ONE of the most excellent of my Christian friends (the greater number of my older friends are such) could finally hold in no longer. 'Your people are in trouble!' There was a tinge of over-eagerness in his tone; there was the faint shadow of something akin to the triumph of one who can say, 'I told you so.' He had, in fact, never told me anything. But an unspoken implication had hung in the air between us (as it has between other Christian friends and me) for years. The implication could be phrased somewhat as follows: 'You had become quite one of ourselves; we never thought of you as different. Did you have, as it were, to leave us and identify yourself so wholly with this people which, whatever its virtues and whatever be the merits of the case, does always create friction and commotion? Where there is so much smoke, there must be some fire. Did you have both to fan that flame and to leap into it?'
I did not answer my friend's unspoken but emphatic implication. For he is the type of American liberal, with slight theoretical radical leanings, who feigns to himself sincerely enough that the historic sources of life have run dry; that we are abstract and unfathered creatures; that the voice of the innumerable generations in our blood the voice of common experience through pain and aspiration can be silenced by a formula invented yesterday and very sure to be outmoded tomorrow.
He lives apparently merrily enough without piety (pietas) or metaphysical hope or God in the world, and he would have dismissed my explanation as mystical or - devastating word -- reactionary.
Hence I limited myself to comment on his spoken words. I pointed out to him that the Jewish people was in much greater trouble than any reader of American newspapers and magazines could possibly suspect. The half million of men and women and children who are left trapped among the sixty million Germans have been rendered taboo, within the strict meaning of the term. They are isolated as savages isolate things or persons accursed or sacred, so that in many cities they suffer hunger because no one will sell them food. They spend the greater part of their time in their houses, for the streets are never safe for them. They pray for drenching rains in order to go comparatively unmolested upon the most necessary errands. All that for centuries they have built up or acquired of scientific skill or practical work or property is being crunched into dust under an iron heel. They are pariahs; the great majority are already paupers; tomorrow they will all be.
In Poland there has been a less spectacular expulsion of the Jews from the social and economic order; it has hardly been less complete. Of the three million Jews in Poland two millions are ravaged by perpetual famine punctuated by suicide and assassination. And in Lithuania and Latvia and Rumania, as well as in Austria, the Jews see the same terror approaching and slowly creeping nearer and nearer as a man in the very agony of fear sees coiling slowly nearer and nearer a monstrous serpent unescapable and sure to strike. These people have not the wherewithal to flee. But their flight, had they the means and courage, would be a flight without aim. The gates of the Western world are closed to them. They are precisely like the man in Poe's tale of 'The Pit and the Pendulum.' Thongs bind them; the merciless knife comes nearer and nearer; the dreadful walls close in.
My friend, who has a truly humane and feeling heart, had completely lost his slightly challenging air. Yet I had spared him horrors: the pogroms in North Africa suddenly fomented by German agents; the fierce Arab oppression of the group in Yemen. He was stirred. He abandoned at last the glib common superficial view of the situation and asked with impassioned insistence, 'But why? Why?' I was grateful for his question. For the trouble with so many of one's gentile friends is that they never ask. They turn up with a readymade theory accompanied by a readymade nostrum. Both are commonly empty of any exact knowledge of the problem; both are always by at least a quarter of a century too late. Thus a small group of American writers (Mencken, Dreiser, Boyd) have recently raised the cry that American Jewry must assimilate. Do they not know that the German Jews were the most assimilated group in all history, and that their penetration into German life and culture, the inevitable result of assimilation, was the immediate occasion, if not the ultimate cause, of their tragic martyrdom? We have in America, so far as I know, not a single highly articulate friend, like the late Lord Balfour and Josiah Wedgwood in England or Justin Godard in France or Jan Smuts in South Africa, who thoroughly understands our plight. We must be glad enough when someone, like my friend, is impelled to make a sincere inquiry.
Well, the reasons for our persecution are evidently not the reasons which our persecutors give. For their reasons are all mythic or fantastic. We are, except on one point of which more presently, a wretchedly disunited people. Far from being capable of conspiring together, we are not capable (to the constant despair of every Jewish leader) of rational cooperation for purely defensive ends. We are an unbelievably povertystricken people. Of our approximately sixteen millions in the world, the vast majority are in a state of desperate need. Our bourgeoisie has felt the world crisis as keenly as any other and has, in addition, suffered expropriation through persecution not only in Russia but in Poland and Germany. Nevertheless we are, as astute Communists know, a bourgeoisminded, an essentially conservative people. Our Communists are noisy. True. But many of our young Communists are merely lost Jews who go in for proletarian assimilation after they have been rejected by the bourgeoisie of their countries. Nor can it have escaped observation that nearly all Communists are noisy, since they consider the decencies and amenities of life as part of the rottenness of bourgeois ideology. Numerically, Jewish Communists are a negligible group.
Shall I go on, I asked my friend, and assure you that we don't use Christian blood to bake the unleavened bread for Passover? He laughed and shook his head. Very well. Beyond myth and fantasy it may be said that the occurrence of highly ethical characters among Jews (as among one or two other groups) is rather frequent, but that we have and are humanly entitled to our proportion of asocial and antisocial elements. We are a unique people, as ultimately every people or historic culture group is unique, but certain denominators are common. Then why this unending and forever recurrent persecution?
We were immensely unpopular in pagan antiquity. The gibes of Cicero, of Tacitus, of Juvenal, have no unfamiliar sound. We were the only folk within the Roman Empire that would not accept the Pax romana, the peace of Rome upon Rome's terms. We would not set up in our Temple the busts of the deified emperors; we would not bow down symbolically to the eagle and the fasces. State idol and other idol were all one to us. Avoda zara, idolatry, was the unforgivable sin. To it we preferred decimation and exile. To it, let us not forget, the primitive Church also preferred martyrdom. Hence, in the first two centuries, gentile Christians were often mistaken for Jews. Both were thrown to the beasts in the circus. But the blood of the Christian martyrs was the seed of the Church. Ours was a bitterer fate because our religion was an autochthonous and historic religion, anchored in our national being. And for our recusancy Rome, first in the year seventy, finally after the Hadrianic wars, drove us from our city and our land. A plough was passed over the site of Jerusalem, and where the Temple of God had stood we erected a shrine to the Capitoline Jove. Thus we were dispersed, thus definitely driven into exile, carrying with us, not like some pagan people the images of gods, but our written law and our oral tradition and an undying yearning for Eretz Yisrael, for Israelland where we had taken upon ourselves the yoke of the law of being the people Israel and of being, as every observant Jew still says in his daily prayers, separated from all the other peoples.
That separateness was now intensified. From the normal separateness of one geographically defined nation from neighboring nations, it became everywhere the abnormal separateness of a minority group living by the grace, whether more or less grudging, of the people of the land. Now every minority group living within or side by side with a majority is notoriously in an evil case. It exists at the mercy and by the dictates of the majority; it feels the repercussion of the majority's moods and fortunes. It need not be enslaved by law or fiat. It is enslaved by nature and circumstance. It can determine neither its mode of life nor its aims. Laws may be enacted for its protection, as they were for the American Negro. Those laws are nullified by the majority group.
Nor was this all. The Jewish minorities, cleaving to their law and faith, maturer through the long discipline of civilization, utterly disillusioned since the Hadrianic wars with force in any manifestation, were felt by all the majorities among whom they lived to be a living reproach and a living negation of all the ideals most dear to those majorities. No wonder that they were feared or hated and fear and hate are one. Consider someone who is weaker than yourself, who is at your mercy, and who, by his walk and conversation, denies all your most cherished values. Worse, much worse who upholds values to which as an individual Christian you give lip service or even a sincere allegiance, but which have little relation to your world's practical life of pagan loyalties and pagan splendor and pagan panoply of war. Of course the alternative that Europe placed before the Jew of the dispersion was first the baptismal font or death, and later the degradation of the ghetto or expulsion. Of course his activities were limited. He could own no earth; he could join no guild. Because moneychanging was held to be unChristian, the Jew was picked as the world's moneychanger. And so it came about that the most passionately agrarian of peoples, which in millennial exile from its land continued to celebrate in home and temple the spring and harvest festivals of that land, was forced by brute compulsion into urbanization and into trading with money and with goods.
But degradation degrades, and hate does not soften the heart of the hated. To endure life at all, the Jew clung with an iron tenacity to his law and way of life. His sages told him, and he accepted the saying, that a pagan who practices essential righteousness is equal to a high priest in Israel. But for centuries he saw few such. By his standard of the uncompromising practice of love and peace, he saw none. The hammer of destiny forged him ever more permanently into himself.
The civic emancipation of Jewry, first in France, next in England, later everywhere, came too late. Nor was it ever given on equitable terms. The Jews, dazzled since the Renaissance by the brilliant and beautiful life of the Western world, plunged passionately into that world. They adored its arts and its sciences, its culture and its glow. In their enchantment they forgot, they wanted to forget, that the nations had given them freedom at a definitely stipulated price the price of being Jews no more. And it was a price which, profoundly as they often desired to do so, they could no longer pay. They tried to pay it. They lived for their new fatherlands and, pretending to themselves to share the martial spirit of those lands, died for them on all the battlefields of modern wars. But they remained Jews recognizably such in both their spiritual and their physical being. The hammer of destiny had done its work. The most assimilated Jew, himself in Europe often born of baptized parents, having no content in his consciousness except the culture of his European country, remains a Jew by the character of that consciousness, by his special relation to time and beauty, to love and peace, to man and God.
Jews have remained Jews. Assimilation as a method of adjustment is totally bankrupt. But that is not all. We have come to see that the nations, entirely sincere as they were at first, did not mean that they desired the Jew to assimilate. They desired him to disappear. That was beyond his power. For, did they desire him to assimilate, to bring the argument home in both senses, there would be, there could be no quotas in American colleges and universities; there could be neither social nor professional exclusion, and the recent immigrant and his children would always and everywhere be accepted in strict proportion to their need of being Americanized. One has only to state this truism to reduce to the utterly absurd the pretension even of the American people that what is desired is the assimilation of the Jew. He is not wanted. But he cannot disappear. The sincerely pluralistic state and society are too distant an ideal to comfort anyone today.
It is now more than sixty years ago that a group of men who called themselves 'Lovers of Zion' announced in Eastern and Central Europe their recognition of these facts and contradictions. The emancipation had not emancipated us. We remained a minority which, though now tolerated by law, was not truly or universally tolerated in fact because upon toleration was placed the price of successful mimicry. These men also foresaw the fact, illustrated by the German catastrophe of today, that a too perfect assimilation would give rise to even more tragic disaster. They saw that the Jew is damned when he abstains from participation in the majority civilization and equally damned when, heart and soul and mind, he seeks to identify himself with it. They therefore negated the Diaspora in its present form as hopeless; they proposed the liquidation of the Diaspora wherever it became too cruel and the resettlement of the Jews in their ancient homeland. They argued, too, that the reconstitution of a Jewish nation in Palestine would normalize the condition of the Jew in exile, since it would give to him, as to the emigrant Swede or Dane or Finn, a moral status other than that of an utterly homeless suppliant at hostile thresholds.
It is needless to say that these men and their immediate successors met with violent resistance, with anger and with jeers, in the West of Europe, as well as in Germany and Austria. To the Jewish bourgeoisie of the world, things seemed tolerable enough. An expanding economy did not resist their participation. Whatever discriminations still existed they hoped, sharing the easy meliorism of the nineteenth century, to overcome. But, as that century drew nearer its close, even some of these people were shaken. For antiSemitism, far from decreasing as the Jews became more and more Europeanized, had a way of rising and falling and then rising again like a malignant fever, and rising each time to a more searing point.
And so it came about that when, despite the resistance of those who sat in the seats of the mighty, Dr. Theodor Herzl of Vienna, under the impact of the Dreyfus Case, wrote The Jewish Slate and summoned the first World Zionist Congress to Basic in 1897, the foundations were solidly laid for that movement and that philosophy of Jewish reintegration which have been fortified by all history and by all experience. The final tragic witness to the truth of Herzl's vision came with the German revocation of Jewish emancipation in September 1935, and Zionism is today the dominant movement and the dominant philosophy of the Jewish people.
The rest of the story can be briefly told. Under the Turkish régime before the war, Jewish agricultural colonies in Palestine were founded largely through the gifts of rich men. These colonies proved and have continued to prove the fitness of the Jew for Palestine and the fitness of Palestine for a normal human life for Jews. It was toward the end of the war that a group of men, headed by the eminent British chemist Dr. Chaim Weizmann, persuaded the British Government to issue the famous Balfour Declaration by which Britain pledged herself to the foundation of a Jewish home and polity as of right in Palestine and declared the World Zionist Organization to be the Jewish Agency for Palestine whose reports are made to the Mandate Commission of the League of Nations. This commitment was incorporated in the peace treaties; it was approved by special acts of both houses of the Congress of the United States; it gave the Jewish people at long last a legal status as a people among the peoples of the earth, and one small land where its wayfarers and fugitives could be as of right and not on sufferance.
The people responded to the call. Jews have turned immemorial deserts into rich farming communities by the work of their hands; Jews have built a city, TelAviv, the Hill of Spring, which today has 125,000 inhabitants; Jews have made their ancient Hebrew speech into the current vernacular of a highly cultured community and have begun to create in it a new and autochthonous literature. They have done more: they have raised the wage scale and standard of living of the Arab peasant and worker in the land, to the annoyance of the Arab feudal aristocracy; they have upon the whole made a genuine effort to build both a polity and an economy of justice, cooperation, peace.
A polity and an economy of justice! All previous colonization has been a colonization by conquest. Every people originally colonized the land that later became its historic homeland by force. The Greeks did that, and the Angles and the Saxons, and in a late age those who were to become Americans. The Jews, impelled to return to their historic homeland both by an inextinguishable yearning and by an unanswerable need, have used no force. They have bought every unit of land that they possess from its Arab owners. Next, they have earned that land a second time by reclaiming it from desert and wilderness. With that reclamation of lost land as a foundation, they have built up for all the inhabitants of Palestine a higher civilization. Wherever there is a Jewish colony the Arabs flourish both economically and socially. A new thing has occurred in recent years: an immigration of Arabs from Egypt, Iraq, Transjordania, and the Hauran into Palestine to share in the new civilization which the Jews have built. Beyond these incontrovertible facts, the Jews quite understand imaginatively that the Arab aristocracy would rather have been left to its own devices, and that the impact of our colonization, despite its benefits both lower and higher, disturbs these gallant but medievalminded men. The Jews have no answer to that except to double their scrupulous regard for Arab needs and sensibilities, to continue to alleviate the indescribable poverty of the Arab peasantry, to exterminate by their medical service the immemorial endemic diseases that ravage the Near East.
They have not been unrewarded. Over 350,000 Jews live and work in Palestine today; 30,000 souls from the 'fiery furnace' of Germany have already found life and hope there; the immigration has steadily risen to over 50,000 a year. Yet such is the prosperity created by Jewish thrift and Jewish intelligence that the members of the Mandate Commission of the League of Nations, headed by Professor Lange of Norway, recommended strongly that Britain pursue a more generous policy of Palestinian immigration, not only for the sake of the Jewish people, but for the sake of all mankind. Cisjordania, West Palestine today, Transjordania, East Palestine tomorrow, can liquidate the intolerable exile of Israel in the lands of oppression and reestablish that people among the peoples of the earth.
My Christian friend had listened patiently as I gave him more facts and far more statistics than are here set down. He said that in a vague way he had more or less known something of this entire matter. The knowledge, however, had never been a living knowledge to him. It had, as it were, risen above the horizon of his mind and then sunk again into the darkness. He had had the impression, he said, pondering, that the Zionist aspiration and work were confined to small groups of eccentric people of East European origin. He had seen nothing adequate on the matter in the American daily press, nor in the liberal weeklies, nor in the more intelligently edited monthlies. The final though rather vague conclusion he had come to was (here he laughed awkwardly) that Jewry and specifically American Jewry was divided between a standpat though charitable bourgeoisie and a classconscious proCommunist proletariat with its usual sprinkling of intellectuals.
My friend, I saw at once, was utterly within his rights. He was in no wise to blame. He had read what he could and had received the impression, the tragically and dangerously erroneous impression, that had, in the current vernacular, been 'sold' to him. It is true that no representative or leader of the Jewish people is ever permitted on that specific subject to raise his voice in America. Articles on the Jewish problem appear here and there; they are almost uniformly written by men whom the vast majority of Jews throughout the world, including America, would in all seriousness hold to be betrayers of the cause, the hope, the very life of all Israel. The grievousness of this situation can be illustrated by eliminating for the moment any emphasis on the merits of the case. Would it not be monstrous and absurd to represent the spirit and trend of the American people by the voice of Mr. William Z. Foster or by that of even so good and moderate a man as Mr. Norman Thomas? The Jews who are permitted to speak loudly and conspicuously in America, with the at least tacit implication that they speak for their people, speak in all sober fact for small eccentric groups or for their isolated sterile selves.
The Jewish people is overwhelmingly Zionist today. From forty countries delegates, elected by 1,200,000 voters, came to the World Zionist Congress in Lucerne in August 1935. From thirty-four countries came delegates elected by 730,000 voters to the secessionist Revisionist Zionist Congress held in Vienna in September 1935. Nor should it be forgotten that of the 16,000,000 Jews, men and women and children, in the world 3,000,000 live in Soviet Russia, where Zionism is persecuted and where no voting can take place, or that of the remaining 13,000,000 more than half live in such poverty and such dread as no American can even in this age imagine. Among these masses of ours the payment of the shekel to the World Zionist organization and the casting of a vote are often acts both of intense material sacrifice and of a moral energy above the reach of common men. So that a registered electorate of nearly 2,000,000 adults from among these masses scattered all over the world, who have to organize their own Zionist Districts and carry on, often amid poverty and oppression, the necessary drives for the great Zionist Funds, - the National Fund and the Foundation Fund, is in itself an impressive witness of the essential solidarity of the Jewish people in this age.
Nor is this all. The desire of proZionists, unready to embrace the total ideology of the movement, to lend their aid to the upbuilding of Palestine became so vigorous and vocal that in 1929 the Jewish Agency for Palestine, the body cooperating with the Mandatory power and responsible to the League of Nations, was enlarged by the admission of these proZionists or technical nonZionists on an equal basis and in an equal proportion, an arrangement that brought into our ranks eminent philanthropists like Mr. Felix Warburg and great creative spirits like Sholom Asch. And of these and hundreds like them it may be safely said that their benevolent cooperation has changed to impassioned participation since the German catastrophe of 1933.
American Jewry, finally and emphatically, is overwhelmingly Zionist or proZionist today. Men of the highest vision, like Mr. Justice Brandeis, have been so for nearly a generation. Resistance has crumbled more and more. Today the leaders of the Reform rabbinate (by historic tradition tending toward assimilation) are all active Zionists. Dr. Stephen Wise is the most eloquent and powerful leader from among this group. With rapidly disappearing exceptions the conspicuous Reform pulpits are occupied by Zionists. The Central Conference of American Rabbis recently elected an outstanding Zionist, Dr. Felix Levy of Chicago, to its presidency. What is true of the Reform group is, of course, even more broadly true of the leaders of orthodox and conservative Judaism and of the faculties of our theological seminaries. In brief, middleclass American Jewry, which chooses its teachers and leaders and is very actively critical of them, is preponderantly Zionist or proZionist today.
What of the masses? Our masses are the speakers and readers of Yiddish. The scattered workers up and down the land and the members of the great tradeunions it is they who support the Yiddish press. And that press, headed by the Daily Forward, the Day, the Morning Journal, is strongly and overwhelmingly (though with various ideological shadings) Zionist. And so in an equal measure is today that group of thirtyodd AngloJewish weeklies, with a far from despicable total circulation, of which the Jewish Advocate of Boston and the Jewish Criterion of Pittsburgh are very representative examples.
American Jewry is Zionist in spirit throughout all its strata, and has used its good fortune of being a free community in a free land in its unexampled and often sacrificial contributions to the upbuilding of our ancestral land and the salvation in it and through it of our persecuted brethren everywhere in the world. It is an intolerable and dangerous misrepresentation to depict American Jewry or world Jewry, even the vast majority of our toiling masses, as radical in the extreme and proSoviet sense. The Jewish people as a people is Zionist. It clings to its pacifist and religious national movement as the instrument not only of its political but of its spiritual salvation. In religion it is definitely veering from both Reform and Orthodoxy toward Conservatism. More than for centuries the House of Jacob is united and seeks a new life for both its body and its soul.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.