National Association of Jewish Social Workers

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National Association of Jewish Social Workers (1908-1917?)

Founded in 1908, the National Association of Jewish Social Workers (NAJSW) attempted to unify various social welfare societies throughout the United States. Although NAJSW provided an ideological common ground for its members, it was nonetheless an umbrella organization whose membership was participatory. Many times, NASJW passed resolutions that favored its members at large, such as the establishment of the position of a paid field secretary. However, it was only in rare cases that the organization attempted to force legislation on its members. In other words, NAJSW was established to service its members in the smoother operations of their organizations.

David M. Bressler, the former General Manager of the Industrial Removal Office, became president of the National Association of Jewish Social Workers in 1914. 1 Previously he had served as the first president of the Society of Jewish Social Workers of Greater New York. 2 As the president of NAJSW from 1914 through 1916, Bressler took his position "seriously." 3 Bressler was the organization's lifeline. Every success of the organization was the direct result of Bressler's tenacity and charisma. Indeed, he orchestrated the conference of 1915 nearly single-handedly - no small task, considering that he, alone, wrote an estimated 500 documents pertaining to this meeting. Bressler was an excellent diplomat whose cleverness allowed him to accomplish great goals. An example of this skill can be seen in the file of A. Lincoln Filene. Bressler effectively "bargains down" Filene's secretary until the latter agrees to convince his boss to speak at the conference. Not all of Bressler's methods were admirable. He was aggressive and sometimes unfair as in the case of Alexander Kaminsky who agreed "tentatively" to speak at the conference. When Kaminsky later wrote that he was unable to attend the conference due to a "family occasion," Bressler responded as though Kaminsky had previously given an absolute "yes." Despite Bressler's shortcomings, he achieved astounding accomplishments.

One aim of NAJSW was to improve the knowledge and practice of social work throughout the country. To this end, the association held bi-annual conventions where issues pertinent to the social welfare of the Jewish community were discussed. In order to schedule a successful conference, careful planning was required. Topics had to be of interest to a wide spectrum of the community as the association consisted of members varying from superintendents of philanthropic organizations to headmasters of Jewish schools. Furthermore, the subjects had to be relevant to the times. The conference of 1915, probably the high point in the existence of NAJSW and certainly the most widely discussed issue in this collection, well exemplifies this spectrum. Speakers presented topics ranging from the effect of Zionism on the Jews of America to the need for the establishment of a Jewish school of social work. A great deal of effort was exerted in order to make this conference successful, and plans for its execution began nearly a year before its date.

The conference of 1915 had special significance, as its success appears to have been pivotal to the continuity of NAJSW. Even before the conference, several people, such as Walter Leo Solomon of the Council of Education Alliance, questioned the "need for a national union of Jewish social workers." In his letter to Bressler, Solomon warned that the issues of the conference had better not be "silly" like "those of 1913." Thus, many variables had to be considered when determining the topics of the conference. Certainly, not all of the issues discussed at the Conference pertained to everyone. The topic of "Newer Methods of Adjusting Industrial Disputes'' was of no practical uses to a rabbi; likewise, the superintendent of a school cared little for the discussion on "Transportation Rules." However, the inclusion of each of these topics attracted delegates who might have otherwise been absent such as businessman, J.E. Williams or Charles Strull, superintendent of the Federation of Jewish Charities of Louisville.

In the early twentieth century, two of the most vital issues facing American Jewry were immigration and Zionism, and these topics were widely discussed in the 1915 conference. The concerns of the time were of real impact: "What will be the effect of the Great War on immigration" and "To what extent will a 'settlement program' take cognizance of Nationalist ideals."

Based on its mission, NAJSW was primarily concerned with aiding its membership as a whole. One example of this occurred in 1912 with the establishment of a pension fund. Much effort was exerted in attaining this goal as special committees were formed and many people were consulted to make the plan as attractive as possible. Some of those experts asked to give their opinions were the famous Louis D. Brandeis and Dr. Lee Frankel. Occasionally, there were times that, for the benefit of all of its members, the NAJSW would attempt to force legislation. An example of this occurred at the conference in Baltimore, when the transportation laws were amended. These laws pertained mainly to families that had been deserted by the husband/father, and regulated which recipients of charities were considered members of which community. In this situation, regulations were passed in order to affect the cessation of the exploitation of one organization to the other.

In some respect, it was the revision of these transportation rules and other similar resolutions that represent the final downfall of NAJSW. Assumedly, the organization formed to act as a unifier of American Jewish social workers. While such a federation may have been necessary for the social workers of 1910, it may no longer have been appropriate for those of 1920. As Jewish charity organizations grew larger, they no longer had to rely on a larger union for security. Additionally, as was demonstrated at the conference of 1915, the concerns of Jewish social workers were no longer universal. The charity worker had little in common with the rabbi whose interests did not relate to those of the business entrepreneur. In effect, as the position of the social worker rose in society and the field's range of interests widened, one national association could no longer accommodate all of their needs. Thus, the rabbis attended rabbinical conferences, and the philanthropy workers attended the National Conference of Jewish Charities.

In conclusion, the National Association of Jewish Social Workers and its management understood the importance of Jewish social worker in America. The goal of this organization was to help improve the quality of Jewish social services in the United States. It appears as though NASJW had a large impact on this professional field, such as the establishment of the American Hebrew Social Workers Biography Series and of the Jewish School of Philanthropy. However, NAJSW was a short-lived organization that in the long run became too broad to be effective. By 1918, the organization was no longer listed in the American Jewish Yearbook .

Footnotes: 1. Correspondence, 1914, Records of the Society of Jewish Social Workers of Greater New York, I-87, Box 1, Folder 1, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 2. Correspondence, 1911, Records of the Society of Jewish Social Workers of Greater New York, I-87, Box 1, Folder 1, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 3. American Jewish Yearbook: 5676. Ed. Herbert Friedenwald. Philadelphia: PA, 1916.

From the guide to the National Association of Jewish Social Workers records, undated, 1908, 1911-1917, (American Jewish Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf National Association of Jewish Social Workers records, undated, 1908, 1911-1917 American Jewish Historical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adler, Cyrus, 1863-1940 person
associatedWith American Jewish Committee corporateBody
associatedWith Bernstein, Ludwig B., 1870- person
associatedWith Brandeis, Louis Dembitz, 1856-1941 person
associatedWith Bressler, David M. person
associatedWith Federation of Jewish Charities corporateBody
associatedWith Filene, Lincoln, 1865- person
associatedWith Filene's (Department Store) corporateBody
associatedWith Filene's Sons Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Frankel, Lee K. (Lee Kaufer), 1867-1931 person
associatedWith Friedlander, Israel, 1876-1920 person
associatedWith Jewish Chautauqua Society corporateBody
associatedWith Leonard, Oscar, 1881- person
associatedWith Levin, Louis H., 1866- person
associatedWith Marshall, Louis, 1856-1929 person
associatedWith Moskowitz, Belle Israels, 1877- person
associatedWith National Americanization Committee corporateBody
associatedWith National Conference of Jewish Social Welfare (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith New York (City). School for Jewish Communal Work corporateBody
associatedWith New York (N.Y.). Board of Education corporateBody
associatedWith Reizenstein, Milton, 1874- person
associatedWith Sabsovich, Hirsch Leib, 1860-1915 person
associatedWith Seman, Philip Louis, 1881- person
associatedWith Waldman, Morris D., 1879- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Baltimore (Md.)
Emigration and immigration


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