About the Founder
A Life of Charity
Among Harry Fischel’s numerous distinctions were his service as:
- Treasurer, for more than 50 years, of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), beginning in 1890;
- Director, and later Vice President, of the Beth Israel Medical Center, beginning in 1891;
- Vice President of the 1100-student Machzikei Talmud Torah, the oldest in New York City, in 1894;
- Co-Founder, 1892, and Vice-President of the Hebrew Free Loan Society;
- Vice-President of the majestic Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on the Lower East Side;
- Builder of the first modern Jewish theater, in 1904;
- Co-founder, 1906, first Vice President and Chairman of the Building Committee of the Home for the Daughters of Jacob;
- Charter founding member of the American Jewish Committee, in 1906;
- Initiator, by personally prevailing on President Taft, of the installation of a kosher kitchen at Ellis Island in 1911, so that Orthodox Jewish immigrants could eat kosher food during a probation period, thus becoming strong enough to avoid deportation;
- President of the 1800-2800 student Uptown Talmud Torah in Manhattan, in 1911;
- Donor of the Harry Fischel West Side Annex of the Uptown Talmud Torah;
- Co-founder and 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, synagogue, and study hall for Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, at Fischel’s own expense, in 1923;
- Founder of the Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research (aka the Machon Harry Fischel), in 1931;
- Established the Harry Fischel Foundation on January 4, 1932 (later renamed the Harry & Jane Fischel Foundation).
Rare Involvement in a secular Charity
Although almost all of Fischel’s communal work had a Jewish component, he made an exception when personally asked by then-Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, the future President of the United States, to serve as the President of the Board of Visitors of the Pilgrim State Hospital for the Insane. Fischel, unanimously elected by the other Board members, served in this capacity for more than a decade.
Fischel chaired the building committees of all of the entities that eventually evolved into Yeshiva University, including Yeshiva College itself. He even donated the plot of land for one of the buildings. Fischel served as Acting President of the College. The Harry Fischel Study Hall (bet medrash) remains the largest study hall in the original building on the main campus. In 1945, Fischel established the Harry Fischel Graduate School for Higher Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University. Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel, the long-time first president of Yeshiva College, stated that Harry Fischel “invested in this enterprise more than any [other] man.” It was Fischel, more than anyone else, who rescued Yeshiva College from the brink of bankruptcy and closure during the Great Depression in the 1930s, personally intervening with banks and business associates, and putting money from his Foundation on the table.