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Address By Phil Schiff At The Annual Meeting of Alumni and Friends of Madison House, Inc. On October 23, 1954
Printed for the benefit of those who were not fortunate enough to have heard Phil deliver this memorable message
Editor’s. Note: Philip Schiff grew up in the neighborhood served by Madison House Settlement in New York City. In 1932 he became a full time Boys worker and in 1934 he was appointed Headworker. In 1939, Schiff left New York to become director of the New Orleans Young Men and Young Women’s Hebrew Association. In 1942 he was appointed Washington Representative of the National Jewish Welfare Board, a job he held until his death in 1958.
When did we come in? Where are we? Where are we going?
Where did we come in? Solids kids with solid identification to the neighborhood, to the House, to ourselves – in clubs, in Board of Delegates, our Councils, etc. While we were “Downtown Branch of Ethical Society,” we found ourselves in a Jewish neighborhood, synagogue, Hebrew schools, etc.
Despite our almost Jewish population, we never went in for a “Jewish content” program. We accepted our role as a Settlement House, lived through social experiences under a social environment that brought us into contact with a general community situation rather than a specifically Jewish one. We grew up during this period not as a Jewish group, but as a group which constituted “Citizens in the making.” Our practices and experiences in Boards of Delegates, Councils, etc., prepared us for better living with social goals that we were unaware of at the time but which were, nevertheless, molding our characters. We developed loyalties at the House and at Camp, which were ingrown but very much worthwhile.
Thus, we found ourselves in a position where we were promoting our own welfare as youngsters who were growing up in a society which had little to offer us and therefore our spiritual and cultural growth took on additional meaning. We strove for strengthening the democratic process for ourselves and our group. All of this led to a group of homogeneity, quite uncommon in those and in these days. We knew what it meant to struggle for a better way of life against insurmountable odds. We subconsciously developed a vision of the future which, while it lacked definite shape and form nevertheless was present in all that we did. We were, perhaps unknowingly, preparing ourselves to take an active and dynamic role in our future society.
In all of this the Ethical Society played a great part. Through its leadership, financial and moral support we were enabled to accomplish many of the things which later on became a vital part of our lives. It added greatly to our “menschilchkeit” and future status as good American citizens. To Felix Adler, John Elliott, Henry Moscowitz, the Neumann’s, the Paul Abelsons, the Seelmans, Walter Solomon, the Kirchbergers, Mr. and Mrs. Moses, Herman Wolf, Al Black and many others, all connected with that Society, we shall ever remain indebted. They left their mark upon us for generations to come.
And as we grew older, and into manhood and womanhood, we were ready to transmit many of these values to those who were to come after us. We found ourselves in a position in which we wanted to “pay back” some of the benefits we received to those who were in need of them.
Where are we now? As I understand it, the Alumni, hundreds strong, after a tough beginning to organize itself, is in relatively good shape financially, has made possible important financial contributions to the old Madison House, has greatly aided in the Camp Madison program, but is presently, to borrow a phrase from Secretary Dulles, going through an “agonizing reappraisal” of its positions today. These accomplishments are definitely great pluses. They give a sense of direction and purpose to its activities as a mature body of men and women concerned with the general welfare of underprivileged people.
Many of you are involved with local Jewish efforts in your community, e.g., Jewish Federations and UJA, and therefore wonder about your present and future efforts through the Alumni in behalf of a great non-sectarian effort like the settlement movement. Others among you feel strongly about your responsibilities on behalf of the merged Hamilton-Madison House. You see in an effort a practical application of the great principles and ethics of our Jewish forbears. In addition, you have the convictions and addition, you have the convictions and loyalties of a past in which you played an important role. Therefore, you find yourselves confronted with a problem which is not easy to resolve. Thus, it is important to pose for ourselves certain questions which might enable us finally to cope with this delicate and soul-searching problem.
Madison House as we know it, and came to love and labor for, is gone leaving cherished memories and great intangible values for thousands of its former members. We now find some of us dedicating ourselves to the continued growth and development of Camp Madison and others to the program of Hamilton-Madison House. Is it possible to continue with such a split personality? Or is there a way out which can combine both facets of this problem with the general community as the direct beneficiary of our efforts?
As if the first question didn’t pose enough of a difficulty, let me add one or two more questions to round out the problem.
Many of the Alumni cannot see or understand why it should be necessary to lend support to a non-sectarian program when our Jewish co-religionists so desperately need our aid both at home and abroad. And what should we or can we do in this area of humanitarian needs?
It is estimated that 96% of our aged Jewish population are not institutionalized. Thus there arises a tremendous need to organize Gold Age Clubs to provide home medical services, decent housing conditions, casework services, etc.– all this at tremendous cost one half of the bed capacity of our hospitals is filled with the mentally ill. Thus the need for further large sums of money. The need for services of thousands of emotionally disturbed children requires tremendous budgetary outlays. Jewish centers and synagogues are facing shifting populations – conducting religious and other programs in outmoded buildings. The result is constant fund-raising in the Jewish community.
Imagine how much greater would be the difficulty for all of us if we were to add to the Jewish problem and Jewish needs the imperative requirements for aiding Jews overseas – in Israel, Morocco, South Africa, etc. We very well know that without American Jewish help there would probably be no Israel today and hundreds of thousands of Jews would be destined to lives of poverty and degradation and death. I am certain all of you have in one way or another aided many of these Jewish causes. A good many of you undoubtedly serve on boards of Jewish agencies. Your children are members of Sunday and Hebrew schools of Jewish centers. There is a great deal of integration between you and your Jewish community. Thus the question some of you must be asking yourselves from time to time, “What should be the role of the Alumni, or our individual role in the present situation in which we find ourselves?
Finally, this question presents itself: can we, in view of our past background and associations, re-orient our thinking and bring to the new Hamilton-Madison House set-up a transference of all the benefits and values we have received
from the Old House? Can we as American citizens and members of Jewish faith explore and perhaps find an area of agreement within ourselves as well as within our organization which will satisfy our urgent need to continue making our contribution to causes that are strictly Jewish and yet somehow help Hamilton-Madison House along its path of destiny.
For myself, and for what it might be work to you, permit me to offer a few suggestions which might be helpful in pointing the way to the future. In order that I might undertake such a task, I would request that you pardon my personalizing the situation because it is the only effective way in which my viewpoint might be considered at all valid.
Like all of you, I came from the same neighborhood and from the same type of family and home environment. Like you, I received more from Madison House than I can ever hope to repay. As with you, Madison House, Camp Madison and I were all wrapped up in on package. The great personalities which were destined to lead and direct Madison House had the same influence over me as they had upon you. We talked, etc., slept, Madison House and Camp Madison. We bragged about it to others. Every group or agency in the social work field was aware of our self-governing machinery. We were a living, breathing, ecstatic democratic institution. No one dared interfere with our way of life. We were “tops” in every respect.
While our lives were seared and singed by economic conditions we, nevertheless, with few exceptions had the great ethical values drilled into us also by Howard Bradstreet, “Spunk” Kinoy and Pop Klein. Struggle was part of our daily existence with only Madison House standing between us and social breakdown. It was the House which helped alleviate the serious family and home conditions common to all of us during the darkest days of depression. In this cauldron of desperation and despair, there was burned into our consciousness the urge to carry on, no matter what the sacrifice involved.
We weren’t heroes. Our Fathers and Mothers Club were the real heroes and heroines. They deserve niches in our Hall of Fame if anyone does. We weren’t even corporals. We were plain PFC’s, anxious and determined to live decent lives no matter what the cost. Perhaps we didn’t’ realize it at the time. But I well remember how all of us played out the game during these hectic days.
Well, the point I wanted to make is this– that all of us, 99% Jewish, with a common heritage become in real sense supporters of the philosophy of Dr. Adler. Ethics and man’s acceptance of the Golden Rule were the yardsticks by which we measured our relationship to society and the neighborhood around us. The fact that very few of us are completely identified with the Ethical Society will not change one iota my evaluation vis-a-vis the great and lasting contribution which the Society made to our lives.
However, the facts of life being what they are, we must deal with the realities as we find them and see where they lead us.
Where are we going?
As I see the picture at present, the following two directions for the Alumni and for us as individuals are indicated.
A.– An intensified individual interest for those of us who are identified for those of us who are identified and concerned with Jewish philanthropy as it relates to the American scene and to overseas. There should be no slackening of these humanitarian efforts because the time and conditions under which we live demand it and because it is a daily part of our existence and associations.
We must not – nor can we – nor will we be permitted to run away from this responsibility. We should therefore not look upon our assumption of such responsibility in any negative sense. Any response on our part to these great national and international efforts must, as I am sure they will, come from the heart. For us, such a positive acceptance of our role as individuals is easy because it is imbedded in our traditional Madison House spirit and upbringing.
Furthermore, by embracing such an opportunity to serve the Jewish community we automatically enrich our children’s and our family life. Deeper meaning is given to the concept of cultural pluralism- a phrase so little understood and so little practiced.
B.– For our group relationship to the new Hamilton-Madison House, I would offer the following suggestions:
While it will be impossible for us, as individuals, and as a group ever to forget that Madison House always was our first love, the fact remains that the Madison House as we know it isn’t with us any more. True, we have our memories and our associations, and the ideals and the principles to which to which the House gave birth will carry over through out children and grandchildren. The House will ever have meaning to us as the greatest social institution of its kind.
But there does come a time when everything and everyone must move on. To look back and to live in the past is to exist in a decaying environment. The kind of world we now live in the past is to exist in a decaying environment. The kind of world we now live in and the kind of future we wold like to envision cannot be built on a static foundation.
You and I must invoke and apply our great “House” past to the present and future welfare of our local communities, the Nation and the world. If ever we were privileged to carry on the greatest tradition in the interest of others, this is the time. The world cries out for sanity among peoples and nations. The dignity of the human being seems to be enmeshed, at time buried, in a maze of materialism, clashing ideologies, political welfare at home and abroad, fear and cynicism, charges of disloyalty and subversion against great segments of our population, which by their very nature tend to undermine the very foundation of our form of government, etc. He is caught in a web of attacks and counter-attacks at home and abroad. He is asked to assume the responsibility of a citizen of his native land and to relate his citizenship to the needs of a world which is constantly clashing over ideologies, and over national borders. In brief, he is bewildered and as so often happens, he crawls into his shell coming out long enough to eat, go to work and wind up at a movie or a ball game or in front of his TV set.
Does all of this have any meaning for you and me? Obviously it has. It calls for some stock-taking on our part. It means that we have to look beyond our immediate horizons toward those goals which will justify our existence as going, dynamic Alumni Association which will do more than contribute financial assistance to specific activities with which we have had some identifications. It means we have to dig into our past history and cull from it those values which have meaning for today and tomorrow. It requires intensive study of priorities which might be developed through such a survey. And it can mean a much more effective and larger Alumni than we have ever had.
In other words, what I am suggesting for your consideration at this point is a collective approach on a unified basis by the Alumni to it’s immediate responsibility contrasted with individual approach to the Jewish problem. Frankly, I see such a responsibility in the area of service – to the Camp and to the Settlement. I have assumed that because of the very nature of the Alumni, the circumstances out of which it grew and its background of experience, it would bring its collective effort to bear in that field which gave it birth, growth and maturity. If these were not accepted then a completely different organization to new programs and other types of activities would be necessary and a name other than Madison House Alumni would have to be adopted.
What then wold be the areas of total service? The over-all area might well be termed Human and Social Welfare. Under such a heading it would mean
- Accepting the neighborhood as it is presently constituted with is different races and nationalities.
- Setting up a structure within the Alumni after due consultation with the board of Hamilton-Madison House which would bring the greatest benefits to the merged organization.
- Tying in the present activities of the Alumni– e.g. Camp Madison– with the new Hamilton-Madison House.
- Development of a program of activities by the Alumni for consideration and approval of the Settlement board.
I assume in all of this that the Alumni would set up its own international committees as well as its own internal committees as well as have appropriate representation on the Board of Directors of the Settlement. This brings us to the crucial point of program interests.
As I see it we would necessarily have to develop fund-raising projects. The proceeds of such activities might, as Harry Levy mentioned in his column of “THE BRIDGE,” be earmarked for use in such programs as Juvenile Delinquency, Mental Health, etc. Or, they might be set aside for special projects at Camp Madison or facilities at the Settlement.
I would think, however, that important as it is the function of money raising is to an Alumni organization, it is essential to come to grips first with the problem of “acceptance” by the Alumni of the program of the social agency with which it is affiliated and in which it is to play an important role. If “acceptance” be wholehearted and completely affirmative, then the problem as to where and how much of the Alumni fund should go to the programs of the Settlement and Camp can be much more easily resolved.
Such planning calls for complete and integrated thinking by both the Settlement and the Alumni concerning their separate and joint roles, how best to use the resources and manpower of the Alumni, the problem of proper board representation of the Alumni and complete acceptance of each others program.
Such integration would be helped perhaps if I were to point out briefly and in general terms the place of the modern settlement in today’s society.
I am not one of those who believes the day of the settlement as we know it has passed. On the contrary, I am convinced that the settlement movement is having its rebirth in an era which cries out for the kind of dynamic neighborliness and understanding which was so typical of the settlement movement as we remember it.
The fact remains that while certain problems which gave birth to the original settlements have been partially licked, many of them still remain. We still have our underprivileged and needy citizens, as witness the relief rolls and the unemployment lists. True, government has learned, partially due to the efforts of the settlements, that it must be concerned with the welfare of its less fortunate, and has enacted the necessary legislation which provides a basic minimum to meet such needs. We still have a tremendous need for decent housing in the low and middle income groups. The country desperately requires some form of health insurance for families. Our educational system is bulging at the seams for lack of additional school facilities and teachers. We must learn how to use it so that the problem of integration of the races can be permitted to take great strides forward. Juvenile delinquency, problems of mental health, the lack of essential recreational facilities, etc. – these and many other social problems are part of our daily diet as we look out upon neighborhoods such as Hamilton-Madison House.
Those of us who live in Washington have seen over the years how domestic and international affairs are affected by the way in which our local communities react to the policies and policy makers in our Federal government. This is certainly true of our cities and states. It is only when the citizenry is aroused and transmits its feelings to the lawmakers and the executive departments that any sort of progress is made.
Thus, the great need for the development of an intelligent, informed body of men and women, young and old, if we are to continue making progress. Thus, the importance of a groups such as our Alumni which has it in its power to help bring about a state of affairs in a vital area of the world’s greatest city which can make a tremendous impact upon the lives of the people in that community as well as upon the civil authorities responsible for their welfare.
The concept of “the grass roots” is still the most potent social concept abroad in the land and throughout the world. We forget too easily that it is out of the grass roots from which each of us has come that we left our mark upon society. No area of governmental will be better than the grass roots it represents.
On the national level, I have seen the affects of the excellent representation by the settlements through their spokesman in the various areas I have touched upon. I could understand and appreciate such representation because they were talking for and representing grass roots products like myself and millions of others.
We haven’t begun to plumb the depths of the valuable contributions which the settlements are capable of making. You would be amazed at the respect in which they are held in the Congress and the various agencies of government –- something which I’m sure is true in all communities throughout the country where they are located.
We can, if we will, be privileged to serve in such a great, humanitarian effort. Therefore, as a final word, let me urge you to give serious consideration to what might be described as a concerted and unified attack upon your problems in terms of an Alumni giving total rather than piecemeal service such a noble endeavor.
Again, let me tell you how thrilled I am to be here and to have had the opportunity to discuss the future of this organization which is so close to my heart.
Source: Personal files of Philip Schiff shared by his daughter, Mrs. Jeanne Talpers