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

Invitation to 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."[2]

In 1886, the Association donated ten thousand dollars, the profit of the Purim Ball, to the Montefiore Home.[3] 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.[4]

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 regulations were:

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.[5]

footnotes [*] 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]

[1] Isaacs, I.S., "Myer S. Isaacs," in American Jewish Historical Society Publications, no. 13 (1905), p. 146.  [back]
[2] Purim Gazette, Purim Association, New York, March 15, 1883, p. 5 [back]
[3] American Hebrew, vol. 26, no. 2 (February 19, 1886), p. 24. [back]
[4] Ibid., vol. 66, no. 13 (February 2, 1900), p. 413. [back]
[5] Ibid., vol. 14, no. 5 (March 16, 1883), p. 59. [back]
From: The Purim Anthology, edited by Philip Goodman, and published by the Jewish Publication Society 1949, 1988.



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