes in Bellport and Arverne on Long Island and at Big Indian and Margaretville in the Adirondacks (New York), where, for a nominal fee, Jewish girls of working age enjoyed a fortnight of vacation from the city. By 1917, the society was assisting over eight hundred girls annually and was also able to provide midweek holidays for mothers.

The Greenbaums raised a family of four children at their home on East 94th Street in Manhattan. Their two sons, Lawrence and Edward, pursued successful careers as attorneys, while both daughters were active in community service. Grace Greenbaum Epstein founded a women’s job bureau during the Depression, while Isabel Greenbaum Stone established the Windward School in Harrison, New York.

Selina Greenbaum died at the Greenbaum summer home in Larchmont, New York, on July 15, 1925. The activities of the Jewish Working Girls’ Vacation Society continue today under the auspices of Camp Isabella Friedman, the direct descendant of Greenbaum’s original project.

Bibliography

AJYB 1, s.v. “Jewish Working Girls’ Vacation Society,” and 7 (1905–1906): 64; Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society, New York. Collection of photographic postcards of the Bay House, Bellport, Long Island; Kehillah (Jewish Community) of New York City. The Jewish Communal Register of New York City, 1917–1918, s.v. “Jewish Working Girls’ Vacation Society,” and “Recreation Rooms and Settlements”; Lubitz, Bertha. “Preventive Work for Girls.” Jewish Charity 3 (1904): 217–220; Obituary. NYTimes, July 16, 1925, 19:6; Rabinowitz, Benjamin. The Young Men’s Hebrew Associations and the Jewish Community Center Movement (1937?); Straus, Mrs. Isidor. “The Recreation Room for Girls.” Jewish Charity 4 (1905): 117–119; Straus, Sara. “Working Girls’ Clubs.” Jewish Charity 3 (1904): 153–161; Wald, Lillian D., et al. “Summer Outings for the Jewish Poor.” Jewish Charity 3 (1904): 190–192; Young Men’s Hebrew Association of New York. Scrapbook papers. Ninety-second Street YMCA, NYC.

4 Comments

Selina was my great great grandmother..very proud of her accomplishments

The married name of Selina Greenbaum's daughter Isabel--my paternal grandmother--is misspelled in the last sentence of the fifth paragraph of the biography of Selina Greenbaum (http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/ar... ". . . while Isabel Greenbaum Spone established the Windward School in Harrison, New York". Isabel married Jacob C. Stone, not anyone named "Spone". I may be inordinately proud of my family name, but if my ancestors' philanthropic efforts are going to be remembered, I'd like to have the family name spelled correctly! ;-) Thomas A. (Tomas) Stone

Thank you for contacting us about the clerical error in our article about your grandmother. We have corrected the entry accordingly.

Our History The forerunner of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center was incorporated in 1893 as the Jewish Working Girls Vacation Society. The agency was established to offer Jewish working women, primarily immigrants in the New York garment industry, an affordable vacation. The agency paid for the vacation and reimbursed campers for lost wages. In the 1920s the name changed to Camp Lehman for Jewish Working Girls, in honor of Judge Irving Lehman, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, who donated land in Port Chester, NY, to the camp.

In the 1940s Camp Lehman began offering co-ed summer vacations to young adults, including ex-GIs and students who could not otherwise afford a vacation. In 1936, philanthropist and Camp Lehman board member Isabella Freedman bequeathed $25,000 to the agency. The agencyÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s name was then changed to Camp Isabella Freedman in her honor.

In 1956, the agency moved to its current home in Falls Village, CT, and began serving a new segment of the Jewish community, senior adults. Camp Freedman has been offering programs for Jewish senior adults every summer since then.

In the early 1990s the agency began to open its doors year-round, and it became the primary retreat center for the Jewish communities of New York and New England. Each year, over 30 Jewish organizations, spanning the denominational spectrum, hold retreats at Isabella Freedman. Reflecting this programmatic shift, the agency is now called the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

In 1994, in partnership with Surprise Lake Camp, we developed the Teva Learning Center an innovative experiential learning program for Jewish elementary school students that integrates ecology, Jewish spirituality, and environmental activism. Each fall, Teva serves over 900 students from Jewish day schools throughout New England who come to Isabella Freedman for four-day programs.

Building on our experience with the Teva Learning Center, in the spring of 2003, Isabella Freedman developed a new program called ADAMAH: The Jewish Environmental Fellowship. ADAMAH is a leadership training program for Jewish young adults that teaches the vital connection between Judaism and environmental stewardship. Through a six-month residential program, ADAMAH Fellows live communally and engage in a hands-on curriculum that integrates organic agriculture and sustainable living skills, Jewish learning and living, leadership development, and community building. The program strengthens participantsÌ¢‰â‰㢠Jewish identity and commitment to tikkun olam through immersion in an ecologically sustainable, spiritually vibrant, and intergenerationally-connected Jewish community, while exposing countless others to a traditionally rooted yet entirely new way of Jewish living.

In the fall of 2006, the Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center of Accord, New York merged with Isabella Freedman, where it is now known as the Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality (ECCJS). For fifteen years, Elat Chayyim transformed contemporary Jewish life with retreat programs that integrate Jewish learning, spirituality and culture. Elat ChayyimÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s mission continues to be a resource and retreat center for the development, experience, and promotion of a comprehensive Jewish spiritual practice. Elat Chayyim retreats promote practices that draw on the wisdom of Jewish tradition and reflect the values and consciousness of our ever-evolving modern experience of Judaism. Elat Chayyim retreats offer experiential approaches to Jewish learning, ritual and prayer that help participants in their search to cultivate the awareness of the Divine presence in all aspects of life.

Elat ChayyimÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s retreats welcome people from all backgrounds, including individuals with limited or no Jewish education, seekers who have walked other spiritual and religious paths and those who are traditionally observant. Our faculty includes todayÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s most respected and innovative thinkers, authors, teachers, cantors and rabbis from across the Jewish denominational spectrum. Thousands of people from around the world have participated in programs facilitated by rabbis, scholars, and artists based on weeklong, weekend, and Jewish High Holiday retreats. In addition, Elat Chayyim has created unique training institutes that target Jewish professionals and provide compelling cutting-edge programming including Jewish meditation, yoga, chant, text study, and an eco-spiritual residential community for young adults.

How to cite this page

Williams, Estelle C.. "Selina Greenbaum." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 28, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/greenbaum-selina>.

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