Fancy Dress Ball Poster, Purim, 1881
This is a colourful advertisement for a Purim fancy dress ball to be held on Tuesday, March 15, 1881. At the bottom of the image is a ribbon with the inscription: “In Aid of the Building Fund of the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum society.” The picture is in the style of the Commedia dell’arte showing the characteristic clowns and masks. In the centre of the image is a woman wearing decorative oriental clothing, signifying perhaps a queen or even Queen Esther from the Purim story. She is holding a sack of coins and is dropping several of them into the lap of a small child. The other children are surrounding her, perhaps waiting their turn to receive coins. These are presumably the children who received assistance from this philanthropic society. On the right is a clown who is also giving a coin to the children.
The Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York (HOA), was a home for Jewish orphans and children whose parents could not support them, which was opened in New York City in 1860 in a building rented by the Hebrew Benevolent Society. In the ensuing years many more children needed assistance. This period coincided with the major waves of pogroms taking place in the Pale of Settlement, which resulted in the immigration of many Jewish refugees to Western Europe and the United States. This is probably the reason for the organisation’s appeal to the public to support their building fund. A large orphanage for over 1,500 children was opened three years later in Upper Manhattan. Between 1860 and 1919, more than 13,500 children were admitted to the home, which finally closed in 1941.
Jewish History teachers can use this source to explore Jewish life in the United States during the late nineteenth century and how its Jewish community altered significantly with the arrival of thousands of refugees. Teachers can also use this poster when discussing the plight of the Jews of Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century and the reasons for their immigration to Western Europe and the United States.
In Jewish Studies lessons this resource can be used when teaching about the concept of tzedakah. Teachers can use the poster before Purim to discuss the festival and its custom of dressing up.
This image can also be used in a Sociology lessons to discuss social inequalities and the concept of social and communal responsibility.
Art teachers can use this poster to explore the Commedia dell’arte movement and its wider influence.
Describe the poster.
What is written on the ribbon at the bottom of the poster?
What event is being advertised? Which Jewish holiday is being celebrating?
Describe the figures in the picture.
What are the adults doing? What are the children doing?
What artistic style was used in the design and in the depiction of the dressed-up adults?
Reading Between the Lines
What were the goals of the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society?
Why did it hold this particular event?
What events in Europe caused the increase of Jewish refugees to the United States?
What do you think the woman in the middle of the poster is representing?
Who do the children in the poster represent?
The charity event promoted in the picture is a Purim fancy dress ball.
Why do people dress up on Purim?
Why is the Italian Commedia dell’arte associated with fancy dress?
What charitable institutions did American Jews set up in the nineteenth century?
Which of them exist to this day?
Do you know organisations that organise Purim events?
Do any of them use these events to raise money for charity?
Which organisations support refugees today?
Where are the refugees from? Why have they fled their countries?
Design a modern poster promoting a charity event for a different Jewish festival.