The most costly and picturesque edifice in the Fifth Avenue, New York, if we except the unfinished Roman Catholic cathedral, is the new Temple Immanuel, belonging to a reformed congregation. The interior, which is bright with gilding and many-hued fresco, is arranged so much like one of our churches, that no one would suspect its Oriental character. Men and women sit together; the men are uncovered and wear no scarf; there is an organ ; the Saturday morning service lasts but two hours; some of the prayers are read in English, others in German, others in Hebrew; the scroll of the Law is solemnly taken from the ark, laid upon the desk and a portion read, but it is not elevated; and there is always a sermon, one week by the minister, Dr. Adler, in German, and the next, by the English preacher, Dr. Gutheim, in English. The service, in general, is extremely like that of the Episcopal church when the prayers are intoned and the psalms and responses are chanted. A stranger coming in by chance, and seeing the reader, the minister, and the English preacher dressed in ample gowns of black silk and wearing university caps, might suppose he had strayed into an Episcopal church where three professors from Oxford were conducting the service to a style recently introduced in England, but not yet known in America.
The Sunday school of this spacious and magnificent temple exhibits two novelties worthy of consideration:
1. Every class has its own room;
2. The teachers are paid at the rate of five dollars for each Sunday.
Instead, therefore, of the Sunday school presenting a scene of chaos with Babel accompaniment, it is as quiet, efficient, and orderly as a well-arranged weekday school. At ten, the pupils assemble in a large room in the basement of the temple. The stroke of a bell calls them to order; one of the pupils—perhaps a little girl—is called to the platform, and the school rises and remains standing, while she says a very short prayer; all responding with a loud AMEN! When the school is seated again, another child is invited to the piano, and, as she plays a lively march, the classes, each in its turn, march to their rooms, where they remain two hours under instruction; at noon they march back to the music of the piano, into the large apartment, where another little prayer is said by one of the children, a hymn is song, and the school is dismissed.
To an outside barbarian it is sorrowful to see such bright young intelligences fed upon lists of ancient kings, Hebrew roots, and innutritious catechism; but we have to steel ourselves against emotions of that kind whenever we look upon such a gathering. The world is full of minds whose growth was early arrested by mere lack of nutrition.
In all New York there is no ecclesiastical establishment more vigorously alive than this Temple Immanuel. Free from debt, and even possessing a handsome surplus in the form of unsold pews, it expends annually about forty thousand dollars in salaries, repairs, and insurance, and gives away an average of thirty thousand dollars in charity. On one occasion recently it raised sixteen thousand dollars for a hospital, to which patients of all religions or of none are equally welcome. In this congregation, as in all others, there are societies for ministering to the sick, burying the dead, assisting the poor, and aiding oppressed Israelites in other lands. The ancient festivals are not neglected; but if you converse much with the fathers and mothers, you will suspect that the day of the year which really interests and kindles time people most is the one on which, in the presence of the greatest congregation of the year, the children are confirmed.
The Jews are happy in the United States. There are now two hundred congregations of them here, half of whom have arrived within the last twelve years. They are good citizens, firmly attached to those liberal principles to which they owe their deliverance from degrading and oppressive laws, and are rising in the esteem of the people among whom they dwell. Their attachment to the system of universal education is hereditary; it dates back three thousand years; and though their religious feelings are wounded by the opening exercises of many public schools, they would not for that reason destroy them. They prefer rather to rally warmly in their support, trusting to the magnanimity and growing good sense of their fellow-citizens to spare their children, at length, the pain of taking part in exercises which they regard as idolatrous. For this they are willing to wait. They hope, also, to see the day when the thanksgiving proclamations of governors and presidents will be so worded that they, too, can comply with them; though of late they have viewed with needless alarm the attempts, on time part of a few well-intentioned persons to break the silence of the Constitution respecting religion.
Our Israelitish brethren object, and with reason, to a thoughtless habit of some reporters in speaking of a person arrested for an infamous crime as "a Jew." They say that, before the law, Jews are citizens merely; the word Jew being now descriptive, not of their nationality, but of their religion. Why not, they ask, report that Patrick O'Mulligan, a Roman Catholic, was arrested for drunkenness, or John Smith, a Presbyterian, was tried for forgery?
But nothing irritates this good-tempered people so much as the societies maintained for the purpose of converting them to the faith which for so many centuries made their lives shameful and bitter. Amiable as they are, they really resent this effort with some warmth. They point with derision to the fact that the society in London expends fifty thousand pounds sterling per annum in converting a dozen or two poverty-stricken wretches, and sending abroad, on highly interesting tours, a few plausible renegades. The very organ of this society confesses that poor Jews in London are morally superior to poor Christians. "As to their moral qualities," says the editor of Jewish Intelligence, in the number for November, 1862, "the evidence seems to show that the lower class of Jews are decidedly superior to the same class among ourselves. They are far less given to drinking; their religious customs enforce a certain amount of cleanliness, both personal and in their dwellings; and two families are never found inhabiting the same apartment!" We can hardly be surprised at the Jews for regarding the maintenance of such societies as a standing menace and insult. Fifty thousand pounds a year, drawn from the limited benevolence fund of Christendom, is too much to waste upon such missionaries as write the reports in the magazine of the London Society for converting the Jews.
Our Israelitish brethren in the United States have their own battle to fight. It is substantially the same as ours. They, too, have to deal with overwhelming masses of ignorance and poverty, just able to get across the ocean, and arriving helpless at Castle Garden. They, too, have to save morality, decency, civilization, while the old bondage of doctrine and habit is gradually loosened. In this struggle Jews and Christians should be allies; and allies are equals.