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About Myer Samuel Isaacs
Real estate lawyer, judge, newspaper editor, and philanthropist Myer S. Isaacs was the eldest son of the second English-speaking Rabbi in the United States, the Rev. Dr. Samuel M. Isaacs (1804-1878). The Isaacs Family were founding members of the New York-based Jewish civil rights organization, the Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859-1878), published the Jewish Messenger (1859-1902), and Myer was the first president of the Baron de Hirsch Fund. The collection contains documents deriving from Myer and Samuel Issacs, and Myer's brothers Abram (1852 or 53-1920) and Isaac Isaacs (1845-1907). Information concerning Myer's children may also be found, including documents from his son Stanley (1882-1962), Manhattan borough President and New York City Councilman. Includes correspondence, clippings, commencement programs, invitations, souvenir and anniversary programs, election campaign materials, obituaries, funeral programs, and citizenship papers.
Newlyweds Rev. Samuel Myer Isaacs (1804-1878) and Jane Symmons arrived in New York from London in 1839. Rev. Isaacs, an Orthodox Rabbi, had been appointed as the head of the Elm Street B'nai Jeshurun synagogue. During this period in Jewish American history, spiritual services were conducted for Jews in the languages of Hebrew or German. Rev. Isaacs became the second Jewish spiritual leader in the United States to teach in English, the first being Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia. Originally from Leewarden, Holland, Samuel's father, Myer Samuel Isaacs, lost his business during the Napoleonic Wars, fleeing to London in 1814. Of Myer Isaacs' five sons, four of them entered the Rabbinate, teaching in England, Australia, and the United States.
Reared and educated in England, as a young man Samuel Isaacs served for a brief period as the Principal of the Neveh Zedek orphan asylum in London. The demonstration of his teaching and leadership skills in London led the B'nai Jeshurun Congregation to request that he serve as cantor and preacher, though he did not have official rabbinical ordination. B'nai Jeshurun, the largest immigrant Ashkenazi congregation in New York City at the time, was eager to Americanize and sought a well-spoken leader with a natural ability for the English language. Rev. Isaacs led the B’nai Jeshurun at the Elm Street Synagogue (formally a church) beginning in either 1839 or 1840. In either 1845 or 1847, a schism took place within the Congregation over doctrinal issues, prompting the founding of Congregation Shaaray Tefila. (Dates vary in sources as to both Rev. Isaacs' beginning at B'nai Jeshurun and the creation of Shaaray Tefila.)
Rev. Isaacs became the leader of Congregation Shaaray Tefila, which was first located at Franklin Street near Broadway and gradually migrated uptown to Wooster and Green Streets, W. 36th St. and Broadway, W. 44th Street, W. 82nd Street, and its current location, at 250 East 79th Street. Like many Christian churches and Synagogues who had their roots in Lower Manhattan, the Congregation followed a pattern of moving toward upper Manhattan as the immigration population increased in New York, and as the older, established Congregations and Churches became more financially affluent. Though Shaaray Tefila began as an orthodox congregation, by 1879, it looked to the reformation of services. Under the leadership of Rev. Isaacs and after much discussion, services were shortened and simplified, more English added to the liturgy, an organ and mixed chorus were included, and men and women were permitted to sit together. 1
Samuel and Jane had at least three children, 2 the oldest, Myer Samuel (1841-1904), Isaac Samuel (1845-1906), and Abram Samuel Isaacs (1853-1920). The Isaacs father and sons would have a palpable influence upon the Jewry of 19th century New York. They were all activists, fighting for the rights of Jews, promoting Jewish identity, and founding numerous organizations for the relief of Jews in the U.S. and abroad. The most prominent of Samuel's sons was Myer, though Isaac and Abram were also known during their time. It was Myer Isaacs, however, who took the most concerted initiative in pushing for the rights of Jews in the U.S., Europe, Jerusalem, Turkey, Romania, and Morocco.
In 1857, Samuel and his sons, particularly Myer, helped their father found the Jewish Messenger newspaper. 3 Myer edited, contributed articles and opinion to the newspaper, and was affiliated with the publication until 1872. Isaac was editor from 1867-1878, and Abram was the editor from 1878 until 1902, when the newspaper merged with the American Hebrew.
Myer graduated as valedictorian from the University of New York (later New York University) in 1859. As valedictorian, Isaacs delivered a commencement speech in which he alluded to the 1858 case of Edgar Mortara, a young Italian Jew reportedly baptized by his family's Christian maid during a sickness. Once baptized, the maid informed Catholic authorities who forcibly removed Edgar from his home, citing that the child was no longer a Jew, but a Catholic due to Baptism. This and similar incidents, incited Jews to seek justice regarding Jewish interests and religious freedom. The Mortara case was a leading factor in the formation of the American Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859) and its European equivalent, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (1860). (The two organizations worked closely with the British organization, the London Committee of Deputies of British Jews, founded in the 1700s.) The Isaacs family, particularly Myer and Samuel, were major influences in the formation of the Board of Delegates. Myer acted as Secretary until 1876, whereupon he became President of the organization. The Board of Delegates, whose membership consisted of the most prominent and influential Jews of New York, Philadelphia, and other American cities, tackled issues that impinged on the safety and religious freedom of Jews in the United States, Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, beginning with the Edgar Mortara case in Italy. Among other issues confronted during the life of the Board of Delegates were issues concerning the oppression and killing of Moroccan, Turkish, Romania, and Palestinian Jews and refugee and American Jewish immigration issues. In the United States, the Board of Delegates staunchly spoke out against General Ulysses S. Grant's 1862 Order No. 11 expelling Jews from Kentucky due to supposed looting, and Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler's accusations of Jews as being looters and liars. Grant's order was immediately rescinded partly due to pressure asserted by the Board of Delegates and Butler issued a public apology for his comments after a series of letters written by Myer to Gen. Butler.
In 1862 at the age of 21, Myer graduated from New York University Law School. At graduation, he began a law firm with Adolph Sanger, and was later joined by his brother Isaac, who graduated from the Columbia University Law School in 1867. The firm dealt primarily in real estate law. Myer became a member of several organizations between 1863 and 1887 including the American and New York State Bar Associations, the Municipal Society, and the Republican and City Clubs. He was a member of the Committee of Fifty-Three, a panel selected by Mayor Abram Hewitt to combat and route vice in New York City, and organized the Lawyer's Title Insurance Company. He also was one of the organizers of the Purim Association, which presented Purim balls for New York Jews of all social ranks with proceeds going to charitable organizations.
In 1880, he was appointed to the position of Judge of the Marine Court, later City Court, of New York. As a Republican, he was nominated for Judge of the Superior Court of N.Y. in 1890 and 1895, but did not win the election. He was elected a member of the Central Committee of the Alliance Israélite Universelle; founded the Hebrew Free School Association, the United Hebrew Charities, the Montefiore Home, and the Hebrew Technical Institute. In addition he was a lecturer on real estate law at the University Law School, was a director of the Columbia Bank and the American Savings Bank, and established Seward Park on the Lower East Side of New York. He was the first President of the Baron de Hirsch Fund and was a personal friend of the future president, Theodore Roosevelt.
Judge Myer was married in 1869 to Maria S. Isaacs (?-1889), daughter of Barnet L. Solomon, first President of the Hebrew Free School Association in New York. They had six children, Stanley, Julian, Lewis Montefiore, Minnie, Estelle, and Alice. Toward the end of his life, Myer continued to write editorials and give speeches and lectures on the law and the treatment of Jews in Romania and Russia. Myer died on May 24, 1904. According to a memoir written by Abram Isaacs, he was vigorously working on behalf of Jews to the very day of his death.4
Julian Isaacs died at the age of 32 of tuberculosis; during this illness, his brother Stanley watched over him. Stanley M. Issacs (1882-1962) was elected Manhattan Borough President and oversaw the completion of the East River or Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Drive. In 1941 he was elected to the City Council and served as the Republican minority leader until his death. Lewis Montefiore Isaacs (1877-1944) was a real estate lawyer and accomplished musician. Lewis was one of the founders of the Musicians Foundation of New York and the MacDowell Artists Colony in Peterborough, NH. At Peterborough, he became a friend and benefactor to the poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935), considered at the time of his death to be the greatest American poet. Lewis donated a collection of Robinson's papers to the New York Public Library.5 Lewis was married to Edith Juliet Rich Isaacs (1878-1956), an influential New York editor who was active in the Federal Theatre Project, supported black culture, and edited Theatre Arts Magazine. Minnie Isaacs (c. 1871-1918) was a communal worker and an associate of Julia Richman, the director of the Hebrew Free School Association, and the first female district superintendent of schools in the City of New York. Alice Isaacs (?) was the head of the Botany Department at Hunter College.
Rev. Samuel Isaacs was one of the officiating clergymen of the funeral services held in N.Y. for President Abraham Lincoln. In addition to being the head of Shaaray Tefila, Rev. Isaacs was a founder of the Jew’s Hospital (later Mt. Sinai Hospital) of N.Y., the Hebrew Free School Association, the United Hebrew Charities, and Maimonides College in Philadelphia. Despite the issuance of General Order No. 11, according to an obituary, former President Ulysses S. Grant held that Rev. Isaacs was a "warm and personal friend… held in high esteem and seldom [did President Grant come] to New York without calling upon him."6
Isaac S. Isaacs (1845-1907) married Estelle Solomon, who died early, leaving one daughter. Isaac was a partner in the law firm of M.S. and I.S. Isaacs, president of the West End Synagogue, the Hebrew Benevolent Fuel Association, the Young Men's Hebrew Association, the Union of Jewish Congregations, and the first president and later vice-president of the National Conference of Jewish Charities of the United Charities. He was secretary and a founder of the United Hebrew Charities. He was the editor of the Jewish Messenger from 1867-1878 and a contributor to the paper until 1902; he also published a book called Friday Night (Jewish Tales), in 1871.
Abram M. Isaacs (1852 or 53-1920) was a Rabbi, linguist, and professor. He studied at New York University, the University of Breslau, and the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary. He taught Hebrew and German language and literature at NYU and was head of the graduate department of German literature beginning in 1895. He served as Rabbi to the East 86th Street Seminary from 1886-1887, and the B'nai Jesurun congregation of Paterson, N.J., beginning in 1896. From 1878-1902 he was the editor of the Jewish Messenger and wrote several publications including A Modern Hebrew Poet: The Life and Writings of Moses Chaim Luzzato (1878), Stories from the Rabbis (1893), and What is Judaism? A Survey of Jewish Life, Thought and Achievement (1912).
References Concise Dictionary of American Jewish Biography, v. I., Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1994 Isaacs, Abram. "Myer S. Isaacs: A Memoir." American Jewish Yearbook. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1906 (5667), pgs. 19-33. Isaacs, Edith S. Love Affair with a City: The Story of Stanley M. Isaacs. New York: Random House, 1967. Jackson, Kenneth T. Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. Jewish Encyclopedia, v. VI. New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1904. Sherman, Moshe D. " Isaacs, Samuel Myer, at American National Biography Online", Feb. 2000. Accessed March 27, 2003. Footnotes 1. The congregation became a member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) in 1921. Website of the Congregation of Shaaray Tefila, "History." http://www.uahcweb.org/congs/ny/ny039/history.html 2. According to one obituary of Rev. Isaacs, there were a total of four daughters and four sons born to Samuel and Jane, though another obituary states four sons and three daughters. 3. One contributor to the newspaper was Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, who regularly wrote under the pseudonym Sulamith. 4. Isaacs, Abram. "Myer S. Isaacs: A Memoir." American Jewish Yearbook. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1906 (5667), p. 33. 5. Robinson, Edwin Arlington, Papers (Lewis M. Isaacs Collection). New York Public Library. 6. "Death of Rev. Samuel M. Isaacs: The Last of the Old School of American Jewish Rabbis Gone." Unknown newspaper, . Myer S. Isaacs Collection, P-22, Box 1/Folder 13, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY.
Myer Samuel Isaacs's Timeline
May 8, 1841
New York, New York, NY, USA
January 10, 1877
New York, New York, NY, USA
September 27, 1882
May 24, 1904
New York, New York, NY, USA