Harry Fischel

Harry Fischel

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Harry Fischel was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 businessman and philanthropist
Philanthropist
A philanthropist is someone who engages in philanthropy; that is, someone who donates his or her time, money, and/or reputation to charitable causes...

 based in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 at the turn of the 20th century.

Fischel was one of the leading pioneers in the growth of American Judaism, in general, and in American Jewish Orthodoxy, in particular, particularly in the dynamic precedent-setting first half of the 20th Century.

Biography


Harry Fischel was born in Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 in 1865. He became an architect and a builder at 19, immigrated to America virtually penniless at 20 (after giving most of his earnings to his parents who remained in Russia), and earned his first million in real estate at a young age, but sent money home to help support his parents in Russia even before he was earning $10 per week in America. He is also an Orthodox Jew.

Involvement in Society


It should be noted at the outset that this entry does not mention all of the organizations that Fischel played a role in.

Among his numerous distinctions were his service as the Treasurer
Treasurer
A treasurer is the person responsible for running the treasury of an organization. The adjective for a treasurer is normally "tresorial". The adjective "treasurial" normally means pertaining to a treasury, rather than the treasurer.-Government:...

 of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), beginning in 1890; a director of the Beth Israel Medical Center
Beth Israel Medical Center
Beth Israel Medical Center is a 1,368-bed, full-service tertiary teaching hospital in New York City. Originally dedicated to serving immigrant Jews living in the tenement slums of the Lower East Side, it was founded at the turn of the 20th century. The main hospital location is the Petrie...

 in 1891 (credited with laying the groundwork for its kosher policy up to and including the present); Vice-President of the Hebrew Free Loan Societies; Vice President of the Beth Israel Medical Center
Beth Israel Medical Center
Beth Israel Medical Center is a 1,368-bed, full-service tertiary teaching hospital in New York City. Originally dedicated to serving immigrant Jews living in the tenement slums of the Lower East Side, it was founded at the turn of the 20th century. The main hospital location is the Petrie...

 in 1900; Vice-President of the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on the Lower East Side
Lower East Side
The Lower East Side, LES, is a neighborhood in the southeastern part of the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is roughly bounded by Allen Street, East Houston Street, Essex Street, Canal Street, Eldridge Street, East Broadway, and Grand Street....

, until he moved to Park Avenue
Park Avenue (Manhattan)
Park Avenue is a wide boulevard that carries north and southbound traffic in New York City borough of Manhattan. Through most of its length, it runs parallel to Madison Avenue to the west and Lexington Avenue to the east....

 in 1902; builder of the first modern Jewish theater in 1904 (exclusively for productions in Yiddish); charter member of the American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Committee
The American Jewish Committee was "founded in 1906 with the aim of rallying all sections of American Jewry to defend the rights of Jews all over the world...

 in 1906; prevailed on his co-founders to designate him to chair its second annual luncheon, to assure it and its future events would be kosher; personally prevailed on President Taft to install a kosher kitchen at Ellis Island in 1911, so that Orthodox Jewish immigrants could have the opportunity to eat kosher food during a probation period, thus becoming strong enough to pass the test to avoid deportation; President of the Uptown Talmud Torah in Manhattan in 1911 (in one of the first structures in New York built exclusively for this purpose, and then widely considered “the most important Jewish educational institution in America”);first Treasurer of the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War, in 1914; member of the Executive Committee of the Joint Distribution Committee in 1914; organizer of the Palestine Building Loan Association in 1921; builder of a home and synagogue for the Chief Rabbi
Chief Rabbi
Chief Rabbi is a title given in several countries to the recognized religious leader of that country's Jewish community, or to a rabbinic leader appointed by the local secular authorities...

 of Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 at his own expense in 1923; he established the Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research
Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research
The Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research is a Yeshiva in Jerusalem focusing primarily on the training of dayanim . It was founded by the American philanthropist Harry Fischel in 1931. Over the years the institute has produced a very large number of religious court judges....

 in 1931 (which, after the creation of the country of Israel, trained, for many years, a large percentage of the judges who presided over the religious courts in the country); established the Harry Fischel Foundation on January 4th 1932 (later renamed the Harry & Jane Fischel Foundation).

Fischel’s efforts on behalf of Yeshiva College and its predecessor yeshivot can be highlighted as follows: in 1889, Fischel became a director of the Etz Chaim Yeshiva
Etz Chaim Yeshiva (Manhattan)
Etz Chaim Yeshiva was founded in 1886 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. It was founded as a cheder-style elementary school and, over time, became the basis of Yeshiva College and Yeshiva University....

; in 1895, Fischel became the Chair of its Building Committee; in 1915, he became the Chair of the Building Committee of the newly merged Etz Chaim Yeshiva and Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary , or Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, is the rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University, located in Washington Heights, New York. It is named after Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, who died the year it was founded, 1896...

, and a vice-president of the latter; in 1920 he became the Chair of the Building Committee of the institution that would become Yeshiva College; and in 1927 he was the Chair of the Building Committee upon the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of the main building of the main campus of Yeshiva College in Washington Heights
Washington Heights, Manhattan
Washington Heights is a New York City neighborhood in the northern reaches of the borough of Manhattan. It is named for Fort Washington, a fortification constructed at the highest point on Manhattan island by Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, to defend the area from the...

 (now known as the Wilf Campus). Fischel established the Harry Fischel Graduate School for Higher Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University
Yeshiva University
Yeshiva University is a private university in New York City, with six campuses in New York and one in Israel. Founded in 1886, it is a research university ranked as 45th in the US among national universities by U.S. News & World Report in 2012...

 in 1945. The main study hall or bet medrash in the main building of the main campus is known to this day as the Harry Fischel Study Hall. He played a primary role in saving the college from the brink of bankruptcy and closure during the Great Depression. A plaque in the main building of the main campus testifies that Mr. Fischel even served, for a time, as Acting President of Yeshiva College.

Descendants


Fischel had four daughters and no sons who survived into adulthood. One daughter married a physician (Dr. Henry Rafsky), one married a lawyer (State Senator Albert Wald), one married a banker (David Kass), and one, married a rabbi (Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein
Herbert S. Goldstein
Herbert S. Goldstein, , was a prominent American rabbi and Jewish leader.He was the only person in history to have been elected president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Rabbinical Council of America , and the Synagogue Council of America.Globally, he fought for the...

). Fischel openly stated that since he had no sons to bear his name, he had more of a motivation than most people to perpetuate his name by other means, in his case, the institutions named after him, in Israel and in America

His granddaughter Josephine Reichel, served as national president of the Agudah Women of America; his granddaughter Dr. Naomi Cohen, is a professor at the University of Haifa
University of Haifa
The University of Haifa is a university in Haifa, Israel.The University of Haifa was founded in 1963 by Haifa mayor Abba Hushi, to operate under the academic auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem....

; his grandson Simeon H.F. Goldstein, served as the executive director of the Harry Fischel Foundation; his great-granddaughter, Deborah Stepelman, serves on the Board of the Riverdale Jewish Center; his great-grandson Seth Goldstein became the president of the Etz Chayim Congregation in Queens; his great-grandson Rabbi Hillel Reichel is the Director of the Machon Harry Fischel (the Fischel Institute) in the historic campus and building in the Bucharian Quarter, in Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

.

Among the prominent spouses married to some of his descendants are Haifa
Haifa
Haifa is the largest city in northern Israel, and the third-largest city in the country, with a population of over 268,000. Another 300,000 people live in towns directly adjacent to the city including the cities of the Krayot, as well as, Tirat Carmel, Daliyat al-Karmel and Nesher...

 Chief Rabbi
Chief Rabbi
Chief Rabbi is a title given in several countries to the recognized religious leader of that country's Jewish community, or to a rabbinic leader appointed by the local secular authorities...

 She'ar Yashuv Cohen
She'ar Yashuv Cohen
Eliyahu Yosef She'ar Yashuv Cohen was the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Israel and the President of its rabbinical courts .- Biography :...

, who briefly served as Chief Rabbi
Chief Rabbi
Chief Rabbi is a title given in several countries to the recognized religious leader of that country's Jewish community, or to a rabbinic leader appointed by the local secular authorities...

 of Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

; who also heads the Fischel Institute and the Ariel Institutes, and who previously served as Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem; and Rabbi Dr. O. Asher Reichel, who served as Rabbi of the West Side Institutional Synagogue and wrote a major biography on the historian and diplomat, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevy, based in part on his thesis when he was awarded the first M.H.L. degree ever issued by the Harry Fischel Graduate School, before he met – and married – Rabbi Goldstein’s daughter, Josephine.

Sources


Goldstein, Herbert S., Forty Years of Struggle for a Principle (New York: Bloch Publishers), 1928
Levine, Yitchak, * Harry Fischel: Orthodox Jewish Philanthropist Par Excellence, Glimpses Into American Jewish History, jewishpress.com
Reichel, Aaron I., The Maverick Rabbi (Norfolk: Donning Publishers) 1984, 1986
Reichel, Aaron I., “Pioneers of American Orthodoxy: Mr. Harry Fischel and Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein,” pp. 114-117, in My Yeshiva College: 75 Years of Memories, ed. Menachem Butler and Zev Nagel (New York: Yashar Books) 2006.