Our Past, Our History
The UNITED HEBREW COMMUNITY OF NEW YORK was founded in 1901 on East Broadway in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the cradle of American Jewry. The founder was Alter Benzion Shapiro, a leading banker and community leader from within the overpopulated tenement community. The original name of the organization was incorporated as the ADATH ISRAEL OF NEW YORK pronounced in Yiddish, “Adas Yisroel of New York”, The name was officially changed some decades later to the UNITED HEBREW COMMUNITY OF NEW YORK , ADATH ISRAEL OF NEW YORK. Unlike all the “landsmenshaften” that flourished at the time, each serving the immigrants from only one or two European towns, the UNITED HEBREW COMMUNITY OF NEW YORK enrolled a cross section of the entire Jewish Community in New York. The primary purpose of the organization was to provide a free synagogue and proper burial for those who were refused membership in a small society because of ill health, age or meager finances.
The UNITED HEBREW COMMUNITY OF NEW YORK purchased both 201 and 203 East Broadway at the turn of the 20th century. We established a Shul (synagogue) and office in the two adjoining buildings, which we still occupy. The organization immediately flourished as scores of disenfranchised immigrants lined up to join. By 1909 there were more than 9000 members eclipsing all other similar groups. The synagogue under the guidance of our Rabbi provided daily services to the community every day of the year. We fed and left our doors open to shelter scores of homeless. Our membership continued to grow as each new generation was born and died.
In 1918, during the heart of the influenza epidemic, the organization interred in its cemetery grounds more than 100 people most every day. The majority were primarily young children from the crowded tenements. No family was charged for the cemetery or burial. Hundreds of volunteer members worked in the organization’s Chevra Kadisha six days a week to provide the required dignity and service to heal the community. Our historic files, records and books indicate that on the worst day of the tragedy 186 burials were completed.
During both World Wars the UNITED HEBREW COMMUNITY OF NEW YORK quietly supported the needs of its member families who were fortunate to have rescued relatives from Europe. Families who suffered during the Depression years were also assisted with donations and free loans. Everyone was given the opportunity to join and were only required to make a small deposit while extending their remaining obligations to be paid, interest free, over a period of years. Cemetery parcels were continuously purchased in most Jewish cemeteries to meet the ever growing needs of the membership.
Until the end of 1969 most members were provided graves as a burial benefit. These families did not purchase graves directly from a cemetery or had burial rights from other groups or relatives. Since then, many thousands of individuals and families who have personal deeds from cemeteries, synagogues and benevolent societies have also enrolled.
In 1937 all the membership records and cemetery maps where secured in vaults.
In 1950 the maps were verified and redrawn and are still updated each day. New maps are drawn since then as they are required.
In 1965 members were first permitted to enroll through the use of telephone and the mail.
All the minutes of countless meetings until 1960 were written in Yiddish. A massive 12 year effort to translate these documents into English was completed in 1972.
In 1983 every membership record was microfilmed, archived and secured.
In1985 computer programs were designed to secure and upgrade the quality of the files, record keeping and the response time of the staff when a death occurs.
Throughout the years great rabbis lead our synagogue.
Three of the most well know were Rabbi Gavriel Ze'ev Wolf (Velvel) Margolis z"l , Rabbi Kalman Avrohom Goldberg z”l, and his son, Rabbi Nochum Zvi Goldberg z”l:
Rabbi Margolis, a prolific author of Jewish commentary was the City’s greatest Torah scholar in his time. His funeral in 1935 was attended by more than 10,000 people in front of our buildings stretching a quarter mile down the streets of the Lower East Side.
Rabbi Kalman Avraham Goldberg was a contemporary of the leading prominent sages who arrived both before and after the Holocaust. His classes, Torah research, opinions and Beis Din (Jewish Court), were respected by the greatest Roshei Yeshivos in the country.
Rabbi Nochum Zvi Goldberg, a contemporary of the recent Gedolei Hador, had a profound influence on the organization and other great modos. He was Rav in the Yeshiva Rabbi Jacob Joseph and also worked tirelessly for Ezras Torah and Yeshiva Bais Hillel in Bnei Brak.
(Click here for additional information and articles about the Rabbis)
The UNITED HEBREW COMMUNITY OF NEW YORK has also enjoyed in the past century a lay leadership and professional staff of New York’s best. Congregational Rabbis, Teachers, Businessmen, Doctors, Attorneys, Publishers, Judges, Social Servants, Factory Workers, Accountants, Industrialists, Bankers, Architects, Contractors, Artists, Civil Servants, Cemeterians, Students as well as, retirees of many professions. The diversity, the personal interests and the knowledge of each volunteer and the uniquely talented staff has directly influenced the growth and unparalleled success of the organization.
Our Present, Our Future
Today, over a 110 years later, we are proud to have amongst our membership many seventh generation families whose roots emanate from the original members. Some have moved throughout the United States and foreign countries. All the members, wherever they reside, are determined to be buried in the New York Metropolitan area. Current enrollment now surpasses 10,000 families and we continue to grow although many pass on each year. Ironically, more than 4000 of the original small societies with selective memberships have disbanded or dissolved.
Members have in the past century dispersed from the Lower East Side to build new communities throughout New York City and the adjoining suburbs. Our computer systems, our obsession with accuracy and detail and a skilled 24 hour professional staff has made it possible for the organization to respond to every member’s personal needs when a death occurred
All records and books in the office are now computerized and burial information is instantly available 24 hours a day for the benefit of the membership.
Our Governing Board consists of professionals dedicated to ideals, integrity and future of the organization. Many are well known for their philanthropic and social service activities within our community.
Our Directors and staff have tirelessly dedicated themselves to our 24 hour a day membership services.
With the recent move to our brand new building in Woodmere, United Hebrew is poised to carry on the century old tradition of service to a whole new community.
Beware of benevolent societies, synagogues, fraternities and others that use our name or a similar name to that of the UNITED HEBREW COMMUNITY OF NEW YORK - ADATH ISRAEL OF NEW YORK - ADAS YISROEL to gain your trust. We cannot be responsible for the claims of chapels, monument dealers, any other group or businesses who use our name or any part of it in their advertising, solicitations or “personal” letters to you, your family or friends. Always be mindful of claims that others may allege to have a relationship with our organization. Without delay, always contact our office for prompt verification. Also, in years past there existed organizations and synagogues that also had similar names and even the same initials of “UHC”. None of these groups ever had a direct or indirect relationship with us. If you have any questions regarding any of these groups please contact our office immediately.