When many Jews were endangered amid the turmoil of World War I, a committee was formed with the goal of raising $5 million. The American Jewish Relief Committee for Sufferers of the War announced that four anonymous donors had each pledged $100,000 to launch the campaign, if another $600,000 could be raised in New York in a single event. Requests for tickets to the December 1915 gathering at Carnegie Hall soon tripled the number of available seats, and more than 3,000 people congregated outside the hall in the hope of being admitted at the last minute. There were addresses by the Episcopal bishop of New York, the president of the Central Conference of Rabbis, and speakers describing the plight of Jews caught between war and pogroms abroad.
Then people began walking to the stage one by one to drop off donations. In addition to cash there were slips of paper pledging one-time or monthly gifts. Others, the New York Times reported, left rings, necklaces, and earrings. When the event ended well after midnight the gifts exceeded $1 million, and the campaign was off to a roaring start. Julius Rosenwald, head of Sears, Roebuck & Company, subsequently donated a million dollars, and others like Jacob Schiff, Nathan Straus, and Felix Warburg made similar large gifts. Most remarkable was the breadth of giving. An estimated 3 million Americans made a donation to this cause at some time during the war.
The funds were used to aid to Jewish refugees, and to finance relocation of families to safer countries. This campaign demonstrated the commitment of American Jews to their brethren abroad. It was a tie that would be tested repeatedly over the course of the twentieth century.
- New York Times account, query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9C0CE0D61239E333A25751C2A9649D946496D6CF
- Albert Lucas, “American Jewish Relief in the World War,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 79, 1918