In 1864 the Hebrew Free School Association came into existence, as the story goes, to counter the initiatives of Christian missionaries who opened a school on New York’s East Side that offered to teach Hebrew to Jewish children with the agenda to convert them to Christianity.
Throughout various states of the Union a movement gradually spread for the organization of free religious schools, which would bring into a common-school system children from the various congregations in each city.
This was no surprise to Anshi Chesed on Norfolk Street; the headquarter of the missionary activity was just across of their building, at the Episcopal Mission Church of the Epiphany (later called Pro-Cathedral) on Stanton Street, between Norfolk and Essex Streets, at the location of the present PS 20 Anne Silver School and the ABC Playground.
A few months before the Hebrew Free School association came into existence, this notice was circulated to all New York congregations, including Anshi Chesed.
in: The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of The American Jewish Archives, Congregation Anshe Chesed Records, 1835-1874. MF-3629
At a meeting of the officers of our city congregations, held on Sunday, April 3rd, a resolution was adopted, that public notice be given in our Synagogues, to the following effect:
It has come to the knowledge of the United Congregations that there are Jewish parents who send their children to schools, purporting to be “for Israelites, exclusively,” where instruction is gratuitously given in English, German and Hebrew, and also in the Christian “Testament.”
Notice is hereby given that there is no free school now in operation under the direction or the authority of a Jewish Congregation, and the effect of sending children to such an institution as is here indicated, must be to estrange them from Judaism,
The Jewish Congregations of New York will shortly establish Hebrew Free Schools, where Jewish youth may be educated in the Hebrew language, as well as in their religion. Due notice will be given of the location of these projected schools.
Parents are accordingly earnestly cautioned against entrusting their children to any “free schools” purporting to be for the instruction of young Israelites, except those to be organized under the supervision of the Congregations, and which, it is expected, will be open at an early day.
To the President:
By a resolution, adopted at the meeting of the officers of New York Congregations, held on Sunday last, you are requested to have the above notice read in Synagogue, in English or German, for four successive Sabbaths and during the coming Holydays.
New York, April 6, 5624.
The mixed format of the date gave us a little headache but we concluded that April 6, 5624 was 29 Adar II 5624 / April 6, 1864.