THE TENTH CHAPTER
ROTH--I have heard Jews speak slightingly of defects in Dr. Gibbons' sympathies, but if he would only mend his logic, I think his sympathies would take care of themselves. Moreover, I see certain incontestable virtues in the nature of his inquiries into the motives of the Jews of America. If his naive curiosity concerning our intentions is symptomatic of the attitude of America we should have little difficulty reestablishing our moral credit on this side of the Atlantic, for our intentions have been unquestionably good--alas, much better than our actual achievements.
Zangwill--Why this sudden self-conscious modesty? The Jews have certainly contributed their ample share towards the upbuilding of America.
Roth--Industrially, yes. I am thinking this moment how little we have done in America for the arts--particularly for the art of poetry in which I can judge with more assurance.
Zangwill--That is strange, for in every European country Jews are foremost among the leaders in all the arts.
Roth--It is not strange at all. Jewish literary talent in America has been exhausted in the effort to disguise the name Cohen of which you may find in the New York Telephone Directory no less than twenty-four variations: Cohen, Cohn, Cone, Cunn, Curie, Coan, Coon, Cohene, Cane, Kohn, Kohne, Kohen, Kohene, Kuhn, Kuhne, Kun, Kunn, Koen, Konn, Coone, Cahn, Kone, Kann, and Kahn.
Zangwill--Is there any unpleasantness in the life of our people that you have overlooked?
Roth--There are many unpleasantnesses, I promise you, I shall not mention.
Zangwill--For that much I shall be grateful.
Roth--You forget that we are not on a tour of compliments.
Zangwill--And you seem to be unaware that at this rate you will in short establish, yourself as an arch-antisemite, for you are building up against American Jews a case that will be more difficult to dispute, I dare say, than that of Dr. Gibbons, be his case whatever it may be.
Roth--Thank you for the reminder. We will return to Dr. Gibbons, whose objections to us are more legitimate because they are those of an outsider. They can be classed, I think, as follows:
1. American Jews, instead of assimilating as they should, consciously strive to maintain their Jewishness by means of a compact and unmistakably clannish community;
2. The largest number of Jewish immigrants have remained within fifteen miles of Ellis Island, and do not, therefore, like the other immigrants, help in developing the resources of the country;
3. By fostering Zionist ideals, American Jewry becomes itself the cause of antisemitism.
Zangwill--Your Dr. Gibbons seems to me to be a rather apt pupil of Henry Ford.
Roth--Unquestionably, though Dr. Gibbons would vigorously dispute it, as, indeed, any civilized man would. But in spite of his efforts to establish the fact that he has remained untouched by the Ford propaganda, nothing is clearer than that Dr. Gibbons, like most sensible Americans, has been drawn in. How else, in making the last point, could he have written: "We do not hold in abhorrence the Jew; but we hold in abhorrence the Jewish nation." Now the number of Germans in America exceeds by ten millions the number of Jews in America. Would he be understood also to mean that Americans do not hold in abhorrence the Germans, but do hold in abhorrence the German nation? Certainly not. That sort of thing would not even have sounded well during the worst days of our war-mad sensationalism. But suppose Dr. Gibbons were asked to explain why a Jewish nation in Palestine is more abhorrent to him than a German nation in Germany? I think Dr. Gibbons would grow exceedingly quiet. He would inwardly correct himself, however silent he might outwardly appear on the issue. He would realize that when he said Jewish nation he did not feel as mildly and as indifferently as if he had uttered the words German nation. And if his prejudices are merely in their infancy the realization would come to him, also, that, in spite of himself, he had committed a very grave moral error. The Jewish nation which he abhors is not the social democracy the Zionists are trying to establish on the ruins of the old Jewish kingdoms of Palestine, but the bogey Internation conjured up in his mind by the journalistic extravagances of Mr. Henry Ford. But, instead of worrying about his ragged antecedents, let us take up his objections briefly and in the order in which I have mentioned them, for be it understood that in dealing with them we are dealing with the opinion of America.
On his very first objection Dr. Gibbons himself sheds much light when he says that "the German, Polish, Russian, and Jewish elements in our [American] population are too numerous, too virile, too intellectual to be Americanized by steam-roller methods." That is true. It happens also to be true that there is not a method in the world by which a highly cultured foreign element can this day be Americanized. Assimilation is the process by which one culture overwhelms and absorbs another, and American culture, alas, has not developed as rapidly as has the American army and navy. Militarily one of the most powerful of nations, America is, culturally, almost impotent.
The cultural conquests which America is eager to make of America she can achieve most efficiently by allowing the various race-cultures in the American scene to carry on the battle individually for their own ends. Graetz records in his History of the Jews that the extraordinarily swift conquest of Canaan under Joshua and the Judges was due chiefly to the fact that every one of the twelve tribes entered the land individually and fought for its own tribal interests, each of them utterly oblivious to the national end. It worked out this way. At first the prosperity of every tribe increased, and in the end it meant the increase of all Israel. It has already happened likewise in America, to which immigrants flocked from every country in the world with a view entirely to their own aggrandizement. See the result. And as America has been built up materially she can be built up culturally.
When Dr. Gibbons insists that "every element in the United States must make its cultural contribution to the United States, holding nothing back," I quite fully agree with him, and I only grow confused when he adds that "no exception is made of the Jew." What is it America wants from the Jews that we have refused her? Our money? We spend it freely. Our skill? Do we keep back anything, we who are accused of always advancing in every trade and profession beyond our welcome? Our Jewishness? That we cannot contribute except communally through American-Jewish institutions--and that is precisely what he does not like. Our communal individuality does not please him, and he dictates: "For the Jew, it is either the Melting Pot or the Ghetto." He forgets, evidently, that the Melting Pot is itself an invention of the Jewish genius, that your copyright on it is still good in Washington. We are the only ones who really know how to operate the Melting Pot, and I submit to Dr. Gibbons that we cannot stir the Melting Pot and be boiled in it at the same time.
Zangwill--Perhaps he sees a menace in the constant increase of books, magazines and newspapers printed in Yiddish and in Hebrew?
Roth--Let him not be alarmed. These publications are so preponderantly Americanized that it has become a moral hazard for me to open a Yiddish newspaper, and a promise of boredom to open a new book of Yiddish verse which slavishly imitates the worst fashions in current American versification. Culturally American Jewry seems to have been swallowed up like the ill-fated Jonah, and my only fear now is for the digestion of the whale.
Zangwill--Splendid! But we are not getting very far.
Roth-Dr. Gibbons' second objection is a restatement in new terms of the old dictum of the antisemites: "The Jews depend for sustenance on the nations whose guests they are, and if they had not hosts to support them, they would die of starvation." A view based on the naive assumption that commodities pass from hand to hand in continuous rotation.
Do we need to wake from a long sleep, like Rip Van Winkle, to realize that the world is considerably altered by the production of the new commodities which are not the spontaneous product of the soil? The technical progress mankind has made during the last century enables a man of even limited intelligence to note with his short-sighted eyes the appearance of innumerable new commodities created by the spirit of enterprise.
Labor without enterprise is the stationary labor of ancient days; and typical of it is the work of the husbandman who stands now just where his ancestors stood a thousand years ago. All our material welfare has been brought about by men of enterprise. Even if we were a nation of promoters--such as absurdly exaggerated accounts make us out to be--we should not require another nation to live on. Nor do we depend on the circulation of old commodities, since we are continually producing new ones.
In modern machinery we possess slaves of extraordinary strength for work, whose appearance in the world has been fatal to the dignity of work by hand. But workmen are still required to set these machines in motion. And do no Jews in overwhelming numbers work at machines? Only those who are unacquainted with the conditions of the larger number of Jews in the big cities would venture to assert that Jews are either unwilling or unfit to perform manual labor.
So I see no harm in so many Jews remaining on Manhattan Island. I am satisfied that in the conceiving, manufacturing and distributing of new commodities, we Jews are contributing royally to the development of America.
Finally, if Gibbons fears lest Zionist propaganda so Hebraize the American Jew that there will be left in him little room for the development of American characteristics, the truth should ease him, for the truth is that Zionism has never been popular in America, and is not ever likely to exercise the faintest influence in American Jewish life. [Ugh! -- JR, ed.]
Once, when Jews contributed to the Jewish National Fund under the impression that the moneys would be used to assuage Jewish suffering in the stricken war regions, Zionist activity flared up in America, but it created only large offices. From all that money, from all that activity, there arose not a single clear personality, not a single clear Jewish expression, not even a good witticism. The Zionists did not begin to see the point till, having embarked on a campaign to raise four millions of dollars toward the rehabilitation of Jewish Palestine (an amount absurdly small when you consider the wealth of American Jewry and the urgency of the need) they failed to secure the first million!
Now I ask: Can this Zionist sentiment which failed to wrest four million dollars for the upbuilding of Palestine from nearly four million Jews be dangerous to American ideals and interests?
Zangwill--But unfortunately Dr. Gibbons is only an inquirer, and he does not move the opinions of a nation. You reply to him when your real task is to reply to Henry Ford on whom, if your reply be intelligent, it will be wasted. What are American Jews doing about Henry Ford and the increasing influence he is bringing to bear on the imagination of young America? Or aren't you taking him seriously?
Roth--We are only now learning to take him seriously. At first we paid almost no attention to him, and if the Ford onslaught caused excitement it was not among the Jews. A few Jews there were who retaliated, displaying thereby a dismal lack of historic sense. When I was shown some of the replies made to Mr. Ford by those new-to-the-pain Jews, articles in which indelicate references were made to Mr. Ford's patriotism, religion and ancestry, I remonstrated:
"This sort of thing is not befitting Jews. Are we a lot of gypsies that we should return slander for slander? Let Mr. Ford continue to publish his nonsense, just as, at the opening of this century, the Minerva Publishing Company issued books in which Jews were charged with all the crimes on the antisemitic calendar. Where is the harm? No one believed the Minerva people. No one will believe him."
This, I submit, was for some time the disposition of American Jews, and, to the praise of their moral fiber as well as their good business sense, be it said that they did not even cease to purchase the Ford car. If they were a little hesitant about lending Mr. Ford money, it was because there would be no telling to what use Mr. Ford might choose to put his money. One day he put a great sum of money into an expedition to stop war. Another day he might organize a pogrom.
We had undisturbed faith in the good sense and in the faith of America. But swiftly a process of disillusionment ensued. The American atmosphere suddenly became charged with the electric currents of a new faith. Throughout the whole country people were seriously discussing the articles in the Dearborn Independent. Extracts from these articles, republished everywhere, were employed as texts for the sermons of our leading preachers. The Daily News of New York announced one morning that its reporting photographer, having asked five strangers before a well-known hotel what they thought of the Ford allegations, received from each of them the assurance that much of what was being said of the Jews was true.
Zangwill--And how do you expect to counteract all this?
Roth--I have a modest proposal to make. Let the study of Jewish history be made a part of the school curriculum throughout the country, just as the study of the histories of Rome and Greece already is. Once Americans know something of the origins and developments of Jewish life it will not be so easy for Fords or street corner orators to work up wild incitements against Jews. The time and the occasion are at hand. We are about to revise in our text books the first law of the Universe; we are about to write the name of Albert Einstein, a Jew, in golden letters on the loftiest pillar of our theoretical knowledge. Why riot at the same time set about the task of correcting the impression that Einstein's people are a weird evil band everywhere and throughout all times in league with the powers of evil? Let it be realized, instead, that wherever Jews come they bring with them commercial prosperity and intellectual enlightenment, and our future in America is assured.
Zangwill--You now sound like a reformed rabbi talking of the Jewish mission.
Roth--I do not believe in the Jewish mission. We have no mission. No people has a mission. Every people lives as it can. But every people has its usefulness in the organism of humanity. We are the commercializers and the enlighteners of the world. We carried the torch of enlightenment from the East into Europe. Some day we shall carry it from Europe back into the East.
Zangwill--Some day? What of the Jews who are going into Palestine to-day?
Roth--They go not so much to Palestine as to a section of Arabia held by England.
Zangwill--England is holding it for us.
Roth--Possibly, but we will never be true Palestinians till we hold the country for ourselves. If we are too small, too weak in power to hold Palestine ourselves, if we must have a protectorate, why should it not be an Eastern protectorate?
Zangwill--Your assumption that we can choose our protectorate would be only amusing if it were not apparently part of your fanatic faith that the future of the Jews is entirely in their own hands. Am I correct in assuming this?
THE ELEVENTH CHAPTER
ROTH--You are wrong, first, in calling it a faith. And, as if calling it a faith is not sufficient whereby to condemn it, you add the word fanatic. Suppose we begin with the mild assumption that I believe our future is in our own hands, always has been, always will be?
Zangwill--The assumption may be a mild one, but the written record of Jewish history does not support it. I think this history shows rather explicitly that we came into Palestine by conquering it, and that we were compelled to leave it by the simple misfortune of having lost it in the struggle against the superior forces of Rome.
Roth--When a modern Jew reads history he labors under a double disadvantage: the history he reads is either an innocent or a biased chronicle, but he brings to its perusal a memory of the only instance when history was a record of an understanding of the motives of men and of peoples, and so his confusion is so much the greater.
Zangwill--Is this to be another interpretation of history?
Roth--No, I am about to show you that there is no need for any interpretation of history which should be as elementary and as accurate as the first four steps in mathematics. I see that you look incredulous, but be patient a while. In what respect, would you say, does the history of a man differ from the history of a nation?
Zangwill--It is easier, for instance, to say when a man is finally dead.
Roth--A man may be pronounced dead, may he not, when it is ascertained that most of his several senses have ceased to function?
Roth--He may not be pronounced dead merely because he has changed his residence?
Roth--Well, then, since our lively participation in the arts of music, painting and cooking testify to the stirring of the majority of our five senses, we are doubtless still alive. I don't think there is any difference between the story of a man and the story of a nation. You make the mistake of being distressed about the difficulty of ascertaining whether a nation is dead or not, whereas the real difficulty is to ascertain of what use a nation is or may be while it is still alive.
Let us return to our original analogy. A man, let us suppose him to be a pauper, conceives the ambition to become a prince. Undaunted to find himself on the lowest rung of the ladder of fortune, he remains determined in his ambition. There area he sees, the chances of three things happening. He may become strong enough to impose himself on the crest of the life of his society. He may, in the scuffle, die an inglorious death, in which case he will be as completely blotted out as if he had stepped into a well. Or, if there is in him a strong strain of good sense, he may substitute for the ambition of being a prince some more attainable ambition. It has happened, of course, that paupers have become princes just as it has also happened that princes have become paupers. It has happened that pretenders have died ingloriously and that pretenders have thought better of their pretensions and drifted into less exacting channels. But in any one of these instances, who would dispute that the future of the individual was in his own hands? Compromises are merely suggested by circumstances, individuals choose whether they are to make them. Shall I show you how eminently applicable this truth is to our own history?
Roth--The first phase of our history belongs to Egypt, where we lived four hundred and thirty years. Of this period our sacred historian says: "And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them." Yet the national historic attitude of the Jews towards Egypt is not exactly one of gratitude. On the contrary. Not only has it been forgotten that four hundred of the four hundred and thirty years were years of contentment, but we are annually reminded that we were once slaves in Egypt. Is it not curious that our historian should have told us so much of the last thirty years and almost nothing of the four hundred years preceding them?
Zangwill--It is possible for a quarter of century of misery to embitter the happy memories of four hundred years.
Roth--Maybe. But do Jews ever forget the golden period of their sojourn in Spain? Surely the pangs of Egyptian slavery were mild compared with the pangs of the Inquisition.
Zangwill--A good explanation might be that some of the best works of our antiquity have been lost.
Roth--A better explanation is that there was not much to tell beyond the fact that we were slaves in Egypt, and our historian merely despised telling a monotonous story. The golden days of our sojourn in Egypt were the days not of poems or songs but of flesh pots well cooked and well served. What was there to tell? The displeasure of Moses epitomized the spirit of Jewish history, and the Jews left Egypt when the discovery of the monotheistic idea by Moses gave them something else to live for. We did not leave Egypt because we had to, but because we thought it less favorable as the scene for the development of the monotheistic idea than the wilderness of Canaan.
Zangwill--Then why did we leave Canaan?
Roth--We left Canaan twice: the first time we might have remained had we followed the advice of the prophets; the second time we left because, lacking prophets to give us advice, there was nothing else for us to do. At neither occasion were we for a moment unaware of our present, our past, and, if you please, our future. We always knew that we were the people of God, that we were in danger where we were, and that if it was necessary for us to leave Palestine it would some day become necessary for us to return to it. All these conditions have fulfilled themselves over and over again.
THE TWELFTH CHAPTER
ROTH--You remember the story of our first return to the Holy Land, how the heart of Cyrus, the Persian conqueror of Nebuchadnezzar, whom even seven years of grass did not restore to good nature, weakened under the pleas of Nehemiah and Zerubbabel, and permitted them and some forty-two thousand Jews to leave Babylon. You have read, as I have, with what an excess of emotion the returned exiles greeted the old sites and scenes of their former glory, but I think it has been left to me, after several thousand years of misunderstanding, to discover that the real well-spring of their phenomenal happiness was their release automatically from the accumulating burden of the Babylonian Talmud which had been growing gradually till it threatened to overshadow the prospect of the whole exile. It may have been necessary, meditated the Jews in Babylon, to go into exile, but even exile should be fairly habitable. Not only was there lacking in the cultural life of Babylon anything to interest the people and fire the imagination of its poets, but there had been born in their midst this passion for interior lawmaking whereby a husbandman could not move from the front door of his dwelling to the front gate of his pasture without being in danger of sinning sevenfold. A curiously dead life yawned at them from the easily scalable ramparts of Babylon, which forty-eight years later the Persians did indeed scale, but it was forty-eight years too late. The Persians with their curious devotions and heavens and angels for a fleeting but effective moment did capture the national interest. But the Jewish mind was impatiently straining under the bonds of the Talmud, and by straining hard enough it finally managed to break loose.
We were subsequently kept a long time in Palestine, writing additional books to the Bible, exchanging blows with the Greeks, and finally undergoing that long drawn out struggle with Rome whose generals had no sooner won the war than the Roman Emperor lost it for them by granting the Jews the privilege of keeping a house of study in Jabne. The effect of this concession has been that whereas the Jews are today indisputably alive the dust of Rome has already changed color several times.
We went into exile the first time because we would not follow Jeremiah, the second time because there was no Jeremiah to follow. But always we were following our own judgment. Always we felt that we were the chosen people, that we were chosen for eternity, that to preserve ourselves exile was occasionally both good and necessary.
I said that we had no prophets to follow, but that is not wholly accurate. There were always with us the books of the old prophets. These books had foretold that some day the Temple would be destroyed a second time, Israel would once more become a wanderer, and in some distant day the vision of the people would be restored to them, and there would be a third return.
The existence of these prophecies in their midst heartened our people. Since what was happening to them had been ordained it could not be hopeless. At any rate, it was possible to outlive it. And with that feeling in their hearts they made the journey of two thousand years, always moving, always hopeful, always vigorously pursuing our ways in every course of life that was open and opened to us. But for the hope of the return, inspired by the living words of dead prophets, we could not have made half of the journey. The burning words of prophecy kept alive in us awareness of what we were about, which is the point of my argument: that we have not merely fled tumultuously from one place of shelter to another, fleeing as the enemy pursued us, but that whenever we left one country to go into another we were exercising our peculiar national wisdom.
Zangwill--And you think that Jews always remembered that some day they would be restored to Palestine?
Roth--Did they not daily repeat it in their prayers?
Zangwill--Jewish prayers may be a conscious act of the nation, but what Jew who recites "The next year in Jerusalem" also repeats it in his heart?
Roth--Jewish history eloquently answers your question. No fifty years of the Diaspora have ever passed by without some definite attempt being made by a group of Jews in some part of the world to return to Palestine. If no national return has yet come about it is only because the time for it has not yet come.
Zangwill--Who will say when such a time has come?
Roth--The entire Jewish people, which has never yet failed in its judgment because it will act on only one sign: the appearance in its midst of a prophet, a man they can indisputably believe.
Zangwill--Unfortunately. the Jews have never been particularly apt in the matter of recognizing and later respecting their prophets.
Roth--Don't you believe it. Once we followed a madman, Sabbattai Zevi, but we have never followed a banker. Did we not follow Moses out of a land of plenty? In the year 1900 there were two Jews interested in the Jewish national future. One was the banker Baron de Hirsch, the other was the poet Herzl. Whom did our Jews choose to follow?
Zangwill--Neither of them very far. But you have proven your point with me. It is certainly an honor to the Jews that they have so frequently permitted themselves to be led out of comfort by seers and madmen. There is beauty in such a people and there is hope for them. But if your point is that we are waiting for a prophet to lead us out of our difficulties, might we not as well wait for the Messiah?
Roth--You think waiting for a prophet in Israel so hopeless?
THE THIRTEENTH CHAPTER
ZANGWILL--The Messiah has at least the indisputable advantage of being a myth, and mankind has long ago accepted the dictum of Max Muller, who explained that a myth being inherent in the language of a people is fulfilled lingually. But the prophet is a real being, and to expect him to come is to expect the appearance of real person. And the prophet seems to me to be a creature so peculiar to ancient Jewish life, a Jewish life so utterly lost, that, for me at least, his appearance is inconceivable in our world.
Roth--Suppose I ask you to tell me what is a prophet?
Zangwill--We have had many various definitions of prophecy, but of all the descriptions of what a prophet is I like best the one given by Achad Ha'am who says that a prophet is a man so fiercely endowed with a single moral idea that the purpose of his whole life is to fill everybody else with it.
Roth--Of all the definitions of the prophet, permit me to say, Achad Ha'am's is the least satisfactory to me, and if you only try to apply it to Moses, the first and the greatest of the prophets, you will have to reject either prophecy or Moses. Why, if Moses was the sort of man described by Achad Ha'am, did he not try to convert to Egyptians instead of running away from them?
Zangwill--Converting the Jews was a difficult enough task, I would say.
Roth--Therefore Moses was not foolish enough to attempt it. Moses knew that there was only one way of convincing the Jews of the existence of God, and that was to arrange for them to meet God face to face at the foot of Mount Sinai. You know as well as I do the details of that singular introduction of a 'people to its deity, and what a great social success it was. There is no record that Moses ever preached to Israel, not at any rate till he became an old man when, I submit to you, there was really nothing else for him to do. What now becomes of Achad Ha'am's definition of a prophet?
Zangwill--What appears to become of any sound idea on which you let forth the shafts of your dauntless ignorance?
Roth--Well, now that you have been so nice to me I will tell you what prophecy is, and why it is not at all unlikely that a prophet will appear in our life and in our world.
In the story of every nation there comes a crisis when there appears to be left only one course for the people to pursue, and that is the course leading to national perdition. This crisis is usually the result of a moral weakening of the people, and if a voice can be raised strong enough to be heard by all of the people, a voice calling upon them to strengthen and have faith the nation need not die, its history need not suddenly terminate. This voice we Jews always heard in time to save us from destruction, and when the memory of all other voices stilled in our ears these old voices, strong and soothing, reached us over the white spaces of centuries.
The ear of the Jew is always tuned for the voice of the prophet. That is how so many false messiahs have been able to impose themselves on us. Our good sense, however, has always saved us, and we never followed a false messiah far. In the absence of prophets, we have been listening to the pleasant droning of our rabbis, droning which after centuries of sounding has not yet tired our ears.
Zangwill--Is there not danger that the droning of the rabbis will make it difficult for Israel to hear the voice of the prophet when the true prophet calls?
Roth--It did not prevent us from hearing the half prophetic voice of Theodore Herzl.
Zangwill--You regard Herzl as something of a prophet?
Roth--Herzl was only half a prophet because the crisis in which he found the Jewish people was only half a crisis. But if he was only half a prophet he was a whole man, the most honest, as he was also the most unfortunate, man of his century.
Zangwill--Honest, yes. But why so unfortunate?
Roth--Herzl was unfortunate in the good fortune of his people. If the Dreyfus Affair, instead of dying a swift death after the return journey of Captain Dreyfus from Devil's Island, had spread, as it might well have spread without outraging history, over the whole of Europe, Herzl would have become the most imposing figure of our civilization, for, surely, had the evil against Israel become so great, he would have led perhaps not a second return but surely another exodus.
Zangwill--You talk of Herzl as though there could not have been a Zionist movement without him.
Roth--There most assuredly would have been a Zionist movement without Herzl, but it would have been a movement lacking seven years of glory. Was there not a Zionist movement of a kind before Der Judenstaadt? Did not Chovevi Zion number men as learned and as witty as the Zionist leaders of our day? But without Herzl Zionism would have been a national movement about as glamorous as, say, the nationalist movement in Albania. Can you think of anything meaner?
Zangwill--But you forget that Zionism was conceived, first of all, as an antidote to the wave of antisemitism which was sweeping Europe. A movement in such a cause is, it seems to me, glamorous in its own right.
THE FOURTEENTH CHAPTER
ROTH--Inasmuch as it was applicable as a remedy to antisemitism, Zionism erred by offering a national solution to a purely local problem. Our having grouped the various moral and economic insurrections against Jews under the general heading of antisemitism did not alter the fact that the feeling against the Jews was everywhere a local phenomenon to be treated effectively only by means of local legislation. Suppose, as we have no right to, that Zionism did prove in the eyes of the whole world what a splendid people we are, would that, I should like to know, improve the condition of a single Jew?, How much would it contribute towards mitigating the deadly effects of the boycott?
Zangwill--Surely you don't think that the only way to combat antisemitism is to reorder the affairs of every Jew who happens to find himself in difficulties?
Roth--Every one to his own work and to the work he knows best how to do, said our rabbis. If you take it into your head to try to check Jew-hatred, why not place your helping hand in the hand of the Jew who actually needs it? The agony of a people in distress is not a thing for people to theorize on. "Stop the blood!" the dying man gasps, not, "What is your theory?"
Zangwill--But since we are not altogether a materialistic people we have difficulties beyond those of the boycott sort, difficulties which no amount of friendly legislation will help solve. What, more effective than Zionism, could have been the reply of the Jews to the intellectual hostility of the peoples, the hostility which manifests itself, in England for instance, by means not of boycott but of books?
Roth--I feel moved to make a confession to you.
Zangwill--Never mind me, I am by this time prepared for almost anything.
Roth--The truth is that books against the Jews, providing they are well written, do not any longer annoy me. They must, to escape my wrath, be exceedingly well written, I should add.
Several months before leaving for England, an English poet on a lecture tour in America came to see me at my shop, and since I had published some of his verses in my magazine The Lyric before he had succeeded in interesting any American editor, I was proud to invite him out to lunch.
Unfortunately, in the midst of our conversation he mentioned the fact that he was a contributor to the New Witness, and it turned out that he was not only an antisemite, but his antisemitism was quaint enough to include a firm belief in the blood-accusation.
Our return to my book shop was in severe silence, and when we had settled down again, instead of seizing any one of several openings which I as host felt it necessary to make into other channels, he insisted on continuing his comments on Jews and Jewish things. When he calmly mentioned his belief that most of the European brothels were peopled with Jewesses I gently ordered him out and, after a little coaxing, he was persuaded to go.
Now this happened, unfortunately, in the presence of witnesses, the story spread quickly that I had put him out of my shop, and since it was brought up against him several times during his platform appearances, he begged me to discredit the story and, on the principle of denying comfort to the enemy, I refused. Nevertheless he insisted in his request, and one day assured me that if I would favor him with a return lunch he would persuade me that it was the only thing to do. The end of a strenuous meal, during which he had done considerable talking, finding me still unconvinced, he declared that the story was a lie, for I had only ordered him out of the shop, and he had walked out of his own free will. Thereupon I suggested to him that if he insisted on the fulfillment of the report to the letter he was welcome to return to the shop with me once more where I would actually put him out.
Now if only he had been a better writer----
I have, for instance, been rereading the revised edition of Cunninghame Graham's Mogreb-el-Acksa, and it has occurred to me to wonder why, since I am moved to resentment by the contributors to the New Witness, I do not resent the apparent and palpitating antisemitism of Mr. Graham, who instinctively and wholeheartedly dislikes us. His book, the account of a journey through Morocco, revels in a wholesome disgust for Jews and leaves no room for inquiry why at certain settled, bloody intervals the natives of that country rise up against us. Yet, reading those pages, I do not bristle up as when I read through Mr. Chesterton's New Jerusalem. On the contrary, I am very much interested, I pass casually from amusement to excitement, and never do I feel tempted to call Mr. Graham names.
Partly, I think, this is due to the fact that Mr. Graham, unlike his less agreeable contemporaries, does not pretend to be interested in our welfare. What is more important, he gives me the impression of being, always, a man of truth, engaged only in giving a true account of his personal reactions to the things he encounters in the course of his tireless travels.
Turgenev, whom I admire above all modern writers, was perhaps the profoundest antisemite of them all. Because of that the author of Rudin is not the less precious to me. I know how passionately Dostoevski hated all Jews, yet I am never found lacking in gratitude when mention is made of The Idiot, and I regret in him only that he did not write his books so as to make it possible to enjoy him on a second reading.
I have, indeed, come to the point where I even expect a certain decent amount of antisemitism in any great European artist. I have been making the rounds of English writers for the New York Herald, and as I am always careful to ask the person I interview his attitude on the Jewish Question, I usually find that the better the writer the less he likes us. Mr. Gosse, whose gentlemanliness weighs heavily on him, confessed to being fond of the Poles. Now no one really goes about boasting of a love for the Poles, and I understood that that was his gentle way of hinting that he does not like Jews.
Tell us if you do not like us and do not stop to explain why, is my sole request of the antisemite. I shall hold it ever against Tolstoy that he remained all his life guarded and untruthful in his attitude towards Jews. Having affected an attitude of benevolence towards all creation, he naturally found it difficult to avow such a low and unpopular feeling as antisemitism. He should not have allowed himself to become shamed so easily, for, though I cannot remember any definite instance of his feeling, I do not doubt that Tolstoy hated the Jews.
I am worried only by those writers who pretend to be stirred by our national tragedy, proclaim themselves mightily impressed by our potentialities as a. nation, and plead with tears in their eyes before their own people for our comfort. I regard the whole line of them, from Madison Peters to Leonid Andreyev, as a pack of hypocrites and sycophants. Both of the aforementioned gentlemen are dead, but if there are any such philo-Jews budding now and about to take their vacant places, I say to them: "Spare your eloquence, for you convince neither us nor the deaf tribunals of the world. If you must make peace, do it with our dead, who are beyond offense."