This was Deborah, Part 2


Deborah Boys Club, 1949 (c) Epstein

Marcia Zuckerman contributed this blogpost about the history of Deborah Boys Club. When she was employed at JCYS (Jewish Council for Youth Services), Marcia was part of a research team that uncovered many wonderful aspects of early Jewish immigrant life, especially the Deborah Boys Club.

For seven years, I worked in the Development Department for the 104-year-old agency that built and ran Deborah Boys Club on Ainslie. (This was the second Deborah Boys Club. The first was on Division Street.) The agency originally was called Young Men’s Jewish Council (YMJC) and was formed because many children of poor immigrant Jewish families were truant or worse.

The original clubs included: American Boy’s Commonwealth, Boy’s Better Republic, Humbolt Park Boys Club, South Shore Boy’s Club and the famous Camp Henry Horner (still in operation). YMJC was established by young philanthropists who felt these families were not being served by the Jewish agencies back in 1907. Young Men’s Jewish Council was renamed Jewish Council for Youth Services in (approx.) the 1980’s to attract women to its Board of Directors.

Besides Camp Henry Horner, JCYS operates Camp Red Leaf for special children and adults; Camp STAR for Attention Deficit Disorder children; and four centers for mainstream children around the metro Chicago area.

100th Anniversary

While employed by JCYS, I had the privilege of helping to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2008. It was an incredible outreach, culminating with 600 people attending a Gala.  Until two years ago, Deborah (Ainslie) held an annual “reunion.” Obviously many members were deceased, but several met (and may still be meeting) for lunch at Zhivago’s in Skokie!

Famed WWII Photographer Worked at Deborah

(c) Phil Drell. From the Holocaust Chronicle website

Incidentally, one of the greatest and most well-known photographers who covered World War II was Phillip Drell (deceased), who taught photography at Deborah Boys Club on Ainslie. From 1936-1940, Phil was a Camp Henry Horner counselor and shot many camp photos.

In 1942, Phil was drafted into the army. During the war, Phil was attached to Eisenhower’s unit and photographed Dachau as Eisenhower’s troops liberated the camp.  The horror of what Phil photographed was published worldwide and now can be viewed on the web. His photos served to confirm the purpose of the camps.

Thanks to Marcia for sharing the work she and many dedicated researchers did to document the history of this community organization.

Credit: Photograph of Deborah Boys Club,  Epstein website. Photograph of Phil Drell from the Holocaust Chronicle website.

Additional information on Phil Drell:  I highly recommend Phil’s WWII photographs. When I saw the exhibit of his photographs at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, I felt a strong sense of immediacy. This was someone from our area, a young guy out of Roosevelt High School who was a overnight camp counselor and took wonderful photographs of children enjoying the outdoors. Then, suddenly he was shipped thousands of miles away from Albany Park, and was photographing war scenes and witnessing the liberation of Dachau. Chicago Tribune obituary.  2007 Illinois Holocaust Museum exhibit.

Related post: This was Deborah, part 1

Read more Albany Park Memories

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5 Responses to This was Deborah, Part 2

  1. Andrea Simmons Freed July 6, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    My dad (who will be 95 in October) was a regular at Deborah Boys Club in the 1930’s. In fact, until recently we thought he grew up on Division Street. He tells great stories and remembers lots of his friends. We live in Arizona now and one of my friend’s dad (Dave Kapper) lives in Florida. Small world and wonderful world for those boys.

  2. Frances Archer July 6, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    Andrea, you should write down some of your father’s recollections of Deborah and share them. I bet they are wonderful stories. The nicknames alone are probably priceless. Contact me through the contact form on this site if you would like to discuss. My friend Elaine (Shapiro) Soloway wrote a memoir called The division Street Princess about growing up in that area. Her brother was a Deborah member. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Wini Drell January 28, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    My son sent me this material this morning and, of course, it brought back so many memories. My husband, Phil, loved his days at Camp Horner as a counselor and at Deborah where he taught photography. I remember giving Marcia all of his photos from camp and Deborah and participating in a film about Deborah quite a while ago.
    Phil was so proud of his experiences, going back to the Max Strauss Center in Albany Park.

    The photography he did at Camp Horner led directly to his experiences in WWII as a motion picture photographer documenting the war in Europe and the liberation of Dachau. He was accepted to go to the army film school because he showed the photos he did at Horner when he was interviewed.

  4. Frances Archer January 28, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    What a thrill to hear from you, Wini. I saw the exhibit of your husband’s work at the Holocaust Museum back when it was on Touhy. It made an enormous impression on me in many ways. I hadn’t started this blog at the time, but seeing the photographs and making the connection this was someone from Albany Park sparked my interest in learning more about the area’s history and the people who lived there and contributed to the community. Thanks for your comment. I would enjoy the chance to post some more of your husband’s photographs here for those who didn’t see the exhibit or the film about Deborah. I will send you an email to get in touch.

  5. Casey September 21, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

    Hello –

    My name is Casey Smagala. I have the privilege of working at the Albany Park Community Center, formally the famous Deborah Boys club. Nothing makes me happier than hearing about stories of this incredible place. I would love to connect Deborah alumni and organize a tour if they were interested.


    Casey Smagala

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