Eighty years ago, beginning on Hanukkah 1936 and culminating on Hanukkah 1937, Yeshiva – the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and Yeshiva College – celebrated its jubilee. Yeshiva Etz Chaim, the initial constituent body of the Yeshiva, had been founded in 1886-1887.  The year of festivities was inaugurated in December 1936 with a semi-centennial 50th anniversary Hanukkah dinner at the Astor Hotel, attended by 1200 people. The dinner journal was dedicated to Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel, in honor of his twenty years of leadership of the Yeshiva. As quoted in the Commentator, Manhattan Borough President Samuel Levy declared Yeshiva to be “’the symbol of the Jewish soul, the expression of its will to live, and the one irrefutable answer to the recriminations of the Hitlers throughout the world.’” The dinner proceedings were broadcast over Station WMCA.

The highlight of the jubilee year was a day dedicated to students, potential future Yeshiva students. On April 11, 1937, 2,000 students from the upper grades of Talmud Torahs and yeshiva elementary schools in the New York area, as well as Philadelphia and Baltimore made a pilgrimage to the Yeshiva. The visit included an address by Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel, president of the Yeshiva and Yeshiva College, who ”stressed the fact that the 50th anniversary is a time for looking, not back at past accomplishments, but forward at new advances still to be made.” Yeshiva was already a national and international address for Torah study: Yeshiva students Rahmin Sion of Iraq, Elias Levi of Rangoon, and Julius Heinemann from Würzburg, Germany, in addition to students from Palestine, Russia, Poland, Roumania, and Canada, and fifteen states,  addressed the visitors.  The visiting students toured the high school, college and the Yeshiva; the tour was followed by a concert by the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum’s Band and traditional Hebrew songs sung by a chorus of 300, conducted by M. Nathanson.  Mr. Nathanson was featured on Thursday nights on the Junket Company’s radio show, in programs of Palestinian songs.  The day’s events were conducted in classical Hebrew, “which is again a living language in Palestine.” The visitors received a booklet, Bet Hayenu, in Hebrew, on the history of Yeshiva. The pamphlet also included images of the Yeshiva building, and words and music to a few Hebrew songs.  The students received Loft’s candy as an additional gift.



Another effort to build bridges between Yeshiva and Jewish communities outside its doors was the creation of the Yeshiva Synagogue Council, whose inaugural dinner took place on April 11, 1937, the day the students visited Yeshiva. In a report on its tenth anniversary in 1946, Samuel L. Sar (dean of men and professor of Bible at Yeshiva College) explained that congregations look to Yeshiva to seek spiritual guidance and direction; Yeshiva provides rabbis for the congregations, and “with more Yeshiva men in the pulpits of the Orthodox congregations, the more does Yeshiva receive in return, in name of spiritual satisfaction and financial aid.”

Indeed, the Jubilee year focused on fundraising for Yeshiva, stating in a publicity handout entitled “A Tower of Spiritual Strength – GUARD IT!”  that “Yeshiva and Yeshiva College urgently need what is known in Jewish law as an ‘act of redemption!’” Furthermore, “the ‘Act of Redemption’ prescribed by the immortal law of the Torah for each fifty year cycle has a particular appropriateness and an especial urgency during the Yeshiva Jubilee Year.”  “What more fitting celebration of this milestone can be conceived than to apply the principle of redemption to the House of Higher Jewish Learning in America?” was a question posed in the 1937 dinner journal.  Therefore, Yeshiva embarked on a campaign, “The $1,000,000 Jubilee Fund,” to liquidate the mortgage on the building, secure the future of the various branches of the Yeshiva, to establish scholarships for gifted students “from America and other countries,” “to establish chairs of learning to be occupied by Jewish scholars from Germany, and other lands of persecution,” and to augment the library.


The Golden anniversary culminated with a Jubilee Redemption Dinner, a Hanukkah dinner, in December 1937 at the Astor Hotel. This dinner also celebrated the tenth year of the work of Yeshiva College. Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel remarked: “Out of the gates of Yeshiva College goes forth an instructed and inspired youth, who accept as a challenge their responsibility for the future of our heritage, who help build a Jewish life guided by the teachings of the Torah in harmonious union with the currents of creative culture and the forward looking forces of our age.”   The 1936 and 1937 dinners are part of a long and continuing chain of Yeshiva University Hanukkah dinners. After all, what better time is there to strengthen Bet Hayenu, Yeshiva’s house of life and learning, than on Hanukkah, the anniversary of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem?

Shulamith Z. Berger


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