return to Home page Inside Looking Out
The Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum 1868 - 1924
Gary Edward Polster  

Gary Edward Polster, PhD, Professor of Sociology at Ursuline College has written Inside Looking Out, The Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum 1868 - 1924
© 1990 Kent State University Press

This page was created with his help and approval. It uses images and text from his book, available from Kent State University Press.


The Directors

Louis Aufrecht  ca 1878
Superintendent, 1868-1878
Samuel Wolfenstein ca 1912
Superintendent, 1878-1913
Simon Peiser  ca 1914
Superintendent, 1913-1919,

Louis Aufrecht   1868-1878
Aufrecht, a schoolteacher from Cincinnati, was the JOA’s first superintendent, Under his supervision the JOA was conducted with regimented military discipline.

Samuel Wolfenstein  1878-1913
Wolfenstein received both the rabbinical and Ph.D. degrees in 1864 at the age of 22 from the University of Breslau and the Rabbiner Seminar, the first Reform rabbinical school. He came to the U.S. in 1870 to Congregation B'nai El in Saint Louis as its rabbi. He was elected to the JOA Board in 1875 and named Superintendent in 1878.

Simon Peiser  1913-1919
Peiser graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelor of arts degree in 1896 and Hebrew Union College in 1898 as an ordained rabbi. He headed Congregation Anshe Chesed, a Reform synagogue in Erie, Pennsylvania from 1898-1901 before coming to Cleveland to begin an 18-year association with the JOA as teacher (1901-1913), assistant superintendent (1903-1913) and superintendent 1913-1919. Peiser changed the name to the Jewish Orphan Home in 1919 as part of his attempt to transform the asylum into a more humane place for the children to live.


Mrs. Friedman taught fine embroidery to the older girls every Sunday morning.
Girls were also given instruction in needlework, sewing, knitting,
darning, crocheting, fancy-work, housework, and cooking.  ca 1910

Mr Martin and his carpentry class  ca 1916
In Manual Training School classes boys were also instructed in machine-shop,
wood-work, printing, mechanical drawing, iron-work, electricity, and auto-shop.


Dining room girls set places at the tables for 500 children, ca 1912

Soon after arriving in 1922 Michael Sharlitt, the new Superintendent, changed the
gender-segregated dining hall and seated brothers and sisters of each family together at smaller tables.

Remembering Family

Above: The Eisner family's father visits his five children, ca 1910.

Right: Memorial Hall with its "perpetual light" burning in memory of the dead benefactors of the orphanage. The names of those giving more than one hundred dollars were engraved in gold on marble memorial tablets that lined the walls of the hall. ca 1900


The Facility

The physical facility grew and changed over the years. The school building was built in 1880 and the hospital in 1884. In 1889 the original building, the old Seelye Water Cure Sanitarium, was demolished and a new Main Building was erected

Jewish Orphan Asylum Main Building (ca 1900)
Online on the Cleveland Memory Project.

The map's author and date are not known.

When B'nai B'rith bought the Cleveland Water Cure sanitarium and resort from Dr. Thomas Seelye in 1868, it was in a rural setting. By 1890 it was near the city's eastern edge, an area with new housing that was attracting Jewish institutions. But by 1927, when this photo was taken, Woodland was crowded and declining. Jews had moved farther east: most to Glenville, many to Kinsman - Mount Pleasant, and some to the Heights. That year the orphanage bought land in University Heights, It moved in 1929 and became Bellefaire, so named as it was on Belvoir Road and Fairmount Boulevard.


Gary Polster's essay in the 1987 issue of the Journal of the American Jewish Archives. "To Love Work and Dislike Being Idle: Origins and Aims of the Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum, 1868-1878" is online.  link to archived pdf document

Learn more about the Jewish Orphan Asylum and Bellefaire.