This photograph shows the students of the Ezra Hebrew School at 1745 Washington Avenue in the Bronx, New York, gathered for a group picture on the steps of their school. The experimental institution, founded by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), opened its doors on July 2, 1916; by December of that year, 500 students were attending 16 classes led by five teachers. According to the school’s records, 66 students came without any prior religious instruction. Girls made up almost 50 percent of enrollment, a dramatic new development in American Jewish education. The curriculum included instruction in the Hebrew language aimed at enabling students to read prayer books and the Bible; Jewish history from biblical times to the present day; and religion, incorporating Jewish ethics, holidays, religious practices, and rituals. The goal of the Ezra Hebrew School was to provide religious education and services for the large Jewish population that had moved to the Bronx. No doubt, too, UAHC’s New York chapter was eager for the opportunity to introduce Reform Judaism to the Eastern European immigrant community and their American-born children.
The UAHC rented the building, erected in 1860, from the Tremont Presbyterian Church. The inscriptions on the façade—“The Lord is in His holy Temple” (Psalm 11:4) and “The Lord loves the Gates of Zion” (Psalm 87:2)—were originally meant to express Protestant sentiments, but served a Jewish school equally well.