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Purim Association collection

Identifier: I-20

Scope and Content Note

The collection of the Purim Association consists of two minutes books, a scrapbook, and a folder. The minute books date from 1871-1892, and 1896-1906, and include a constitution and by-laws, lists of officers and members, financial accounts, applications for membership, obituaries of members and their families, and resolutions. The scrapbook contains correspondence relating to donations given by the Purim Association to other organizations. The folder contains financial records, programs, postcards, articles, members' lists, and minutes.

The collection is valuable to researchers interested in Philanthropy, Purim Observance, Relations with Non-Jews, Societies for men, and the New York German-Jewish community in the late 1800s. The organizations represented in the collection include the Conemaugh Valley Relief Fund, Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society, Hebrew Technical Institute, Hospital Saturday and Sunday Association, Mrs. Louis Down-Town Sabbath and Daily School, Relief Fund of the Essex St. Sufferers, Sanitary Aid Society for the Tenth Ward, Touro Infirmary and Hebrew Benevolent Association, Vicksburg Hebrew Relief Society, and Young Men's Hebrew Association of the City of New York.


  • undated, 1865-1902, 1979


Language of Materials

The collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Historical Sketch

Purim Association (1862-1902)

In the January 13, 1860 issue of the Jewish Messenger, Myer S. Isaacs, co-editor of the paper, submitted an editorial which stated that "Purim should be selected as the occasion of a good fancy dress ball, the proceeds to be donated to charity." Isaacs' idea, based on the traditional Purim ritual of giving gifts to the poor, and the influence of the Italian carnival from medieval times on fancy dress and costume, served as the stimulus for the founding of the Purim Association of the City of New York, 1862-1902.1 Although the 1870s and 1880s its most active years, its early success can be attributed to the effective leadership of Isaacs, who subsequently served as its first president. Isaacs was not only the co-editor of the Jewish Messenger, but a lawyer and judge committed to Jewish communal work, and the municipal affairs of New York City.2

In March 1862, a group of wealthy Jewish young men conducted the first Purim ball on Shushan Purim. Soon after the ball, they held a meeting and decided to form an organization which provided social entertainments for charitable purposes.

Although the Purim Association was founded by Jews, people of all faiths could be invited by the Association's members. Over the years, the Association raised approximately $180,000 for over twenty five educational and religious organizations.3 This display of high society entertainment with a philanthropic emphasis had a positive effect on the attitudes of both Jews and non-Jews toward American Judaism. The Purim Association gave Jews a way to escape the pressures of society, enjoy themselves in the festive celebration of a Jewish holiday, and at the same time reveal to the non-Jewish American community their humanistic and philanthropic qualities.

The annual Purim balls of the Association were incredibly successful. The first ball sold over 1300 tickets at $5.00 each and set the standard for the balls to follow.4 As news spread of this unique opportunity to enjoy a masquerade, each ball increased in attendance and ticket price. They became a highlight in social entertainment for both Jews and non-Jews alike. Every successive ball was as lavishly decorated and as were the costumes (generally Purim, and other Jewish characters, but also "Little Red Riding Hood," "Goddess of Liberty," etc)5

The second ball held at the Academy of Music clearly indicated the Association's desire to reflect American values, with its red, white, and blue streamers, patriotic music, and gas-lit sign flashing "Merry Purim". A description of one of the Purim balls in a newspaper article read, "Another procession epitomized the history of Jewish persecution, and epitomized the victory of Religious Liberty over Prejudice". This largely successful event was the fifth annual Purim ball held March 1, 1866, noted for its high Christian attendance, who experienced a Jewish celebration for the first time. Tickets for the ball were priced at $10.00, but this did not discourage attendees. Secular papers such as the Evening Post and the Daily Tribune praised the ball as a "brilliant and in many respects a unique affair."6

Successive balls were held in such noteworthy places as the Metropolitan Opera House, Madison Square Garden, and Carnegie Music Hall.7 By housing the balls in such highly regarded and well known places, the Purim Association was further able to further prove that Jews could hold a respectable place in American society.

In order to raise a substantial amount of money for its recipient organizations, the Purim Association purchased bonds; charged an initiation fee and annual dues for its members; and held many social fundraising events such as the annual balls, anniversary dinners, theatre, ballet performances, and private parties. Members of the Association voted as to how the money would be distributed, and if one organization would be the sole benefactor of the annual ball, or if many organizations would share in the donations.

The ultimate downfall of the Purim Association may be accredited to its selective membership, lack of structured leadership following Myer S. Isaacs, and subsequent lack of interest by current members. When Isaacs resigned in 1864, Moses H. Moses, Esquire presided for all but six years of the Association's existence.8 A lack of effective organization is apparent in the minute books, which cover 1871-1906. Although the first meeting of the Purim Association took place in 1862, the Constitution and By-Laws were not adopted until 1881. In addition, the previous board of officers and directors known as the Board of Management was reelected every year with a few occasional exceptions except for resignation or death. The selective membership clearly outlined in Articles V through XIII of the Constitution required that prospective members be nominated by current members, and that their acceptance or rejection be reviewed by the Board of Management.

Since the original group of men who organized the Association was in their early to mid twenties when it was formed, when they married and had families, their dedication to the Association waned. There were fewer social entertainments held each year, and attendance at meetings steadily declined.

Eventually, the deaths of the original members, recorded in the form of numerous obituaries throughout the minute books, led to the death of the Purim Association. The thirty-seven year history of this widely successful philanthropic Jewish organization came to a close, but not without leaving its mark on American society, and, even more importantly, American Judaism. It is estimated that the Purim Association contributed over $300,000 to charities, but the amount it contributed to renewing the respectability of Jews and reaffirming their ability to be accepted as productive members of society can not be measured.


  1. Goodman, Philip. "The Purim Association of the City of New York." Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, no. 40 (1950), pp. 135-172.
  2. Landman, Isaac, ed. "Isaacs, Myer S." The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 5, pp. 1201-1202. New York: Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Inc., 1941.
  3. The Purim Association. I-20. Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society. Papers, 1865-1906.

End Notes:

  1. 1. Goodman, Philip. "The Purim Association of the City of New York." Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, no. 40 (1950), pp. 136-137.
  2. 2. Landman, Isaac, ed. "Isaacs, Myer S." The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 5, pp. 1201-1202. New York: Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Inc., 1941, p. 1201.
  3. 3. The Purim Association. I-20. Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society. Papers, 1865-1906.
  4. 4. Goodman, pp. 145.
  5. 5. Goodman, pp. 145.
  6. 6. Goodman, pp. 150.
  7. 7. Goodman, pp. 158.
  8. 8. Goodman, pp. 141.


0.5 Linear Feet (1 manuscript box)


Contains two minute books for the years 1871-1892, and 1896-1906, of the activities of the Association. Includes: its constitution, by-laws, and amendments, a member list, a scrapbook of correspondence containing information on charitable disbursements, an 1866 Purim Ball Program (scroll), and miscellaneous documents.


The collection consists of a single series arranged by topic.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Digitization Note

Postcard reproduction was digitized of poster announcing a ball "In Aid of the Building Fund of the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society" dated Tuesday March 15th, 1881.

Guide to the Collection of the Purim Association of New York City (1862-1902), undated, 1865-1902, 1979   I-20
Processed by Rachel Oliveri
© 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • February 2016: Added dao link by Eric Fritzler.
  • May 2020: EHyman-post-ASpace migration cleanup

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States