The following descriptions of Purim events in
late 19th-century New York are based on newspaper clippings from the period
(including several original quotes).
"With a few young men imbued, as was Myer S. Isaacs,[*]
with the desire to celebrate the Purim festival in a refined way that should
fittingly represent the social side of New York Judaism, he founded the Purim
Association in 1861, that for 40 years was so popularly and useful, and not
only enabled the citizens to have a yearly entertainment that was a protest
against extravagance and impropriety in public amusement, but by means of
its charitable appeals was a great benefactor to many deserving causes."[1
Fancy Dress Ball
Purim Association of the City of New York, New York, 1881
Lithograph, American Jewish Historical Society
From the "American Jewish Experience"
Courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History
"Annually the Purim Association
invokes the aid of the citizens of New York on behalf of some well-deserving
charity, and the financial success of the Purim balls furnishes the best proof
that the appeals are not in vain. The ever-ready response of the people testified
to the deep interest of the community in maintaining all institutions which
alleviate suffering and improve the condition of the need and deserving poor."
In 1886, the Association donated ten thousand dollars, the profit of the Purim
Ball, to the Montefiore Home.
Mt. Sinai Hospital was also a beneficiary and, in 1890, $1,000.00 was contributed
for a Life Bed in the name of the Association.
The annual Purim balls were held in some of the largest auditoria of the city,
such as Madison Square Garden and the Academy of Music. On the occasion of
the observance in 1883, the Association published a Purim Gazette, a souvenir
journal, with appropriate articles and advertisements as well as regulations
that were to be "strictly enforced by order of the committee." Among these
No one will be admitted
on the floor before midnight, unless in mask.
Ladies wearing hats or
bonnets, unless in fancy costume, will not be admitted on the floor.
All masks must be removed
at one o'clock.
This affair was reported
in the American Hebrew of March 16, 1883, as follows: "The grand fancy-dress
ball of the Purim Association at the Academy of Music last night was a brilliant
success. The festivities opened at 10:30 with an elegant tableau. On a lofty
throne covered with rich drapery with Eastern decorations, were seated the
good Queen Esther, accompanied by the Prince and Princess Carnival, attended
by brilliant retinues in gorgeous costumes. The robes of the royal personages
represented were the richest ever seen in this country; that of Queen Esther
was claimed to be a correct copy of the original, whatever may have been the
source of authority on this interesting point.
Myer Samuel Isaacs (1841-1902), New York lawyer and community leader.
Helped found (together with his father Samuel M. Isaacs) the Board of
Delegates of American Israelites and the Hebrew Free School Association;
in civic affairs, helped organize the Citizens' Union in 1897. He was
a leader in many Jewish charitable and educational efforts, particularly
to aid East European Jewish immigrants, and was editor of the Jewish
Messenger, which he helped his father found. [back]
 Isaacs, I.S., "Myer S. Isaacs," in American Jewish
Historical Society Publications, no. 13 (1905), p. 146. [back]
 Purim Gazette, Purim Association, New York,
March 15, 1883, p. 5 [back]
 American Hebrew, vol. 26, no. 2 (February 19,
1886), p. 24. [back]
 Ibid., vol. 66, no. 13 (February 2, 1900), p. 413.
 Ibid., vol. 14, no. 5 (March 16, 1883), p. 59. [back]
The Purim Anthology, edited by Philip Goodman, and published
by the Jewish Publication Society 1949, 1988.