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Children of the Ghetto A Study of a Peculiar People online

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There was that smile on the faces of the graver members of the party
which arises from reluctance to take a dangerous speaker seriously.

Sidney Graham was one of those favorites of society who are allowed
Touchstone's license. He had just as little wish to reform, and just as
much wish to abuse society as society has to be reformed and abused. He
was a dark, bright-eyed young artist with a silky moustache. He had
lived much in Paris, where he studied impressionism and perfected his
natural talent for _causerie_ and his inborn preference for the
hedonistic view of life. Fortunately he had plenty of money, for he was
a cousin of Raphael Leon on the mother's side, and the remotest twigs of
the Leon genealogical tree bear apples of gold. His real name was
Abrahams, which is a shade too Semitic. Sidney was the black sheep of
the family; good-natured to the core and artistic to the finger-tips,
he was an avowed infidel in a world where avowal is the unpardonable
sin. He did not even pretend to fast on the Day of Atonement. Still
Sidney Graham was a good deal talked of in artistic circles, his name
was often in the newspapers, and so more orthodox people than Mrs. Henry
Goldsmith were not averse from having him at their table, though they
would have shrunk from being seen at his. Even cousin Addie, who had a
charming religious cast of mind, liked to be with him, though she
ascribed this to family piety. For there is a wonderful solidarity about
many Jewish families, the richer members of which assemble loyally at
one another's births, marriages, funerals, and card-parties, often to
the entire exclusion of outsiders. An ordinary well-regulated family (so
prolific is the stream of life), will include in its bosom ample
elements for every occasion.

"Really, Mr. Graham, I think you are wrong about the _kosher_ meat,"
said Mr. Henry Goldsmith. "Our statistics show no falling-off in the
number of bullocks killed, while there is a rise of two per cent, in the
sheep slaughtered. No, Judaism is in a far more healthy condition than
pessimists imagine. So far from sacrificing our ancient faith we are
learning to see how tuberculosis lurks in the lungs of unexamined
carcasses and is communicated to the consumer. As for the members of the
_Shechitah_ Board not eating _kosher_, look at me."

The only person who looked at the host was the hostess. Her look was one
of approval. It could not be of aesthetic approval, like the look Percy
Saville devoted to herself, for her husband was a cadaverous little man
with prominent ears and teeth.

"And if Mr. Graham should ever join us on the Council of the United
Synagogue," added Montagu Samuels, addressing the table generally, "he
will discover that there is no communal problem with which we do not
loyally grapple."

"No, thank you," said Sidney, with a shudder. "When I visit Raphael, I
sometimes pick up a Jewish paper and amuse myself by reading the debates
of your public bodies. I understand most of your verbiage is edited
away." He looked Montagu Samuels full in the face with audacious
_naïveté_. "But there is enough left to show that our monotonous group
of public men consists of narrow-minded mediocrities. The chief public
work they appear to do outside finance is when public exams, fall on
Sabbaths or holidays, getting special dates for Jewish candidates to
whom these examinations are the avenues to atheism. They never see the
joke. How can they? Why, they take even themselves seriously."

"Oh, come!" said Miss Cissy Levine indignantly. "You often see
'laughter' in the reports."

"That must mean the speaker was laughing," explained Sidney, "for you
never see anything to make the audience laugh. I appeal to Mr. Montagu

"It is useless discussing a subject with a man who admittedly speaks
without knowledge," replied that gentleman with dignity.

"Well, how do you expect me to get the knowledge?" grumbled Sidney. "You
exclude the public from your gatherings. I suppose to prevent their
rubbing shoulders with the swells, the privilege of being snubbed by
whom is the reward of public service. Wonderfully practical idea
that - to utilize snobbery as a communal force. The United Synagogue is
founded on it. Your community coheres through it."

"There you are scarcely fair," said the hostess with a charming smile of
reproof. "Of course there are snobs amongst us, but is it not the same
in all sects?"

"Emphatically not," said Sidney. "If one of our swells sticks to a shred
of Judaism, people seem to think the God of Judah should be thankful,
and if he goes to synagogue once or twice a year, it is regarded as a
particular condescension to the Creator."

"The mental attitude you caricature is not so snobbish as it seems,"
said Raphael Leon, breaking into the conversation for the first time.
"The temptations to the wealthy and the honored to desert their
struggling brethren are manifold, and sad experience has made our race
accustomed to the loss of its brightest sons."

"Thanks for the compliment, fair coz," said Sidney, not without a
complacent cynical pleasure in the knowledge that Raphael spoke truly,
that he owed his own immunity from the obligations of the faith to his
artistic success, and that the outside world was disposed to accord him
a larger charter of morality on the same grounds. "But if you can only
deny nasty facts by accounting for them, I dare say Mr. Armitage's book
will afford you ample opportunities for explanation. Or have Jews the
brazenness to assert it is all invention?"

"No, no one would do that," said Percy Saville, who had just done it.
"Certainly there is a good deal of truth in the sketch of the
ostentatious, over-dressed Johnsons who, as everybody knows, are meant
for the Jonases."

"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Henry Goldsmith. "And it is quite evident that the
stockbroker who drops half his h's and all his poor acquaintances and
believes in one Lord, is no other than Joel Friedman."

"And the house where people drive up in broughams for supper and solo
whist after the theatre is the Davises' in Maida Vale," said Miss Cissy

"Yes, the book's true enough," began Mrs. Montagu Samuels. She stopped
suddenly, catching her husband's eye, and the color heightened on her
florid cheek. "What I say is," she concluded awkwardly, "he ought to
have come among us, and shown the world a picture of the cultured Jews."

"Quite so, quite so," said the hostess. Then turning to the tall
thoughtful-looking young man who had hitherto contributed but one
sentence to the conversation, she said, half in sly malice, half to draw
him out: "Now you, Mr. Leon, whose culture is certified by our leading
university, what do you think of this latest portrait of the Jew?"

"I don't know, I haven't read it!" replied Raphael apologetically.

"No more have I," murmured the table generally.

"I wouldn't touch it with a pitchfork," said Miss Cissy Levine.

"I think it's a shame they circulate it at the libraries," said Mrs.
Montagu Samuels. "I just glanced over it at Mrs. Hugh Marston's house.
It's vile. There are actually jargon words in it. Such vulgarity!"

"Shameful!" murmured Percy Saville; "Mr. Lazarus was telling me about
it. It's plain treachery and disloyalty, this putting of weapons into
the hands of our enemies. Of course we have our faults, but we should be
told of them privately or from the pulpit."

"That would be just as efficacious," said Sidney admiringly.

"More efficacious," said Percy Saville, unsuspiciously. "A preacher
speaks with authority, but this penny-a-liner - "

"With truth?" queried Sidney.

Saville stopped, disgusted, and the hostess answered Sidney

"Oh, I am sure you can't think that. The book is so one-sided. Not a
word about our generosity, our hospitality, our domesticity, the
thousand-and-one good traits all the world allows us."

"Of course not; since all the world allows them, it was unnecessary,"
said Sidney.

"I wonder the Chief Rabbi doesn't stop it," said Mrs. Montagu Samuels.

"My dear, how can he?" inquired her husband. "He has no control over the
publishing trade."

"He ought to talk to the man," persisted Mrs. Samuels.

"But we don't even know who he is," said Percy Saville, "probably Edward
Armitage is only a _nom-de-plume_. You'd be surprised to learn the real
names of some of the literary celebrities I meet about."

"Oh, if he's a Jew you may be sure it isn't his real name," laughed
Sidney. It was characteristic of him that he never spared a shot even
when himself hurt by the kick of the gun. Percy colored slightly,
unmollified by being in the same boat with the satirist.

"I have never seen the name in the subscription lists," said the hostess
with ready tact.

"There is an Armitage who subscribes two guineas a year to the Board of
Guardians," said Mrs. Montagu Samuels. "But his Christian name is

"'Christian' name is distinctly good for 'George,'" murmured Sidney.

"There was an Armitage who sent a cheque to the Russian Fund," said Mr.
Henry Goldsmith, "but that can't be an author - it was quite a large

"I am sure I have seen Armitage among the Births, Marriages and Deaths,"
said Miss Cissy Levine.

"How well-read they all are in the national literature," Sidney murmured
to Addie.

Indeed the sectarian advertisements served to knit the race together,
counteracting the unravelling induced by the fashionable dispersion of
Israel and waxing the more important as the other links - the old
traditional jokes, by-words, ceremonies, card-games, prejudices and
tunes, which are more important than laws and more cementatory than
ideals - were disappearing before the over-zealousness of a _parvenu_
refinement that had not yet attained to self-confidence. The Anglo-Saxon
stolidity of the West-End Synagogue service, on week days entirely given
over to paid praying-men, was a typical expression of the universal
tendency to exchange the picturesque primitiveness of the Orient for the
sobrieties of fashionable civilization. When Jeshurun waxed fat he did
not always kick, but he yearned to approximate as much as possible to
John Bull without merging in him; to sink himself and yet not be
absorbed, not to be and yet to be. The attempt to realize the asymptote
in human mathematics was not quite successful, too near an approach to
John Bull generally assimilating Jeshurun away. For such is the nature
of Jeshurun. Enfranchise him, give him his own way and you make a new
man of him; persecute him and he is himself again.

"But if nobody has read the man's book," Raphael Leon ventured to
interrupt at last, "is it quite fair to assume his book isn't fit to

The shy dark little girl he had taken down to dinner darted an
appreciative glance at her neighbor. It was in accordance with Raphael's
usual anxiety to give the devil his due, that he should be unwilling to
condemn even the writer of an anti-Semitic novel unheard. But then it
was an open secret in the family that Raphael was mad. They did their
best to hush it up, but among themselves they pitied him behind his
back. Even Sidney considered his cousin Raphael pushed a dubious virtue
too far in treating people's very prejudices with the deference due to
earnest reasoned opinions.

"But we know enough of the book to know we are badly treated," protested
the hostess.

"We have always been badly treated in literature," said Raphael. "We are
made either angels or devils. On the one hand, Lessing and George Eliot,
on the other, the stock dramatist and novelist with their low-comedy

"Oh," said Mrs. Goldsmith, doubtfully, for she could not quite think
Raphael had become infected by his cousin's propensity for paradox. "Do
you think George Eliot and Lessing didn't understand the Jewish

"They are the only writers who have ever understood it," affirmed Miss
Cissy Levine, emphatically.

A little scornful smile played for a second about the mouth of the dark
little girl.

"Stop a moment," said Sidney. "I've been so busy doing justice to this
delicious asparagus, that I have allowed Raphael to imagine nobody here
has read _Mordecai Josephs_. I have, and I say there is more actuality
in it than in _Daniel Deronda_ and _Nathan der Weise_ put together. It
is a crude production, all the same; the writer's artistic gift seems
handicapped by a dead-weight of moral platitudes and highfalutin, and
even mysticism. He not only presents his characters but moralizes over
them - actually cares whether they are good or bad, and has yearnings
after the indefinable - it is all very young. Instead of being satisfied
that Judaea gives him characters that are interesting, he actually
laments their lack of culture. Still, what he has done is good enough to
make one hope his artistic instinct will shake off his moral."

"Oh, Sidney, what are you saying?" murmured Addie.

"It's all right, little girl. You don't understand Greek."

"It's not Greek," put in Raphael. "In Greek art, beauty of soul and
beauty of form are one. It's French you are talking, though the ignorant
_ateliers_ where you picked it up flatter themselves it's Greek."

"It's Greek to Addie, anyhow," laughed Sidney. "But that's what makes
the anti-Semitic chapters so unsatisfactory."

"We all felt their unsatisfactoriness, if we could not analyze it so
cleverly," said the hostess.

"We all felt it," said Mrs. Montagu Samuels.

"Yes, that's it," said Sidney, blandly. "I could have forgiven the
rose-color of the picture if it had been more artistically painted."

"Rose-color!" gasped Mrs. Henry Goldsmith, "rose-color, indeed!" Not
even Sidney's authority could persuade the table into that.

Poor rich Jews! The upper middle-classes had every excuse for being
angry. They knew they were excellent persons, well-educated and
well-travelled, interested in charities (both Jewish and Christian),
people's concerts, district-visiting, new novels, magazines,
reading-circles, operas, symphonies, politics, volunteer regiments,
Show-Sunday and Corporation banquets; that they had sons at Rugby and
Oxford, and daughters who played and painted and sang, and homes that
were bright oases of optimism in a jaded society; that they were good
Liberals and Tories, supplementing their duties as Englishmen with a
solicitude for the best interests of Judaism; that they left no stone
unturned to emancipate themselves from the secular thraldom of
prejudice; and they felt it very hard that a little vulgar section
should always be chosen by their own novelists, and their efforts to
raise the tone of Jewish society passed by.

Sidney, whose conversation always had the air of aloofness from the
race, so that his own foibles often came under the lash of his sarcasm,
proceeded to justify his assertion of the rose-color picture in
_Mordecai Josephs_. He denied that modern English Jews had any religion
whatever; claiming that their faith consisted of forms that had to be
kept up in public, but which they were too shrewd and cute to believe in
or to practise in private, though every one might believe every one else
did; that they looked upon due payment of their synagogue bills as
discharging all their obligations to Heaven; that the preachers secretly
despised the old formulas, and that the Rabbinate declared its
intention of dying for Judaism only as a way of living by it; that the
body politic was dead and rotten with hypocrisy, though the augurs said
it was alive and well. He admitted that the same was true of
Christianity. Raphael reminded him that a number of Jews had drifted
quite openly from the traditional teaching, that thousands of
well-ordered households found inspiration and spiritual satisfaction in
every form of it, and that hypocrisy was too crude a word for the
complex motives of those who obeyed it without inner conviction.

"For instance," said he, "a gentleman said to me the other day - I was
much touched by the expression - 'I believe with my father's heart.'"

"It is a good epigram," said Sidney, impressed. "But what is to be said
of a rich community which recruits its clergy from the lower classes?
The method of election by competitive performance, common as it is among
poor Dissenters, emphasizes the subjection of the shepherd to his flock.
You catch your ministers young, when they are saturated with suppressed
scepticism, and bribe them with small salaries that seem affluence to
the sons of poor immigrants. That the ministry is not an honorable
profession may be seen from the anxiety of the minister to raise his
children in the social scale by bringing them up to some other line of

"That is true," said Raphael, gravely. "Our wealthy families must be
induced to devote a son each to the Synagogue."

"I wish they would," said Sidney. "At present, every second man is a
lawyer. We ought to have more officers and doctors, too. I like those
old Jews who smote the Philistines hip and thigh; it is not good for a
race to run all to brain: I suppose, though, we had to develop cunning
to survive at all. There was an enlightened minister whose Friday
evenings I used to go to when a youth - delightful talk we had there,
too; you know whom I mean. Well, one of his sons is a solicitor, and the
other a stockbroker. The rich men he preached to helped to place his
sons. He was a charming man, but imagine him preaching to them the
truths in _Mordecai Josephs_, as Mr. Saville suggested."

"_Our_ minister lets us have it hot enough, though," said Mr. Henry
Goldsmith with a guffaw.

His wife hastened to obliterate the unrefined expression.

"Mr. Strelitski is a wonderfully eloquent young man, so quiet and
reserved in society, but like an ancient prophet in the pulpit."

"Yes, we were very lucky to get him," said Mr. Henry Goldsmith.

The little dark girl shuddered.

"What is the matter?" asked Raphael softly.

"I don't know. I don't like the Rev. Joseph Strelitski. He is eloquent,
but his dogmatism irritates me. I don't believe he is sincere. He
doesn't like me, either."

"Oh, you're both wrong," he said in concern.

"Strelitski is a draw, I admit," said Mr. Montagu Samuels, who was the
President of a rival synagogue. "But Rosenbaum is a good pull-down on
the other side, eh?"

Mr. Henry Goldsmith groaned. The second minister of the Kensington
synagogue was the scandal of the community. He wasn't expected to
preach, and he didn't practise.

"I've heard of that man," said Sidney laughing. "He's a bit of a gambler
and a spendthrift, isn't he? Why do you keep him on?"

"He has a fine voice, you see," said Mr. Goldsmith. "That makes a
Rosenbaum faction at once. Then he has a wife and family. That makes

"Strelitski isn't married, is he?" asked Sidney.

"No," said Mr. Goldsmith, "not yet. The congregation expects him to,
though. I don't care to give him the hint myself; he is a little queer

"He owes it to his position," said Miss Cissy Levine.

"That is what we think," said Mrs. Henry Goldsmith, with the majestic
manner that suited her opulent beauty.

"I wish we had him in our synagogue," said Raphael. "Michaels is a
well-meaning worthy man, but he is dreadfully dull."

"Poor Raphael!" said Sidney. "Why did you abolish the old style of
minister who had to slaughter the sheep? Now the minister reserves all
his powers of destruction for his own flock.'"

"I have given him endless hints to preach only once a month," said Mr.
Montagu Samuels dolefully. "But every Saturday our hearts sink as we see
him walk to the pulpit."

"You see, Addie, how a sense of duty makes a man criminal," said
Sidney. "Isn't Michaels the minister who defends orthodoxy in a way that
makes the orthodox rage over his unconscious heresies, while the
heterodox enjoy themselves by looking out for his historical and
grammatical blunders!"

"Poor man, he works hard," said Raphael, gently. "Let him be."

Over the dessert the conversation turned by way of the Rev. Strelitski's
marriage, to the growing willingness of the younger generation to marry
out of Judaism. The table discerned in inter-marriage the beginning of
the end.

"But why postpone the inevitable?" asked Sidney calmly. "What is this
mania for keeping up an effete _ism_? Are we to cripple our lives for
the sake of a word? It's all romantic fudge, the idea of perpetual
isolation. You get into little cliques and mistaken narrow-mindedness
for fidelity to an ideal. I can live for months and forget there are
such beings as Jews in the world. I have floated down the Nile in a
_dahabiya_ while you were beating your breasts in the Synagogue, and the
palm-trees and pelicans knew nothing of your sacrosanct chronological
crisis, your annual epidemic of remorse."

The table thrilled with horror, without, however, quite believing in the
speaker's wickedness. Addie looked troubled.

"A man and wife of different religions can never know true happiness,"
said the hostess.

"Granted," retorted Sidney. "But why shouldn't Jews without Judaism
marry Christians without Christianity? Must a Jew needs have a Jewess to
help him break the Law?"

"Inter-marriage must not be tolerated," said Raphael. "It would hurt us
less if we had a country. Lacking that, we must preserve our human

"You have good phrases sometimes," admitted Sidney. "But why must we
preserve any boundaries? Why must we exist at all as a separate people?"

"To fulfil the mission of Israel," said Mr. Montagu Samuels solemnly.

"Ah, what is that? That is one of the things nobody ever seems able to
tell me."

"We are God's witnesses," said Mrs. Henry Goldsmith, snipping off for
herself a little bunch of hot-house grapes.

"False witnesses, mostly then," said Sidney. "A Christian friend of
mine, an artist, fell in love with a girl and courted her regularly at
her house for four years. Then he proposed; she told him to ask her
father, and he then learned for the first time that the family were
Jewish, and his suit could not therefore be entertained. Could a
satirist have invented anything funnier? Whatever it was Jews have to
bear witness to, these people had been bearing witness to so effectually
that a daily visitor never heard a word of the evidence during four
years. And this family is not an exception; it is a type. Abroad the
English Jew keeps his Judaism in the background, at home in the back
kitchen. When he travels, his Judaism is not packed up among his
_impedimenta_. He never obtrudes his creed, and even his Jewish
newspaper is sent to him in a wrapper labelled something else. How's
that for witnesses? Mind you, I'm not blaming the men, being one of 'em.
They may be the best fellows going, honorable, high-minded,
generous - why expect them to be martyrs more than other Englishmen?
Isn't life hard enough without inventing a new hardship? I declare
there's no narrower creature in the world than your idealist; he sets up
a moral standard which suits his own line of business, and rails at men
of the world for not conforming to it. God's witnesses, indeed! I say
nothing of those who are rather the Devil's witnesses, but think of the
host of Jews like myself who, whether they marry Christians or not,
simply drop out, and whose absence of all religion escapes notice in the
medley of creeds. We no more give evidence than those old Spanish
Jews - Marannos, they were called, weren't they? - who wore the Christian
mask for generations. Practically, many of us are Marannos still; I
don't mean the Jews who are on the stage and the press and all that,
but the Jews who have gone on believing. One Day of Atonement I amused
myself by noting the pretexts on the shutters of shops that were closed
in the Strand. 'Our annual holiday,' Stock-taking day,' 'Our annual
bean-feast.' 'Closed for repairs.'"

"Well, it's something if they keep the Fast at all," said Mr. Henry
Goldsmith. "It shows spirituality is not dead in them."

"Spirituality!" sneered Sidney. "Sheer superstition, rather. A dread of
thunderbolts. Besides, fasting is a sensuous _attraction_. But for the
fasting, the Day of Atonement would have long since died out for these
men. 'Our annual bean-feast'! There's witnesses for you."

"We cannot help if we have false witnesses among us," said Raphael Leon
quietly. "Our mission is to spread the truth of the Torah till the earth
is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."

"But we don't spread it."

"We do. Christianity and Mohammedanism are offshoots of Judaism; through
them we have won the world from Paganism and taught it that God is one
with the moral law."

Online LibraryIsrael ZangwillChildren of the Ghetto A Study of a Peculiar People → online text (page 28 of 46)