Poster for the Jewish Community Center Summer Camp

Organizational life in the 19th Century began with the first non-congregational association, the Ladies Benevolent Society active in the early 1880s before the establishment of the Montefiore Society in 1883. Both were philanthropic groups, most of the members belonging to Gates of Heaven. In 1897, women at that synagogue organized the Ladies Auxiliary. As each additional synagogue came into being, women organized ladies auxiliaries or sisterhoods. In Schenectady, as in other communities, Jews felt a responsibility to form charitable organizations. Other charitable groups included the United Hebrew Charities in 1897, the Hebrew Sick and Benevolent Society in 1909, and the Hebrew Sheltering and Aid Society in 1913. As an example, the latter organization took responsibility for poor Jews traveling through the city. To deal with the problems within the community local women organized the Ladies Auxiliary in 1913 which became the primary Jewish social service organization in the city in the 1920s. The National Council of Jewish Women started a Schenectady chapter in 1916. It emerged as a major philanthropic group from its inception through the 1950s, dealing with war related activities and refugee issues. These organizations relied heavily on volunteers from the German Jewish community and Gates of Heaven. The creation of the Ladies Auxiliary in 1913 marked the emergence of women from Hungary and Russia as part of the philanthropic community in Schenectady.
The arrival of Jews from Eastern Europe led to a significant expansion of associations. At least three fraternal organizations, like the Sons of Judah were organized, which also established cemetery plots for their members, as did each synagogue and some of the other fraternal groups. Workmen’s Circle combined socialism, Yiddish culture and fraternal membership. Branch 117, organized in 1912 remained active until it merged with an Albany branch in 1972. Before World War I Jewish immigrants attracted to radicalism also established an anarchist group linked to Emma Goldman and a Jewish branch of the Socialist Party. These organizations were in every Jewish community and represented the cultural, political, and social traditions of Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe that combined radicalism, loyalty to Orthodox Judaism, and Yiddish language culture. Jewish lodges also appeared in non-Jewish national fraternal organizations, like the Zion Lodge of Odd Fellows.
Efforts to form a community educational institution led to the Talmud Torah in 1912 which evolved into the United Hebrew Community in 1924, chartered for charitable work and “to improve the spiritual, mental, and social condition of the people of the Jewish faith” in Schenectady. Simultaneously, two young people’s groups merged in 1915 to form the YMHA and in 1916 YWHA. By 1929, these groups joined with the United Hebrew Community to create the Jewish Community Center. Located for decades on Germania Avenue in what was the major Jewish neighborhood it moved to follow the movement of the Jewish community in 1967 to its present location in Niskayuna. The JCC provides educational, cultural, recreational, and social activities.

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