The Jew and the Club

"I find it rather difficult to make it clear to my children why we are not eligible, for from one point of view it isn't quite clear to me."

The recent discussions in the Democratic Convention in New York brought about by religious and racial antagonisms were a bursting-forth of fires which have been long smoldering and threatening American life. A fire which is burning and developing between floors and partitions is apt to gain a headway which makes it impossible to check its progress when discovered.  Far better to have everything in the open before the fire becomes a conflagration.  So it is to be hoped that the racial and religious dissensions, not caused, but merely revealed, by the Ku Klux Klan issue, be not allowed to smolder in hidden places, but that they will bring about a frank and thorough examination of the canker eating into our political and social life.

As a people, we have convinced ourselves by repeating to each other, that we are still as we were: a liberty-loving people who make no invidious distinctions between men of different race and religion, the only factors of importance being character and ability. We regard our country still as the land of opportunity where no white man, at least, is denied the fruits of his toil in every direction and where, at least, all white folk are created free and equal and remain so throughout good behavior. We still look with the same scorn as formerly upon the poor European countries where anti-Semitism is so great a factor, and Catholic wars upon Protestant, and people generally are oppressed and unhappy. There is no one to tell us that, except for certain material advantages natural to a country which is still relatively sparsely settled and undeveloped, there are few countries in which there is so much daily individual discrimination and so much bitterness engendered in the hearts and minds of a large number of cultured inhabitants and worthy citizens.

Americans are prone to lay too much stress upon political equality as distinguished from social equality. The desire to have some influence in determining the form of government of the country is one which is very strong in many quarters and has, of course, been one of the chief factors in civil wars and revolutions. At the same time, strange as this may sound to American ears, it has probably little to do with the happiness in everyday life of the individual. The German Empire of William II discriminated politically against many sections of the population, but there was little or no social discrimination; that is, men of like culture, education, wealth, and alike in those other elements which create social strata, at all times in all places, intermingled, on the whole, freely and without much reference to religion, race, or previous condition of servitude.  This explains why millions of Germans felt contented and happy in spite of the fact that there was little political freedom. In daily intercourse the German felt that he would be accepted everywhere in accordance with his real worth as measured by ordinary social standards. The same was true elsewhere in Continental Europe and more or less also Great Britain.

It must be admitted that the war, which has accentuated extreme nationalistic spirit everywhere, has probably made men in all countries more conscious of racial and religious differences than was true in 1914 and the decades preceding the great catastrophe. Partly as a result of certain phenomena in the war and partly as a result of the Wilsonian doctrine of 'self-determination,’ so widely advertised by the Versailles Conference and the events immediately preceding and following, every nation has felt the need of justifying its existence by proving its racial purity and homogeneity as a possible defense and protection against rival claims for part of its territory. In the case of the United States there is no fear of loss of territory, but there the war showed up certain cleavages which aroused the nation to a realization that spiritual unity was still far distant, and that this lack proved detrimental to the influence which the country could exert in international affairs, and that it had caused its action during the Great War to be determined, not by its own interests, but by the varying strength of the various national strains which entered into the composition of its people. The result in the United States is the intensified 'Americanization' movement, but this very movement has brought forth and accentuated certain phenomena which bid fair to prevent the realization of its ultimate aims.


My neighbor Mr. C and I are intimate friends, our families see much of each other. Occasionally, we dine at each other's houses and we and our wives sometimes go to the theatre together. He is a man of much greater means than I am, is most hospitable, and entertains very freely. I know many of his friends, associate with a number of them, and in a general way may be said to belong to his circle. In summer I see much less of him than at other times of the year and our intimacy suffers a certain check, the reason of this being golf.  My neighbor is not a great golfer and I am not a helpless cripple. Probably Mr. C would be willing to play with me, but I am not a member of his golf club and I cannot become one, for I am of Jewish origin and Mr. C is of New England stock. There are some public links in the suburb where I live, but the people with whom I associate are all members of the X Country Club to which, as indicated, I am not eligible. I am not snobbish but golf would interest me only as a means of social intercourse and so I do not go to the municipal golf club where the players are of an entirely different social group from the one to which I belong. This sounds as if I were laying undue stress upon social life or perhaps society. As a matter of fact, I am not much of a clubman; I have no special desire to go to clubs frequently, and I rarely attend the meetings of those societies to which I do belong. But the fact that I and members of my family cannot belong to certain organizations which form the social centre of the community prevents us in large measure from forming those intimate and congenial friendships which most, if not all, men crave.

I do not really suffer so very greatly. I am in business all day. When I come home I am apt to be tired and am quite ready to enjoy the company of a good book. But it is hard on my wife and worse for my children. The social life of the community in which I live centres, as is so often the case in American suburbs, around the town club; especially the children find their companionship in the dances which take place Friday evenings, on the skating-rink attached to the club in the winter, and on the tennis courts in summer. I find it rather difficult to make it clear to my children why we are not eligible, for from one point of view it isn't quite clear to me. We are in no sense foreigners; my wife and I are both descended from generations of cultured people; I was educated at what is generally regarded as one of the most famous of American universities, was a member of its staff for a short time after graduation, and have occupied positions of trust and responsibility. We do not even have very pronounced Jewish features. What makes the situation even more puzzling is that while no Jew is admitted to either the local community club or to the X Country Club, there are a number of members who I am convinced are of Jewish origin but have changed their family name, give lip-service to a Christian church, and are probably more anti-Semitic than those who have no trace of Jewish blood. The fact is that the whole distinction is very artificial in the main, the average American recognizing a cultured Jew merely by certain outward signs, such as the name, the features, and the like, and when the name is changed and kinship to the Jewish race denied, the true facts are not even recognized.

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