Abraham Rogarshevsky's struggle with tuberculosis threatened to devastate his family's fragile finances. But, rather than grapple with exorbitant doctors bills or skimp on medical care, the Rogarshevskys were able to turn to their landsmanshaft, the Congregational Sons of Telsh, for help.
Formed by immigrants who hailed from the same village or hometown, landsmanshaftn were the most popular form of organization among Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For an annual fee of $6-7, landsmanshaftn cushioned the transition to a new country, providing recent arrivals with a variety of benefits.
The Sons of Telsh provided the Rogarshevskys with an array of essential services, both during Abraham's illness and after his death. They arranged for Abraham to be cared for by Louis Freedman, a local doctor. Likewise, after Abraham passed away in 1918, the landsmanshaft, through its burial society, or chevra kaddisha, attended to his burial; they also distributed death benefits to his family and assisted with practice of shiva, the initial period of mourning in the Jewish tradition.
Receiving a burial that strictly hewed to Jewish traditions was often viewed as the most important function of the landsmanshaftn. As author Irving Howe explains, a proper burial was paramount for Jewish immigrants: "the necessities of life might force a Jew to spend his days among strangers, but even if no longer Orthodox, he wanted to spend eternity among Jews."
The landsmanshaftn also offered immigrants a ready source of kinship and continuity. The members of these organizations typically belonged to the same synagogue, worked at the same trades, lived on the same streets and married within their community. It was no wonder, then, that new arrivals to the Lower East Side would immediately seek out the services of their local association.