Historic, but not famous

Felix Adler, founder NY Society for Ethical Culture

Felix Adler (1851 – 1933) was a professor of political and social ethics, rationalist, influential lecturer on euthanasia, religious leader and social reformer who founded the Ethical Culture movement. Born in Germany, his family immigrated to the United States when he was 6 years old. He studied at Columbia University and continued his education at Heidelberg University in Germany. There he was strongly influenced by neo-Kantianism, especially the notions that one cannot prove or disprove the existence of a deity or immortality, and that morality can be established independently of theology.

After realizing being a rabbi was not for him, he entered academia, teaching at Cornell University. In 1876

By David Shankbone (attribution required) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2163846

, he gave a lecture on doing away with theology and to unite theists, atheists, agnostics and deists, all in the same religious cause. He began a Sunday lecture series and in February 1877, aided by the president of Temple Emanu-El, Adler incorporated the Society of Ethical Culture. Adler talked about “deed, not creed”; his belief was that good works were the basis of ethical culture.

The group expanded to sending nurses to help the poor, free kindergarten, clothing and food for the children of the working poor. Adler served as rector for the Ethical Culture School until his death in 1933. He also helped establish the National Child Labor Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, was president of the Eastern Board of the American Philosophical Association and he served on the first Executive Board of the National Urban League. In government, he was involved in housing reform and foreign policy.

Throughout his life, he always looked beyond the immediate concerns of family, labor, and race to the long-term challenge of reconstructing institutions, such as schools and government, to promote greater justice in human relations. The school based on his philosophy can still be found on Central Park West in Manhattan. Ethical Culture Fieldston School’ (ECFS), known as just Fieldston, is a private independent school and a member of the Ivy Preparatory School League. The school serves approximately 1700 students with 325 faculty and staff.

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Historic, but not famous

Jacob Schiff, philanthropist

Jacob Henry Schiff (born Jakob Heinrich Schiff; 1847 – 1920) was a Jewish-American banker, businessman, and philanthropist. Among many other things, he helped finance the expansion of American railroads. He was born in Germany and migrated to the United States after the American Civil War and joined the firm Kuhn, Loeb & Co on Wall street. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in September 1870

Mr. Schiff was the most well known and influential Jewish leader from 1880 to 1920 in what later became known as the “Schiff era”, grappling with all major Jewish issues and problems of the day, including the plight of Russian Jews under the Tsar, American and international anti-semitism, care of needy Jewish immigrants, and the rise of Zionism. He led many corporations, including the National City Bank of New York, Equitable Life Assurance Society, Wells Fargo & Company, and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Schiff supported many Jewish charities including relief efforts for the victims of pogroms in Russia, and helped establish and develop Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Jewish Division in the New York Public Library, and the American Jewish Committee. In New York examples include the Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids, of which he was president, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association building and the Jewish Theological Seminary on Broadway and 116th Street. He was also involved with many secular American causes: in addition to serving on the Board of Managers of the New York Zoological Society, the American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Fine Arts Society, American Geographical Society, and Barnard College; and a number of other organizations for civil rights and the disadvantaged, such as the American Red Cross, the Nurses’ Settlement (New York) and Tuskegee Institute. In 1895, he purchased a building for use by the Henry Street Settlement in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Henry Street Settlement is a not-for-profit social service agency that provides social services, arts programs and health care services to all New Yorkers of need.

On his 70th birthday, he distributed $700,000 among various charitable organizations and public institutions.  Schiff was actively concerned with the improvement of civic conditions in New York. He was a vice president of the New York Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Committee of 70 which resulted in the overthrow of the Tweed Ring.

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Historic, but not famous

Alexander Sender Jarmulowsky, founder bank and synagogue

Alexander Sender Jarmulowsky (1841-1912) was born in Russia, in an area that is now part of Poland and moved to the United States in 1873. He rose from being a penniless orphan at age 3 to becoming a Talmud prodigy to ending his life as a wealthy Lower East Side banker and “macher.”

Mr. Jarmulowsky bought steam ship tickets in bulk and sold them to other immigrants at a reduced price prior to his family moving from Germany to the United States. Once in NYC, he opened an office at 54 Canal Street, an immigrant “bank” that provided a place for loans, deposits as well as the continuing sale of ship’s ticket. He made his wife a full partner in the business, which usually was not done at that time.

The bank was a huge success from the day it opened. Yiddish and Russian speaking tellers helped with transactions for the newly arriving immigrants. The bank was open all day on Sunday, a day when every other bank was closed. This allowed Sabbath-observant Jews to take care of their financial needs on the weekend. The bank survived survived bank runs in 1886, 1890, 1893, and 1901, always paying 100 cents on the dollar.

In 1887, he and other prominent businessmen in the community came together to create the Eldridge Street Synagogue. This was the first time that America’s Eastern European Jewish immigrants built a synagogue from the ground up. He also helped found a synagogue on the Upper East Side as well as giving to multiple Jewish hospitals and charities.

He opened the Jarmulowsky Bank building at 54 Canal Street at Orchard in 1912. The beautiful Beaux Arts façade featured a rooftop Greek tempietto which also served to hide the building’s water tower. It competed with the nearby Forward Newspaper Building for the title of “Tallest Building on the Lower East Side.” Jarmulowsky died less than a month after the building opened. The bank closed in 1914 at the beginning of World War I, when people were sending money home to Europe instead of investing in New York City and its bank. The building remains, but will become office and retail space. The dome which was torn down in the 80s, has been restored.

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