Larry Adler was in college when a bulldozer reduced to rubble the original Jewish Neighborhood House in downtown Memphis.
“I never saw the building, and I never heard anyone tell stories about the days when it was a shelter for immigrants,” Adler says. “It was only after I became associated with the Jewish Neighborhood House Fund that I learned about the real Neighborhood House, where real people were helped.”
Established in 1912 in an old synagogue in the Pinch district, the Jewish Neighborhood House served poor, uneducated immigrants arriving in Memphis— most but not all of them Jewish. Classes held at the House helped “greenies” learn English, find jobs, and gain citizenship skills. Immigrants came in waves, often to escape foreign tyrants, always seeking a better life. The doors of the original Jewish Neighborhood House remained open for more than a half-century, serving thousands of families in need before the center was demolished in 1963 to make way for an expressway.
“They relocated to another building, and the work went on, but things were changing,” Adler says. “By that time, the House mostly served as a day care center, with some services for seniors. Then public agencies started assuming some of those roles.” Operations finally ceased about 1980.
In the years that followed, the Neighborhood House’s remaining assets have benefited a variety of causes, including providing college scholarships for the children of Russian Jews who arrived in Memphis after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1991, the Jewish Neighborhood House Fund was established at the Community Foundation.
“Today, the funds are allocated to benefit the Temple Israel cemetery fund, the Memphis Jewish Home, and the Temple Israel Museum (pictured, left),” says Adler, one of the fund’s original advisors. “It seems appropriate that a fund with such a rich past is being used to preserve our history and honor connections between generations. It’s like we’ve come full circle.”
Excerpted from the 2016 Community Foundation Annual Report. Top photo ©2016 Center for Southern Folklore Archives, from The Celia Burson Collection