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.

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.

Undoubtedly, it will be felt that I am making a mountain out of a molehill and that in the everyday life of our people, Jews and others, all this plays no role.  It may be felt that what I say concerns only a small class of the wealthy who have not been accorded the social recognition which they believe to be their due. But this is not the whole story. I have dwelt at length upon clubs, because the facts there are less easily denied; there they have become generally recognized.  For as I stated at the outset, the trouble with so much of it all is that it is hidden and not admitted, and so cannot be fought in the open.  The Jewish controversy at Harvard is well known. It was at least open and above board, though it made the lot of Harvard men of Jewish extraction more difficult. However, at Harvard the question was settled in such fashion that the Jew is not discriminated against officially, at any rate. At many other universities, however, the same problem has appeared and open discussion has been carefully avoided for fear of giving offense to possible donors with Jewish antecedents.  It is well known, however, that Jewish boys and girls have much difficulty in gaining admission to these institutions, and conditions similar to those in Romania, Poland, and various Balkan states have developed.

Least of all is it realized that discrimination of this kind is gaining marked headway in business life. It is natural that the men whose social life is spent together should also desire to be associated together in business. They know each other from all angles; they are congenial, for otherwise they would not be together outside of business; and when favorable business opportunities arise their thoughts quite naturally turn to each other. This sort of consideration cannot affect a business owned by an individual or a very small group. It will arise in concerns where the social side is well developed, as in banks, where officers are apt to belong to clubs of one kind or another, though this development is by no means confined to banks.  Of course, no bank or other business would admit that it discriminates against Jews and Catholics leastwise not if its customers are large in number and belong to all classes of society.  Nevertheless, it is well known to the initiated that several of the larger New York banks will employ no Jews and at least one of the very largest also has the bars raised to keep out Catholics.  In some of the other cities, some of the larger banks have one or two Jewish officers and perhaps here and there a Jewish member of the board of directors.  In some instances this is with deliberate intent to attract Jewish customers. But even so, it is becoming rarer and rarer to employ Jews in banks other than those where the controlling interest is Jewish.

I have mentioned the situation of Jewish students, but not only are Jewish students excluded from our universities primarily because they are Jews, but Jews are finding it more and more impossible to obtain teaching positions in universities, and Jewish students of medicine are experiencing difficulty in obtaining desirable internships in our hospitals, though as yet we have not reached the condition of Rumania, where Jewish students can dissect only if Jewish cadavers are available.


Anyone concerned about the future of the country may well pause a moment. There are at least eleven million people of Negro descent in the country, who form an indissoluble mass in the population. There are approximately four million Jews, who, as indicated, are being driven to form another separate entity. Moreover, the tendency is to segregate also the Catholic elements from the rest of the population. The effect produced by the attitude of the majority upon the minorities mentioned is to harden and make more permanent the cleavages and divisions in the population, the very reverse of the aim of the Americanization movement. Curiously enough, the very people who are desirous of making good Americans out of the foreign-born are in many instances those who, by their attitude, are frustrating the success of this movement.

Personally, my associations have been largely non-Jewish.  Nevertheless, I feel, in my own case, much more than I used to, a desire to emphasize my Jewish nationality, and I feel that I am becoming more sensitive to slights, real or imagined. My children will probably, under the circumstances, feel all this more keenly than I do and are likely to associate much more exclusively than I do with people of Jewish origin. The result will be to accentuate any Jewish traits which they may have inherited and by that very fact to set them off more sharply from others. A similar result will follow in the case of those other elements in the population to which I have referred. We have already in our large cities definite sections of the town reserved for the Negro population. Very likely, in time, we shall have other parts of our large cities definitely reserved for the Jews. Not that the lot of the Jews is at all comparable to that of the Negro. So far, at least, their intelligence and economic standing have preserved them from actual persecution. In some respects, their lot is worse than that of the Negroes because, being fewer in number, they are unable to find a sufficient number of congenial spirits among their own people with whom to associate. At least, this is true outside of New York. The Negroes belong mostly to the laboring class, with little of the social aspirations of the educated and cultured, while a large number of Jews, as regards breeding and education, belong to the highest social strata.  What the lot of a really educated Negro in this country is, I hardly dare contemplate. If I had a son, I have often thought that I should advise him to leave this country and go elsewhere, say to some southern country where, while he might suffer political disability, he would probably not suffer any social disability, and as I have sought to indicate, the latter is really at times more galling than the former.

I stated at the outset that I do not think the raising of the religious question at the recent Democratic Convention has been an unmixed evil.  It may wreck the fortunes of the Democratic Party, but on the other hand, it may be the best service that could be rendered to the country as a whole. It is very important that we begin to realize whither we are drifting.

Many of my friends read with interest the work of Ludwig Lewisohn, Up Stream. The only criticism—and it was a constant one—was to the effect that it was to be regretted that his work had such an undercurrent of bitterness.  I can only smile at such a remark. What other feeling is a man to have than that of bitterness when he feels conscious that in descent, education, manners, and ideals he is the equal of those about him and that, nevertheless, he and the members of his family are excluded not only from clubs, but even from hotels, and from many of the ordinary pursuits open to those among whom he lives.

As I sit here writing this article, I am not even certain that any magazine will publish it, or at least a magazine which reaches the people for whom such an article might prove of value. For we are so afraid of criticism, we are so fearful of bringing to light the ugly sores which infest the body politic, but which unless recognized can never be healed, that we refuse to listen to criticism, however well meant, and decline to read anything which will enlighten us.  Persecution begets persecution and tolerance begets tolerance. What will the future bring? I wonder.