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."

It might be asked, if this is the situation, why do Jews like ourselves stay where they are evidently not wanted? Why do we not move into the city? We live in the suburbs for the same reasons that our neighbors do, because it is better for our children. Then the natural question to be raised is, whether we are the only Jews here, and if there are others, why do we not club together? There are Jewish golf clubs and Jewish social clubs, and undoubtedly here and there this arrangement offers a satisfactory solution of the difficulties presented.  But from a larger point of view, what does this mean?  It means that amalgamation with the rest of the population becomes more and more difficult, and the Americanization upon which so much stress is laid is made impossible. Certainly, love of country cannot be expected of those who are treated as being citizens of subordinate rank, never to be permitted to attain to the higher grade.  Mere material comfort is not enough, especially for the educated and cultured classes, who have the same tastes and the same desires as have their fellow citizens. Moreover, the Jew cannot find refuge in purely Jewish social organizations. Outside of New York the Jewish communities by themselves are not large enough to permit the organization of hard and fast groups of kindred tastes. In many of the Jewish clubs about the only bond between the members is their common racial origin, and there is little community of taste and education.

After all, in Boston there is only one Somerset Club, in Chicago only one Chicago Club, in Detroit only one Detroit Club, and these cities have only one University Club each. If it be considered from how large a population these clubs draw their membership, and how relatively small in each instance a like Jewish population is, it is clear that the Jews cannot find a sufficient number who have the desired qualifications to form similar separate clubs. The same applies to clubs of the second rank and so down the line. In the suburb where I live there are a handful of Jewish families. They could hardly support a variety of clubs of their own to parallel similar Gentile clubs, even if these Jewish families were all congenial. This, of course, they are not likely to be, any more than all
Methodists are congenial to each other, or Catholics, or members of other religious or racial groups.

It is herein that the cafe life of Europe is so much better. It must be remembered that Continental Europe hardly knows clubs in the Anglo-American sense of the word. There are a few organizations appealing to men interested in certain arts, like painting and music, a few so-called clubs existing for the purpose of enabling the members to gamble in peace and comfort, and here and there a club of an aristocratic group. The place of the American club is taken on the Continent of Europe by the café.  Men meet and pass their leisure hours there as they do here in their clubs.  Sports are still relatively unimportant, so that our country club is unknown. Even in England club life has not assumed the importance that it has in the social and business life of this country. The well-known British historian, Professor Prothero, once sought to explain this difference as being due to the fact that in this country we have developed a concept of democracy which seems to imply that everyone has the right to mind everyone's else, business, so that from sheer need of self-protection we must have some exclusive place where we can take refuge and enjoy a certain amount of privacy. The fierce light that is supposed to beat upon a throne is weak compared to the glare of publicity which envelops every individual in our great democracy.

But to return to the Jew.  In Europe if he is personally agreeable to a small group, he will undoubtedly be able to visit the same meeting-place as his Christian neighbor, sit with him, meet and share in the activities of the whole group.  My neighbor Mr. C would not go off to his club with his friends, leaving me to find my own amusement, but naturally would include me in his various activities as he does his other friends and acquaintances. We should all be on the same level, and there would not be the same wall of caste between us, and between his children and my children. When the Alumni Club of my old University meets, I should feel free to meet with it and keep up my old associations. I do not do so now, for the meeting-place is the University Club, to which I am ineligible. As I have naturally some pride, I decline to attend the meetings of an organization held in a place where I am not welcome. I am regarded as one of the better known and—may the anonymous conceit be pardoned—one of the more distinguished graduates of the institution; so my old associates frequently importune me to participate in the activities of the club of my Alma Mater, for which at various times I have sacrificed much. It is curious and characteristic that they do not seem even to understand why I am inclined to reject such an invitation as an insult, any more than I quite comprehend why any self-respecting man should be expected to participate in and help support every social and civic enterprise—such as a city club, membership in which gives no honor or special privilege—when at the same time he is rigidly excluded from all that is considered as really worth while.

Gradually, more and more, much of the business life and social life of our larger communities is beginning to centre around clubs. More and more Jews, and here and there Catholics, are being excluded from such clubs. Still, Jews and Catholics form a fairly large and important element of the population. In so far as they have not acquired the education, point of view, and habits of the Protestant Nordic races, it is natural that they would be excluded, but such differences tend to disappear in the course of a few generations. The present tendency, however, is to make the cleavage permanent and to introduce what in time will amount to a caste system in its way as rigid as any devised in the East. Whether this will make for a more unified nation and whether this is in accord with the doctrines of the founders of the country I leave my readers to judge.

The difference between the system of social organization in this country and that of Europe is much the same as that underlying the organization of the student body in those institutions of higher learning where there are fraternities and sororities and those where these do not exist.  In the former the students are forced early into rigid and unchanging groups; in the latter there is constant flux, and even a Jewish boy or girl has an opportunity, if found desirable and agreeable, to make friends outside of his or her coreligionists. So in the cafés of Europe men meet and intermingle; those who find each other congenial will congregate together regardless of race or religion. In practice it is true that some social groups will not care for Jews, others may be composed largely of Jews, but in practically all instances the determining factors will not be race or religion, but a community of interest, taste, education, and culture, and those indefinable qualities which attract men to one another. My objection to our system is that these qualities are not allowed free play, but that purely artificial distinctions have been built up. In many clubs which refuse membership to Jews, probably few members have individually any objection to Jews, many of them probably have Jewish friends, but as a club—Heaven forbid that Jews be ever admitted! It would make the club less exclusive in comparison with other clubs, and therefore less desirable. The fact is always emphasized that so many Jews have qualities which are undesirable and disagreeable, that even if there be a Jew who is personally agreeable, he cannot be admitted because he would immediately bring others. This has always seemed to me a lame argument.  Clubs discriminate between Gentile and Gentile.  No membership committee feels bound to admit all Presbyterians because some members of the club attend the services of the Presbyterian Church, nor to admit all people with dark hair and short noses because a majority of the members in the club have dark hair and short noses.  A Jew should not be admitted to a club because he is a Jew any more than he should be excluded because he is a Jew.

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