Monday, January 21, 2008

Service to the Community

"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to forge the common ground on which people from all walks of life could join together to address important community issues. On January 21st, 2008, millions of Americans across the country will once again honor his legacy by taking part in a wide range of service projects—conducting food drives, painting schools and community centers, recruiting mentors for needy youth, and bringing meals to homebound neighbors, to name but a few." --
It's also appropriate perhaps to honor the community service activities of our ancestors.

Tuesday night I made a discovery about my second great grandfather, Selig Feinstein. Apparently he was active in the Chesed Shel Emeth Society.

The Society was originally founded by Russian Orthodox Jews in St. Louis to provide free burial services to the entire Jewish Community. By not charging anyone, the needy didn't have to prove a level of need at a time of mourning. Once the cemetery was established, they moved on to other things, like establishing an Old Folks Home.

Selig’s name is mentioned in Zion in the Valley: The Jewish Community of St. Louis. This book was published in 1997, and is searchable at Google Books, which is where I found the information.
Those efforts reached a climax in the early 1900s. On February 15, 1906, at a banquet given by the Chesed Shel Emeth Society, some of its members proposed "to establish a home for old and infirm Jews and Jewesses where they shall be enabled to spend their remaining days in peace and comfort without being compelled to deny themselves their religious inclinations." With an overwhelming approval of those present, Society President John Ellman appointed a committee of Meyer Shapiro, Hyman Albert, and Selig Feinstein to consider further action. The committee in turn convened a mass meeting chaired by Rabbi Adolph Rosentreter to test reaction from more of the Jewish community. Both turnout and financial pledges at the gathering far surpassed even the most optimistic of expectations.
Selig's mother would die six months later in August of 1906, and it's possible he had some first-hand experience with the problems caring for an aging parent which may have been part of the reason he was assigned to the committee.

In the footnote, the book cited four issues of a newspaper I had never heard of - The St. Louis Jewish Voice. It was a newspaper of the local Jewish community from 1884-1920. A quick search turned up microfilm at the local library. Yesterday I spent an hour reading old news stories, and I could have spent more, as I had difficulty remaining focused on just looking up the four issues. It was a weekly newspaper, and each issue was only 8 pages long, so it wouldn’t be difficult to scan through them for names. If I could train myself not to stop and read.

Unfortunately, the four issues didn’t contain any additional information on Selig. His name was mentioned in the May 31, 1912 issue, and the article was a 5-year recollection of the founding of the home, so the sentence he appeared in was almost identical to the one in the book.

The Chesed Shel Emeth Society still exists, but they are focused on the cemetery. Selig is buried there along with seven other Feinsteins, including his mother, wife, three sons, and two grandsons. I am going to have to find out if the society has any archives of minutes, or any other information on Selig’s activities.

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