The Jewish community has an incredible penchant for organizing and for creating organizations. Indeed, American Jewish life is an alphabet soup of acronyms, and one of the best-known is the YMHA, the Young Mens Hebrew Association. Although many people presume it is just another form of Jewish Community Center and an imitation of the Young Mens Christian Association (YMCA), it was originally created as a philanthropic and benevolent organization.
The first YMHA was organized on March 22, 1874. The founding meeting, attended by prominent members of the New York German Jewish community, took place at the home of Dr. Simeon Leo. The mission of the YMHA organization was “to promote a better feeling and a higher culture among young men and to unite them into a liberal organization, which shall tend to their moral, intellectual and social improvement.” To that end, they organized public lectures and debates, classes on a variety of subjects including Hebrew, stenography and bookkeeping, and physical activities. Additionally, the YMHA created a library that was eventually integrated into the New York Public Library.
YMHAs were organized in several other cities as well, most notably: Philadelphia, New Orleans, St. Louis and San Francisco. In 1888, a tangent women’s organization, the YWHA was annexed to the New York YMHA. (A separate, independent YWHA was founded on February 6, 1902.)
The New York YMHA was reorganized in 1895, and New York business magnate Jacob Schiff donated a building at Ninety-Second Street and Lexington Avenue. The new building, which is a major New York cultural venue today (the 92nd Street Y), included a library, reading rooms and gymnasiums.
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