Children of the Ghetto
Part 7 out of 12
big apron and a general flavor of the kitchen.
"How dare you come to-night?" she began, but the sentence died on her
"How hot your face is," he said, dinting the flesh fondly with his
finger, "I see my little girl is glad to have me back."
"It's not that. It's the fire. I'm frying fish for _Yomtov_," she said,
with a happy laugh.
"And yet you say you're not a good Jewess," he laughed back.
"You had no right to come and catch me like this," she pouted. "All
greasy and dishevelled. I'm not made up to receive visitors."
"Call me a visitor?" he grumbled. "Judging by your appearance, I should
say you were always made up. Why, you're perfectly radiant."
Then the talk became less intelligible. The first symptom of returning
rationality was her inquiry--
"What sort of a journey did you have back?"
"The sea was rough, but I'm a good sailor."
"And the poor fellow's father and mother?"
"I wrote you about them."
"So you did; but only just a line."
"Oh, don't let us talk about the subject just now, dear, it's too
painful. Come, let me kiss that little woe-begone look out of your eyes.
There! Now, another--that was only for the right eye, this is for the
left. But where's your mother?"
"Oh, you innocent!" she replied. "As if you hadn't watched her go out
of the house!"
"'Pon my honor, not," he said smiling. "Why should I now? Am I not the
accepted son-in-law of the house, you silly timid little thing? What a
happy thought it was of yours to let the cat out of the bag. Come, let
me give you another kiss for it--Oh, I really must. You deserve it, and
whatever it costs me you shall be rewarded. There! Now, then! Where's
the old man? I have to receive his blessing, I know, and I want to get
"It's worth having, I can tell you, so speak more respectfully," said
Hannah, more than half in earnest.
"_You_ are the best blessing he can give me--and that's worth--well, I
wouldn't venture to price it."
"It's not your line, eh?"
"I don't know, I have done a good deal in gems; but where _is_ the
"Up in the bedrooms, gathering the _Chomutz_. You know he won't trust
anybody else. He creeps under all the beds, hunting with a candle for
stray crumbs, and looks in all the wardrobes and the pockets of all my
dresses. Luckily, I don't keep your letters there. I hope he won't set
something alight--he did once. And one year--Oh, it was so funny!--after
he had ransacked every hole and corner of the house, imagine his horror,
in the middle of Passover to find a crumb of bread audaciously
planted--where do you suppose? In his Passover prayer-book!! But,
oh!"--with a little scream--"you naughty boy! I quite forgot." She took
him by the shoulders, and peered along his coat. "Have you brought any
crumbs with you? This room's _pesachdik_ already."
He looked dubious.
She pushed him towards the door. "Go out and give yourself a good
shaking on the door-step, or else we shall have to clean out the room
all over again."
"Don't!" he protested. "I might shake out that."
She uttered a little pleased sigh.
"Oh, have you brought that?"
"Yes, I got it while I was away. You know I believe the reason you sent
me trooping to the continent in such haste, was you wanted to ensure
your engagement ring being 'made in Germany.' It's had a stormy passage
to England, has that ring, I suppose the advantage of buying rings in
Germany is that you're certain not to get Paris diamonds in them, they
are so intensely patriotic, the Germans. That was your idea, wasn't it,
"Oh, show it me! Don't talk so much," she said, smiling.
"No," he said, teasingly. "No more accidents for me! I'll wait to make
sure--till your father and mother have taken me to their arms.
Rabbinical law is so full of pitfalls--I might touch your finger this or
that way, and then we should be married. And then, if your parents said
'no,' after all--"
"We should have to make the best of a bad job," she finished up
"All very well," he went on in his fun, "but it would be a pretty kettle
"Heavens!" she cried, "so it will be. They will be charred to ashes."
And turning tail, she fled to the kitchen, pursued by her lover. There,
dead to the surprise of the servant, David Brandon fed his eyes on the
fair incarnation of Jewish domesticity, type of the vestal virgins of
Israel, Ministresses at the hearth. It was a very homely kitchen; the
dressers glistening with speckless utensils, and the deep red glow of
the coal over which the pieces of fish sputtered and crackled in their
bath of oil, filling the room with a sense of deep peace and cosy
comfort. David's imagination transferred the kitchen to his future home,
and he was almost dazzled by the thought of actually inhabiting such a
fairyland alone with Hannah. He had knocked about a great deal, not
always innocently, but deep down at his heart was the instinct of
well-ordered life. His past seemed joyless folly and chill emptiness. He
felt his eyes growing humid as he looked at the frank-souled girl who
had given herself to him. He was not humble, but for a moment he found
himself wondering how he deserved the trust, and there was reverence in
the touch with which he caressed her hair. In another moment the frying
was complete, and the contents of the pan neatly added to the dish. Then
the voice of Reb Shemuel crying for Hannah came down the kitchen stairs,
and the lovers returned to the upper world. The Reb had a tiny harvest
of crumbs in a brown paper, and wanted Hannah to stow it away safely
till the morning, when, to make assurance doubly sure, a final
expedition in search of leaven would be undertaken. Hannah received the
packet and in return presented her betrothed.
Reb Shemuel had not of course expected him till the next morning, but he
welcomed him as heartily as Hannah could desire.
"The Most High bless you!" he said in his charming foreign accents. "May
you make my Hannah as good a husband as she will make you a wife."
"Trust me, Reb Shemuel," said David, grasping his great hand warmly.
"Hannah says you're a sinner in Israel," said the Reb, smiling
playfully, though there was a touch of anxiety in the tones. "But I
suppose you will keep a _kosher_ house."
"Make your mind easy, sir," said David heartily. "We must, if it's only
to have the pleasure of your dining with us sometimes."
The old man patted him gently on the shoulder.
"Ah, you will soon become a good Jew," he said. "My Hannah will teach
you, God bless her." Reb Shemuel's voice was a bit husky. He bent down
and kissed Hannah's forehead. "I was a bit _link_ myself before I
married my Simcha" he added encouragingly.
"No, no, not you," said David, smiling in response to the twinkle in the
Reb's eye. "I warrant _you_ never skipped a _Mitzvah_ even as a
"Oh yes, I did," replied the Reb, letting the twinkle develop to a broad
smile, "for when I was a bachelor I hadn't fulfilled the precept to
marry, don't you see?"
"Is marriage a _Mitzvah_, then?" inquired David, amused.
"Certainly. In our holy religion everything a man ought to do is a
_Mitzvah_, even if it is pleasant."
"Oh, then, even I must have laid up some good deeds," laughed David,
"for I have always enjoyed myself. Really, it isn't such a bad religion
"Bad religion!" echoed Reb Shemuel genially. "Wait till you've tried it.
You've never had a proper training, that's clear. Are your parents
"No, they both died when I was a child," said David, becoming serious.
"I thought so!" said Reb Shemuel. "Fortunately my Hannah's didn't." He
smiled at the humor of the phrase and Hannah took his hand and pressed
it tenderly. "Ah, it will be all right," said the Reb with a
characteristic burst of optimism. "God is good. You have a sound Jewish
heart at bottom, David, my son. Hannah, get the _Yomtovdik_ wine. We
will drink, a glass for _Mazzoltov_, and I hope your mother will be back
in time to join in."
Hannah ran into the kitchen feeling happier than she had ever been in
her life. She wept a little and laughed a little, and loitered a little
to recover her composure and allow the two men to get to know each other
"How is your Hannah's late husband?" inquired the Reb with almost a
wink, for everything combined to make him jolly as a sandboy. "I
understand he is a friend of yours."
"We used to be schoolboys together, that is all. Though strangely enough
I just spent an hour with him. He is very well," answered David smiling.
"He is about to marry again."
"His first love of course," said the Reb.
"Yes, people always come back to that," said David laughing.
"That's right, that's right," said the Reb. "I am glad there was no
"Unpleasantness. No, how could there be? Leah knew it was only a joke.
All's well that ends well, and we may perhaps all get married on the
same day and risk another mix-up. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"Is it your wish to marry soon, then?"
"Yes; there are too many long engagements among our people. They often
"Then I suppose you have the means?"
"Oh yes, I can show you my--"
The old man waved his hand.
"I don't want to see anything. My girl must be supported decently--that
is all I ask. What do you do for a living?"
"I have made a little money at the Cape and now I think of going into
"I haven't settled."
"You won't open on _Shabbos_?" said the Reb anxiously.
David hesitated a second. In some business, Saturday is the best day.
Still he felt that he was not quite radical enough to break the Sabbath
deliberately, and since he had contemplated settling down, his religion
had become rather more real to him. Besides he must sacrifice something
for Hannah's sake.
"Have no fear, sir," he said cheerfully.
Reb Shemuel gripped his hand in grateful silence.
"You mustn't think me quite a lost soul," pursued David after a moment
of emotion. "You don't remember me, but I had lots of blessings and
halfpence from you when I was a lad. I dare say I valued the latter more
in those days." He smiled to hide his emotion.
Reb Shemuel was beaming. "Did you, really?" he inquired. "I don't
remember you. But then I have blessed so many little children. Of course
you'll come to the _Seder_ to-morrow evening and taste some of Hannah's
cookery. You're one of the family now, you know."
"I shall be delighted to have the privilege of having _Seder_ with you,"
replied David, his heart going out more and more to the fatherly old
"What _Shool_ will you be going to for Passover? I can get you a seat in
mine if you haven't arranged."
"Thank you, but I promised Mr. Birnbaum to come to the little synagogue
of which he is President. It seems they have a scarcity of _Cohenim_,
and they want me to bless the congregation, I suppose."
"What!" cried Reb Shemuel excitedly. "Are you a _Cohen_?"
"Of course I am. Why, they got me to bless them in the Transvaal last
_Yom Kippur_. So you see I'm anything but a sinner in Israel." He
laughed--but his laugh ended abruptly. Reb Shemuel's face had grown
white. His hands were trembling.
"What is the matter? You are ill," cried David.
The old man shook his head. Then he struck his brow with his fist.
"_Ach, Gott_!" he cried. "Why did I not think of finding out before? But
thank God I know it in time."
"Finding out what?" said David, fearing the old man's reason was giving
"My daughter cannot marry you," said Reb Shemuel in hushed, quavering
"Eh? What?" said David blankly.
"It is impossible."
"What are you talking about. Reb Shemuel?"
"You are a _Cohen_. Hannah cannot marry a _Cohen_."
"Not marry a _Cohen_? Why, I thought they were Israel's aristocracy."
"That is why. A _Cohen_ cannot marry a divorced woman."
The fit of trembling passed from the old Reb to the young man. His heart
pulsed as with the stroke of a mighty piston. Without comprehending,
Hannah's prior misadventure gave him a horrible foreboding of critical
"Do you mean to say I can't marry Hannah?" he asked almost in a whisper.
"Such is the law. A woman who has had _Gett_ may not marry a _Cohen_."
"But you surely wouldn't call Hannah a divorced woman?" he cried
"How shall I not? I gave her the divorce myself."
"Great God!" exclaimed David. "Then Sam has ruined our lives." He stood
a moment in dazed horror, striving to grasp the terrible tangle. Then he
burst forth. "This is some of your cursed Rabbinical laws, it is not
Judaism, it is not true Judaism. God never made any such law."
"Hush!" said Reb Shemuel sternly. "It is the holy Torah. It is not even
the Rabbis, of whom you speak like an Epicurean. It is in Leviticus,
chapter 21, verse 7: '_Neither shall they take a woman put away from her
husband; for he is holy unto his God. Thou shalt sanctify him,
therefore; for he offereth the bread of thy God; he shall be holy unto
thee, for I the Lord which sanctify you am holy._'"
For an instant David was overwhelmed by the quotation, for the Bible was
still a sacred book to him. Then he cried indignantly:
"But God never meant it to apply to a case like this!"
"We must obey God's law," said Reb Shemuel.
"Then it is the devil's law!" shouted David, losing all control of
The Reb's face grew dark as night. There was a moment of dread silence.
"Here you are, father," said Hannah, returning with the wine and some
glasses which she had carefully dusted. Then she paused and gave a
little cry, nearly losing her hold of the tray.
"What's the matter? What has happened?" she asked anxiously.
"Take away the wine--we shall drink nobody's health to-night," cried
"My God!" said Hannah, all the hue of happiness dying out of her cheeks.
She threw down the tray on the table and ran to her father's arms.
"What is it! Oh, what is it, father?" she cried. "You haven't had a
The old man was silent. The girl looked appealingly from one to the
"No, it's worse than that," said David in cold, harsh tones. "You
remember your marriage in fun to Sam?"
"Yes. Merciful heavens! I guess it! There was something not valid in the
_Gett_ after all."
Her anguish at the thought of losing him was so apparent that he
softened a little.
"No, not that," he said more gently. "But this blessed religion of ours
reckons you a divorced woman, and so you can't marry me because I'm a
"Can't marry you because you're a _Cohen_!" repeated Hannah, dazed in
"We must obey the Torah," said Reb Shemuel again, in low, solemn tones.
"It is your friend Levine who has erred, not the Torah."
"The Torah cannot visit a mere bit of fun so cruelly," protested David.
"And on the innocent, too."
"Sacred things should not be jested with," said the old man in stern
tones that yet quavered with sympathy and pity. "On his head is the sin;
on his head is the responsibility."
"Father," cried Hannah in piercing tones, "can nothing be done?"
The old man shook his head sadly. The poor, pretty face was pallid with
a pain too deep for tears. The shock was too sudden, too terrible. She
sank helplessly into a chair.
"Something must be done, something shall be done," thundered David. "I
will appeal to the Chief Rabbi."
"And what can he do? Can he go behind the Torah?" said Reb Shemuel
"I won't ask him to. But if he has a grain of common sense he will see
that our case is an exception, and cannot come under the Law."
"The Law knows no exceptions," said Reb Shemuel gently, quoting in
Hebrew, "'The Law of God is perfect, enlightening the eyes.' Be patient,
my dear children, in your affliction. It is the will of God. The Lord
giveth and the Lord taketh away--bless ye the name of the Lord."
"Not I!" said David harshly. "But look to Hannah. She has fainted."
"No, I am all right," said Hannah wearily, opening the eyes she had
closed. "Do not make so certain, father. Look at your books again.
Perhaps they do make an exception in such a case."
The Reb shook his head hopelessly.
"Do not expect that," he said. "Believe me, my Hannah, if there were a
gleam of hope I would not hide it from you. Be a good girl, dear, and
bear your trouble like a true Jewish maiden. Have faith in God, my
child. He doeth all things for the best. Come now--rouse yourself. Tell
David you will always be a friend, and that your father will love him as
though he were indeed his son." He moved towards her and touched her
tenderly. He felt a violent spasm traversing her bosom.
"I can't, father," she cried in a choking voice. "I can't. Don't ask
David leaned against the manuscript-littered table in stony silence. The
stern granite faces of the old continental Rabbis seemed to frown down
on him from the walls and he returned the frown with interest. His heart
was full of bitterness, contempt, revolt. What a pack of knavish bigots
they must all have been! Reb Shemuel bent down and took his daughter's
head in his trembling palms. The eyes were closed again, the chest
heaved painfully with silent sobs.
"Do you love him so much, Hannah?" whispered the old man.
Her sobs answered, growing loud at last.
"But you love your religion more, my child?" he murmured anxiously.
"That will bring you peace."
Her sobs gave him no assurance. Presently the contagion of sobbing took
"O God! God!" he moaned. "What sin have I committed; that thou shouldst
punish my child thus?"
"Don't blame God!" burst forth David at last. "It's your own foolish
bigotry. Is it not enough your daughter doesn't ask to marry a
Christian? Be thankful, old man, for that and put away all this
antiquated superstition. We're living in the nineteenth century."
"And what if we are!" said Reb Shemuel, blazing up in turn. "The Torah
is eternal. Thank God for your youth, and your health and strength, and
do not blaspheme Him because you cannot have all the desire of your
heart or the inclination of your eyes."
"The desire of my heart," retorted David. "Do you imagine I am only
thinking of my own suffering? Look at your daughter--think of what you
are doing to her and beware before it is too late."
"Is it in my hand to do or to forbear?" asked the old man, "It is the
Torah. Am I responsible for that?"
"Yes," said David, out of mere revolt. Then, seeking to justify himself,
his face lit up with sudden inspiration. "Who need ever know? The
_Maggid_ is dead. Old Hyams has gone to America. So Hannah has told me.
It's a thousand to one Leah's people never heard of the Law of
Leviticus. If they had, it's another thousand to one against their
putting two and two together. It requires a Talmudist like you to even
dream of reckoning Hannah as an ordinary divorced woman. If they did,
it's a third thousand to one against their telling anybody. There is no
need for you to perform the ceremony yourself. Let her be married by
some other minister--by the Chief Rabbi himself, and to make assurance
doubly sure I'll not mention that I'm a _Cohen_" The words poured forth
like a torrent, overwhelming the Reb for a moment. Hannah leaped up with
a hysterical cry of joy.
"Yes, yes, father. It will be all right, after all. Nobody knows. Oh,
thank God! thank God!"
There was a moment of tense silence. Then the old man's voice rose
slowly and painfully.
"Thank God!" he repeated. "Do you dare mention the Name even when you
propose to profane it? Do you ask me, your father, Reb Shemuel, to
consent to such a profanation of the Name?"
"And why not?" said David angrily. "Whom else has a daughter the right
to ask mercy from, if not her father?"
"God have mercy on me!" groaned the old Reb, covering his face with his
"Come, come!" said David impatiently. "Be sensible. It's nothing
unworthy of you at all. Hannah was never really married, so cannot be
really divorced. We only ask you to obey the spirit of the Torah instead
of the letter."
The old man shook his head, unwavering. His cheeks were white and wet,
but his expression was stern and solemn.
"Just think!" went on David passionately. "What am I better than another
Jew--than yourself for instance--that I shouldn't marry a divorced
"It is the Law. You are a _Cohen_--a priest."
"A priest, Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed David bitterly. "A priest--in the
nineteenth century! When the Temple has been destroyed these two
"It will be rebuilt, please God," said Reb Shemuel. "We must be ready
"Oh yes, I'll be ready--Ha! Ha! Ha! A priest! Holy unto the Lord--I a
priest! Ha! Ha! Ha! Do you know what my holiness consists in? In eating
_tripha_ meat, and going to _Shool_ a few times a year! And I, _I_ am
too holy to marry _your_ daughter. Oh, it is rich!" He ended in
uncontrollable mirth, slapping his knee in ghastly enjoyment.
His laughter rang terrible. Reb Shemuel trembled from head to foot.
Hannah's cheek was drawn and white. She seemed overwrought beyond
endurance. There followed a silence only less terrible than David's
"A _Cohen_," burst forth David again. "A holy _Cohen_ up to date. Do you
know what the boys say about us priests when we're blessing you common
people? They say that if you look on us once during that sacred
function, you'll get blind, and if you look on us a second time you'll
die. A nice reverent joke that, eh! Ha! Ha! Ha! You're blind already,
Reb Shemuel. Beware you don't look at me again or I'll commence to bless
you. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Again the terrible silence.
"Ah well," David resumed, his bitterness welling forth in irony. "And so
the first sacrifice the priest is called upon to make is that of your
daughter. But I won't, Reb Shemuel, mark my words; I won't, not till she
offers her own throat to the knife. If she and I are parted, on you and
you alone the guilt must rest. _You_ will have to perform the
"What God wishes me to do I will do," said the old man in a broken
voice. "What is it to that which our ancestors suffered for the glory of
"Yes, but it seems you suffer by proxy," retorted David, savagely.
"My God! Do you think I would not die to make Hannah happy?" faltered
the old man. "But God has laid the burden on her--and I can only help
her to bear it. And now, sir, I must beg you to go. You do but distress
"What say you, Hannah? Do you wish me to go?"
"Yes--What is the use--now?" breathed Hannah through white quivering
"My child!" said the old man pitifully, while he strained her to his
"All right!" said David in strange harsh tones, scarcely recognizable as
his. "I see you are your father's daughter."
He took his hat and turned his back upon the tragic embrace.
"David!" She called his name in an agonized hoarse voice. She held her
arms towards him. He did not turn round.
"David!" Her voice rose to a shriek. "You will not leave me?"
He faced her exultant.
"Ah, you will come with me. You will be my wife."
"No--no--not now, not now. I cannot answer you now. Let me
think--good-bye, dearest, good-bye." She burst out weeping. David took
her in his arms and kissed her passionately. Then he went out hurriedly.
Hannah wept on--her father holding her hand in piteous silence.
"Oh, it is cruel, your religion," she sobbed. "Cruel, cruel!"
"Hannah! Shemuel! Where are you?" suddenly came the excited voice of
Simcha from the passage. "Come and look at the lovely fowls I've
bought--and such _Metsiahs_. They're worth double. Oh, what a beautiful
_Yomtov_ we shall have!"
"Prosaic miles of street stretch all around,
Astir with restless, hurried life, and spanned
By arches that with thund'rous trains resound,
And throbbing wires that galvanize the land;
Gin palaces in tawdry splendor stand;
The newsboys shriek of mangled bodies found;
The last burlesque is playing in the Strand--
In modern prose, all poetry seems drowned.
Yet in ten thousand homes this April night
An ancient people celebrates its birth
To Freedom, with a reverential mirth,
With customs quaint and many a hoary rite,
Waiting until, its tarnished glories bright,
Its God shall be the God of all the Earth."
To an imaginative child like Esther, _Seder_ night was a charmed time.
The strange symbolic dishes--the bitter herbs and the sweet mixture of
apples, almonds, spices and wine, the roasted bone and the lamb, the
salt water and the four cups of raisin wine, the great round unleavened
cakes, with their mottled surfaces, some specially thick and sacred, the
special Hebrew melodies and verses with their jingle of rhymes and
assonances, the quaint ceremonial with its striking moments, as when the
finger was dipped in the wine and the drops sprinkled over the shoulder
in repudiation of the ten plagues of Egypt cabalistically magnified to
two hundred and fifty; all this penetrated deep into her consciousness
and made the recurrence of every Passover coincide with a rush of
pleasant anticipations and a sense of the special privilege of being
born a happy Jewish child. Vaguely, indeed, did she co-ordinate the
celebration with the history enshrined in it or with the prospective
history of her race. It was like a tale out of the fairy-books, this
miraculous deliverance of her forefathers in the dim haze of antiquity;
true enough but not more definitely realized on that account. And yet
not easily dissoluble links were being forged with her race, which has
anticipated Positivism in vitalizing history by making it religion.
The _Matzoth_ that Esther ate were not dainty--they were coarse, of the
quality called "seconds," for even the unleavened bread of charity is
not necessarily delicate eating--but few things melted sweeter on the
palate than a segment of a _Matso_ dipped in cheap raisin wine: the
unconventionally of the food made life less common, more picturesque.
Simple Ghetto children into whose existence the ceaseless round of fast
and feast, of prohibited and enjoyed pleasures, of varying species of
food, brought change and relief! Imprisoned in the area of a few narrow
streets, unlovely and sombre, muddy and ill-smelling, immured in dreary
houses and surrounded with mean and depressing sights and sounds, the
spirit of childhood took radiance and color from its own inner light and
the alchemy of youth could still transmute its lead to gold. No little
princess in the courts of fairyland could feel a fresher interest and
pleasure in life than Esther sitting at the _Seder_ table, where her
father--no longer a slave in Egypt--leaned royally upon two chairs
supplied with pillows as the _Din_ prescribes. Not even the monarch's
prime minister could have had a meaner opinion of Pharaoh than Moses
Ansell in this symbolically sybaritic attitude. A live dog is better
than a dead lion, as a great teacher in Israel had said. How much better
then a live lion than a dead dog? Pharaoh, for all his purple and fine
linen and his treasure cities, was at the bottom of the Red Sea, smitten
with two hundred and fifty plagues, and even if, as tradition asserted,
he had been made to live on and on to be King of Nineveh, and to give
ear to the warnings of Jonah, prophet and whale-explorer, even so he was
but dust and ashes for other sinners to cover themselves withal; but he,
Moses Ansell, was the honored master of his household, enjoying a
foretaste of the lollings of the righteous in Paradise; nay, more,
dispensing hospitality to the poor and the hungry. Little fleas have
lesser fleas, and Moses Ansell had never fallen so low but that, on this
night of nights when the slave sits with the master on equal terms, he
could manage to entertain a Passover guest, usually some newly-arrived
Greener, or some nondescript waif and stray returned to Judaism for the
occasion and accepting a seat at the board in that spirit of
_camaraderie_ which is one of the most delightful features of the Jewish
pauper. _Seder_ was a ceremonial to be taken in none too solemn and
sober a spirit, and there was an abundance of unreproved giggling
throughout from the little ones, especially in those happy days when
mother was alive and tried to steal the _Afikuman_ or _Matso_ specially
laid aside for the final morsel, only to be surrendered to father when
he promised to grant her whatever she wished. Alas! it is to be feared
Mrs. Ansell's wishes did not soar high. There was more giggling when the
youngest talking son--it was poor Benjamin in Esther's earliest
recollections--opened the ball by inquiring in a peculiarly pitched
incantation and with an air of blank ignorance why this night differed
from all other nights--in view of the various astonishing peculiarities
of food and behavior (enumerated in detail) visible to his vision. To
which Moses and the _Bube_ and the rest of the company (including the
questioner) invariably replied in corresponding sing-song: "Slaves have
we been in Egypt," proceeding to recount at great length, stopping for
refreshment in the middle, the never-cloying tale of the great
deliverance, with irrelevant digressions concerning Haman and Daniel and
the wise men of Bona Berak, the whole of this most ancient of the
world's extant domestic rituals terminating with an allegorical ballad
like the "house that Jack built," concerning a kid that was eaten by a
cat, which was bitten by a dog, which was beaten by a stick, which was
burned by a fire, which was quenched by some water, which was drunk by
an ox, which was slaughtered by a slaughterer, who was slain by the
Angel of Death, who was slain by the Holy One, blessed be He.
In wealthy houses this _Hagadah_ was read from manuscripts with rich
illuminations--the one development of pictorial art among the Jews--but
the Ansells had wretchedly-printed little books containing quaint but
unintentionally comic wood-cuts, pre-Raphaelite in perspective and
ludicrous in draughtsmanship, depicting the Miracles of the Redemption,
Moses burying the Egyptian, and sundry other passages of the text. In
one a king was praying in the Temple to an exploding bomb intended to
represent the Shechinah or divine glory. In another, Sarah attired in a
matronly cap and a fashionable jacket and skirt, was standing behind the
door of the tent, a solid detached villa on the brink of a lake, whereon
ships and gondolas floated, what time Abraham welcomed the three
celestial messengers, unobtrusively disguised with heavy pinions. What
delight as the quaking of each of the four cups of wine loomed in sight,
what disappointment and mutual bantering when the cup had merely to be
raised in the hand, what chaff of the greedy Solomon who was careful not
to throw away a drop during the digital manoeuvres when the wine must be
jerked from the cup at the mention of each plague. And what a solemn
moment was that when the tallest goblet was filled to the brim for the
delectation of the prophet Elijah and the door thrown open for his
entry. Could one almost hear the rustling of the prophet's spirit
through the room? And what though the level of the wine subsided not a
barley-corn? Elijah, though there was no difficulty in his being in all
parts of the world simultaneously, could hardly compass the greater
miracle of emptying so many million goblets. Historians have traced this
custom of opening the door to the necessity of asking the world to look
in and see for itself that no blood of Christian child figured in the
ceremonial--and for once science has illumined naive superstition with a
tragic glow more poetic still. For the London Ghetto persecution had
dwindled to an occasional bellowing through the keyhole, as the local
rowdies heard the unaccustomed melodies trolled forth from jocund lungs
and then the singers would stop for a moment, startled, and some one
would say: "Oh, it's only a Christian rough," and take up the thread of
And then, when the _Ajikuman_ had been eaten and the last cup of wine
drunk, and it was time to go to bed, what a sweet sense of sanctity and
security still reigned. No need to say your prayers to-night, beseeching
the guardian of Israel, who neither slumbereth nor sleepeth, to watch
over you and chase away the evil spirits; the angels are with
you--Gabriel on your right and Raphael on your left, and Michael behind
you. All about the Ghetto the light of the Passover rested,
transfiguring the dreary rooms and illumining the gray lives.
Dutch Debby sat beside Mrs. Simons at the table of that good soul's
married daughter; the same who had suckled little Sarah. Esther's
frequent eulogiums had secured the poor lonely narrow-chested seamstress
this enormous concession and privilege. Bobby squatted on the mat in the
passage ready to challenge Elijah. At this table there were two pieces
of fried fish sent to Mrs. Simons by Esther Ansell. They represented the
greatest revenge of Esther's life, and she felt remorseful towards
Malka, remembering to whose gold she owed this proud moment. She made up
her mind to write her a letter of apology in her best hand.
At the Belcovitches' the ceremonial was long, for the master of it
insisted on translating the Hebrew into jargon, phrase by phrase; but no
one found it tedious, especially after supper. Pesach was there, hand in
hand with Fanny, their wedding very near now; and Becky lolled royally
in all her glory, aggressive of ringlet, insolently unattached, a
conscious beacon of bedazzlement to the pauper _Pollack_ we last met at
Reb Shemuel's Sabbath table, and there, too, was Chayah, she of the
ill-matched legs. Be sure that Malka had returned the clothes-brush, and
was throned in complacent majesty at Milly's table; and that Sugarman
the _Shadchan_ forgave his monocular consort her lack of a fourth uncle;
while Joseph Strelitski, dreamer of dreams, rich with commissions from
"Passover" cigars, brooded on the Great Exodus. Nor could the Shalotten
_Shammos_ be other than beaming, ordering the complex ceremonial with
none to contradict; nor Karlkammer be otherwise than in the seven
hundred and seventy-seventh heaven, which, calculated by _Gematriyah_,
can easily be reduced to the seventh.
Shosshi Shmendrik did not fail to explain the deliverance to the
ex-widow Finkelstein, nor Guedalyah, the greengrocer, omit to hold his
annual revel at the head of half a hundred merry "pauper-aliens."
Christian roughs bawled derisively in the street, especially when doors
were opened for Elijah; but hard words break no bones, and the Ghetto
was uplifted above insult.
Melchitsedek Pinchas was the Passover guest at Reb Shemuel's table, for
the reek of his Sabbath cigar had not penetrated to the old man's
nostrils. It was a great night for Pinchas; wrought up to fervid
nationalistic aspirations by the memory of the Egyptian deliverance,
which he yet regarded as mythical in its details. It was a terrible
night for Hannah, sitting opposite to him under the fire of his poetic
regard. She was pale and rigid, moving and speaking mechanically. Her
father glanced towards her every now and again, compassionately, but
with trust that the worst was over. Her mother realized the crisis much
less keenly than he, not having been in the heart of the storm. She had
never even seen her intended son-in-law except through the lens of a
camera. She was sorry--that was all. Now that Hannah had broken the ice,
and encouraged one young man, there was hope for the others.
Hannah's state of mind was divined by neither parent. Love itself is
blind in those tragic silences which divide souls.
All night, after that agonizing scene, she did not sleep; the feverish
activity of her mind rendered that impossible, and unerring instinct
told her that David was awake also--that they two, amid the silence of a
sleeping city, wrestled in the darkness with the same terrible problem,
and were never so much at one as in this their separation. A letter came
for her in the morning. It was unstamped, and had evidently been dropped
into the letter-box by David's hand. It appointed an interview at ten
o'clock at a corner of the Ruins; of course, he could not come to the
house. Hannah was out: with a little basket to make some purchases.
There was a cheery hum of life about the Ghetto; a pleasant festival
bustle; the air resounded with the raucous clucking of innumerable fowls
on their way to the feather-littered, blood-stained shambles, where
professional cut-throats wielded sacred knives; boys armed with little
braziers of glowing coal ran about the Ruins, offering halfpenny pyres
for the immolation of the last crumbs of leaven. Nobody paid the
slightest attention to the two tragic figures whose lives turned on the
brief moments of conversation snatched in the thick of the hurrying
David's clouded face lightened a little as he saw Hannah advancing
"I knew you would come," he said, taking her hand for a moment. His palm
burned, hers was cold and limp. The stress of a great tempest of emotion
had driven the blood from her face and limbs, but inwardly she was on
fire. As they looked each read revolt in the other's eyes.
"Let us walk on," he said.
They moved slowly forwards. The ground was slippery and muddy under
foot. The sky was gray. But the gayety of the crowds neutralized the
dull squalor of the scene.
"Well?" he said, in a low tone.
"I thought you had something to propose," she murmured.
"Let me carry your basket."
"No, no; go on. What have you determined?"
"Not to give you up, Hannah, while I live."
"Ah!" she said quietly. "I have thought it all over, too, and I shall
not leave you. But our marriage by Jewish law is impossible; we could
not marry at any synagogue without my father's knowledge; and he would
at once inform the authorities of the bar to our union."
"I know, dear. But let us go to America, where no one will know. There
we shall find plenty of Rabbis to marry us. There is nothing to tie me
to this country. I can start my business in America just as well as
here. Your parents, too, will think more kindly of you when you are
across the seas. Forgiveness is easier at a distance. What do you say,
She shook her head.
"Why should we be married in a synagogue?" she asked.
"Why?" repeated he, puzzled.
"Because we are Jews."
"You would use Jewish forms to outwit Jewish laws?" she asked quietly.
"No, no. Why should you put it that way? I don't doubt the Bible is all
right in making the laws it does. After the first heat of my anger was
over, I saw the whole thing in its proper bearings. Those laws about
priests were only intended for the days when we had a Temple, and in any
case they cannot apply to a merely farcical divorce like yours. It is
these old fools,--I beg your pardon,--it is these fanatical Rabbis who
insist on giving them a rigidity God never meant them to have, just as
they still make a fuss about _kosher_ meat. In America they are less
strict; besides, they will not know I am a _Cohen_."
"No. David," said Hannah firmly. "There must be no more deceit. What
need have we to seek the sanction of any Rabbi? If Jewish law cannot
marry us without our hiding something, then I will have nothing to do
with Jewish law. You know my opinions: I haven't gone so deeply into
religious questions as you have--"
"Don't be sarcastic," he interrupted.
"I have always been sick to death of this eternal ceremony, this endless
coil of laws winding round us and cramping our lives at every turn; and
now it has become too oppressive to be borne any longer. Why should we
let it ruin our lives? And why, if we determine to break from it, shall
we pretend to keep to it? What do you care for Judaism? You eat
_triphas_, you smoke on _Shabbos_ when you want to--"
"Yes, I know, perhaps I'm wrong. But everybody does it now-a-days. When
I was a boy nobody dared be seen riding in a 'bus on _Shabbos_--now you
meet lots. But all that is only old-fashioned Judaism. There must be a
God, else we shouldn't be here, and it's impossible to believe that
Jesus was He. A man must have some religion, and there isn't anything
better. But that's neither here nor there. If you don't care for my
plan," he concluded anxiously, "what's yours?"
"Let us be married honestly by a Registrar."
"Any way you like, dear," he said readily, "so long as we are
"As quickly as you like."
He seized her disengaged hand and pressed it passionately. "That's my
own darling Hannah. Oh, if you could realize what I felt last night when
you seemed to be drifting away from me."
There was an interval of silence, each thinking excitedly. Then David
"But have you the courage to do this and remain in London?"
"I have courage for anything. But, as you say, it might be better to
travel. It will be less of a break if we break away altogether--change
everything at once. It sounds contradictory, but you understand what I
"Perfectly. It is difficult to live a new life with all the old things
round you. Besides, why should we give our friends the chance to
cold-shoulder us? They will find all sorts of malicious reasons why we
were not married in a _Shool_, and if they hit on the true one they may
even regard our marriage as illegal. Let us go to America, as I
"Very well. Do we go direct from London?"
"No, from Liverpool."
"Then we can be married at Liverpool before sailing?"
"A good idea. But when do we start?"
"At once. To-night. The sooner the better."
He looked at her quickly. "Do you mean it?" he said. His heart beat
violently as if it would burst. Waves of dazzling color swam before his
"I mean it," she said gravely and quietly. "Do you think I could face my
father and mother, knowing I was about to wound them to the heart? Each
day of delay would be torture to me. Oh, why is religion such a curse?"
She paused, overwhelmed for a moment by the emotion she had been
suppressing. She resumed in the same quiet manner. "Yes, we must break
away at once. We have kept our last Passover. We shall have to eat
leavened food--it will be a decisive break. Take me to Liverpool, David,
this very day. You are my chosen husband; I trust in you."
She looked at him frankly with her dark eyes that stood out in lustrous
relief against the pale skin. He gazed into those eyes, and a flash as
from the inner heaven of purity pierced his soul.
"Thank you, dearest," he said in a voice with tears in it.
They walked on silently. Speech was as superfluous as it was
inadequate. When they spoke again their voices were calm. The peace that
comes of resolute decision was theirs at last, and each was full of the
joy of daring greatly for the sake of their mutual love. Petty as their
departure from convention might seem to the stranger, to them it loomed
as a violent breach with all the traditions of the Ghetto and their past
lives; they were venturing forth into untrodden paths, holding each
Jostling the loquacious crowd, in the unsavory by-ways of the Ghetto, in
the gray chillness of a cloudy morning, Hannah seemed to herself to walk
in enchanted gardens, breathing the scent of love's own roses mingled
with the keen salt air that blew in from the sea of liberty. A fresh,
new blessed life was opening before her. The clogging vapors of the past
were rolling away at last. The unreasoning instinctive rebellion, bred
of ennui and brooding dissatisfaction with the conditions of her
existence and the people about her, had by a curious series of accidents
been hastened to its acutest development; thought had at last fermented
into active resolution, and the anticipation of action flooded her soul
with peace and joy, in which all recollection of outside humanity was
"What time can you be ready by?" he said before they parted.
"Any time," she answered. "I can take nothing with me. I dare not pack
anything. I suppose I can get necessaries in Liverpool. I have merely my
hat and cloak to put on."
"But that will be enough," he said ardently. "I want but you."
"I know it, dear," she answered gently. "If you were as other Jewish
young men I could not give up all else for you."
"You shall never regret it, Hannah," he said, moved to his depths, as
the full extent of her sacrifice for love dawned upon him. He was a
vagabond on the face of the earth, but she was tearing herself away from
deep roots in the soil of home, as well as from the conventions of her
circle and her sex. Once again he trembled with a sense of unworthiness,
a sudden anxious doubt if he were noble enough to repay her trust.
Mastering his emotion, he went on: "I reckon my packing and arrangements
for leaving the country will take me all day at least. I must see my
bankers if nobody else. I shan't take leave of anybody, that would
arouse suspicion. I will be at the corner of your street with a cab at
nine, and we'll catch the ten o'clock express from Euston. If we missed
that, we should have to wait till midnight. It will be dark; no one is
likely to notice me. I will get a dressing-case for you and anything
else I can think of and add it to my luggage."
"Very well," she said simply.
They did not kiss; she gave him her hand, and, with a sudden
inspiration, he slipped the ring he had brought the day before on her
finger. The tears came into her eyes as she saw what he had done. They
looked at each other through a mist, feeling bound beyond human
"Good-bye," she faltered.
"Good-bye," he said. "At nine."
"At nine," she breathed. And hurried off without looking behind.
It was a hard day, the minutes crawling reluctantly into the hours, the
hours dragging themselves wearily on towards the night. It was typical
April weather--squalls and sunshine in capricious succession. When it
drew towards dusk she put on her best clothes for the Festival, stuffing
a few precious mementoes into her pockets and wearing her father's
portrait next to her lover's at her breast. She hung a travelling cloak
and a hat on a peg near the hall-door ready to hand as she left the
house. Of little use was she in the kitchen that day, but her mother was
tender to her as knowing her sorrow. Time after time Hannah ascended to
her bedroom to take a last look at the things she had grown so tired
of--the little iron bed, the wardrobe, the framed lithographs, the jug
and basin with their floral designs. All things seemed strangely dear
now she was seeing them for the last time. Hannah turned over
everything--even the little curling iron, and the cardboard box full of
tags and rags of ribbon and chiffon and lace and crushed artificial
flowers, and the fans with broken sticks and the stays with broken
ribs, and the petticoats with dingy frills and the twelve-button ball
gloves with dirty fingers, and the soiled pink wraps. Some of her books,
especially her school-prizes, she would have liked to take with her--but
that could not be. She went over the rest of the house, too, from top to
bottom. It weakened her but she could not conquer the impulse of
farewell, finally she wrote a letter to her parents and hid it under her
looking-glass, knowing they would search her room for traces of her. She
looked curiously at herself as she did so; the color had not returned to
her cheeks. She knew she was pretty and always strove to look nice for
the mere pleasure of the thing. All her instincts were aesthetic. Now
she had the air of a saint wrought up to spiritual exaltation. She was
almost frightened by the vision. She had seen her face frowning,
weeping, overcast with gloom, never with an expression so fateful. It
seemed as if her resolution was writ large upon every feature for all to
In the evening she accompanied her father to _Shool_. She did not often
go in the evening, and the thought of going only suddenly occurred to
her. Heaven alone knew if she would ever enter a synagogue again--the
visit would be part of her systematic farewell. Reb Shemuel took it as a
symptom of resignation to the will of God, and he laid his hand lightly
on her head in silent blessing, his eyes uplifted gratefully to Heaven.
Too late Hannah felt the misconception and was remorseful. For the
festival occasion Reb Shemuel elected to worship at the Great Synagogue;
Hannah, seated among the sparse occupants of the Ladies' Gallery and
mechanically fingering a _Machzor_, looked down for the last time on the
crowded auditorium where the men sat in high hats and holiday garments.
Tall wax-candles twinkled everywhere, in great gilt chandeliers
depending from the ceiling, in sconces stuck about the window ledges, in
candelabra branching from the walls. There was an air of holy joy about
the solemn old structure with its massive pillars, its small
side-windows, high ornate roof, and skylights, and its gilt-lettered
tablets to the memory of pious donors.
The congregation gave the responses with joyous unction. Some of the
worshippers tempered their devotion by petty gossip and the beadle
marshalled the men in low hats within the iron railings, sonorously
sounding his automatic amens. But to-night Hannah had no eye for the
humors that were wont to awaken her scornful amusement--a real emotion
possessed her, the same emotion of farewell which she had experienced in
her own bedroom. Her eyes wandered towards the Ark, surmounted by the
stone tablets of the Decalogue, and the sad dark orbs filled with the
brooding light of childish reminiscence. Once when she was a little girl
her father told her that on Passover night an angel sometimes came out
of the doors of the Ark from among the scrolls of the Law. For years she
looked out for that angel, keeping her eyes patiently fixed on the
curtain. At last she gave him up, concluding her vision was
insufficiently purified or that he was exhibiting at other synagogues.
To-night her childish fancy recurred to her--she found herself
involuntarily looking towards the Ark and half-expectant of the angel.
She had not thought of the _Seder_ service she would have to partially
sit through, when she made her appointment with David in the morning,
but when during the day it occurred to her, a cynical smile traversed
her lips. How apposite it was! To-night would mark _her_ exodus from
slavery. Like her ancestors leaving Egypt, she, too, would partake of a
meal in haste, staff in hand ready for the journey. With what stout
heart would she set forth, she, too, towards the promised land! Thus had
she thought some hours since, but her mood was changed now. The nearer
the _Seder_ approached, the more she shrank from the family ceremonial.
A panic terror almost seized her now, in the synagogue, when the picture
of the domestic interior flashed again before her mental vision--she
felt like flying into the street, on towards her lover without ever
looking behind. Oh, why could David not have fixed the hour earlier, so
as to spare her an ordeal so trying to the nerves? The black-stoled
choir was singing sweetly, Hannah banished her foolish flutter of alarm
by joining in quietly, for congregational singing was regarded rather as
an intrusion on the privileges of the choir and calculated to put them
out in their elaborate four-part fugues unaided by an organ.
"With everlasting love hast Thou loved the house of Israel, Thy people,"
she sang: "a Law and commandments, statutes and judgments hast thou
taught us. Therefore, O Lord our God, when we lie down and when we rise
up we will meditate on Thy statutes: yea, we will rejoice in the words
of Thy Law and in Thy commandments for ever, for they are our life and
the length of our days, and will meditate on them day and night. And
mayest Thou never take away Thy love from us. Blessed art Thou. O Lord,
who lovest Thy people Israel."
Hannah scanned the English version of the Hebrew in her _Machzor_ as she
sang. Though she could translate every word, the meaning of what she
sang was never completely conceived by her consciousness. The power of
song over the soul depends but little on the words. Now the words seem
fateful, pregnant with special message. Her eyes were misty when the
fugues were over. Again she looked towards the Ark with its beautifully
embroidered curtain, behind which were the precious scrolls with their
silken swathes and their golden bells and shields and pomegranates. Ah,
if the angel would come out now! If only the dazzling vision gleamed for
a moment on the white steps. Oh, why did he not come and save her?
Save her? From what? She asked herself the question fiercely, in
defiance of the still, small voice. What wrong had she ever done that
she so young and gentle should be forced to make so cruel a choice
between the old and the new? This was the synagogue she should have been
married in; stepping gloriously and honorably under the canopy, amid the
pleasant excitement of a congratulatory company. And now she was being
driven to exile and the chillness of secret nuptials. No, no; she did
not want to be saved in the sense of being kept in the fold: it was the
creed that was culpable, not she.
The service drew to an end. The choir sang the final hymn, the _Chasan_
giving the last verse at great length and with many musical flourishes.
"The dead will God quicken in the abundance of His loving kindness.
Blessed for evermore be His glorious name."
There was a clattering of reading-flaps and seat-lids and the
congregation poured out, amid the buzz of mutual "Good _Yomtovs."_
Hannah rejoined her father, the sense of injury and revolt still surging
in her breast. In the fresh starlit air, stepping along the wet gleaming
pavements, she shook off the last influences of the synagogue; all her
thoughts converged on the meeting with David, on the wild flight
northwards while good Jews were sleeping off the supper in celebration
of their Redemption; her blood coursed quickly through her veins, she
was in a fever of impatience for the hour to come.
And thus it was that she sat at the _Seder_ table, as in a dream, with
images of desperate adventure flitting in her brain. The face of her
lover floated before her eyes, close, close to her own as it should have
been to-night had there been justice in Heaven. Now and again the scene
about her flashed in upon her consciousness, piercing her to the heart.
When Levi asked the introductory question, it set her wondering what
would become of him? Would manhood bring enfranchisement to him as
womanhood was doing to her? What sort of life would he lead the poor Reb
and his wife? The omens were scarcely auspicious; but a man's charter is
so much wider than a woman's; and Levi might do much without paining
them as she would pain them. Poor father! The white hairs were
predominating in his beard, she had never noticed before how old he was
getting. And mother--her face was quite wrinkled. Ah, well; we must all
grow old. What a curious man Melchitsedek Pinchas was, singing so
heartily the wonderful story. Judaism certainly produced some curious
types. A smile crossed her face as she thought of herself as his bride.
At supper she strove to eat a little, knowing she would need it. In
bringing some plates from the kitchen she looked at her hat and cloak,
carefully hung up on the peg in the hall nearest the street door. It
would take but a second to slip them on. She nodded her head towards
them, as who should say "Yes, we shall meet again very soon." During the
meal she found herself listening to the poet's monologues delivered in
his high-pitched creaking voice.
Melchitsedek Pinchas had much to say about a certain actor-manager who
had spoiled the greatest jargon-play of the century and a certain
labor-leader who, out of the funds of his gulls, had subsidized the
audience to stay away, and (though here the Reb cut him short for
Hannah's sake) a certain leading lady, one of the quartette of
mistresses of a certain clergyman, who had been beguiled by her paramour
into joining the great English conspiracy to hound down Melchitsedek
Pinchas,--all of whom he would shoot presently and had in the meantime
enshrined like dead flies in the amber of immortal acrostics. The wind
began to shake the shutters as they finished supper and presently the
rain began to patter afresh against the panes. Reb Shemuel distributed
the pieces of _Afikuman_ with a happy sigh, and, lolling on his pillows
and almost forgetting his family troubles in the sense of Israel's
blessedness, began to chant the Grace like the saints in the Psalm who
sing aloud on their couches. The little Dutch clock on the mantelpiece
began to strike. Hannah did not move. Pale and trembling she sat riveted
to her chair. One--two--three--four--five--six--seven--eight. She
counted the strokes, as if to count them was the only means of telling
the hour, as if her eyes had not been following the hands creeping,
creeping. She had a mad hope the striking would cease with the eight and
there would be still time to think. _Nine_! She waited, her ear longing
for the tenth stroke. If it were only ten o'clock, it would be too late.
The danger would be over. She sat, mechanically watching the hands. They
crept on. It was five minutes past the hour. She felt sure that David
was already at the corner of the street, getting wet and a little
impatient. She half rose from her chair. It was not a nice night for an
elopement. She sank back into her seat. Perhaps they had best wait till
to-morrow night. She would go and tell David so. But then he would not
mind the weather; once they had met he would bundle her into the cab and
they would roll on leaving the old world irrevocably behind. She sat in
a paralysis of volition; rigid on her chair, magnetized by the warm
comfortable room, the old familiar furniture, the Passover table--with
its white table-cloth and its decanter and wine-glasses, the faces of
her father and mother eloquent with the appeal of a thousand memories.
The clock ticked on loudly, fiercely, like a summoning drum; the rain
beat an impatient tattoo on the window-panes, the wind rattled the doors
and casements. "Go forth, go forth," they called, "go forth where your
lover waits you, to bear you of into the new and the unknown." And the
louder they called the louder Reb Shemuel trolled his hilarious Grace:
_May He who maketh Peace in the High Heavens, bestow Peace upon us and
upon all Israel and say ye, Amen_.
The hands of the clock crept on. It was half-past nine. Hannah sat
lethargic, numb, unable to think, her strung-up nerves grown flaccid,
her eyes full of bitter-sweet tears, her soul floating along as in a
trance on the waves of a familiar melody. Suddenly she became aware that
the others had risen and that her father was motioning to her.
Instinctively she understood; rose automatically and went to the door;
then a great shock of returning recollection whelmed her soul. She stood
rooted to the floor. Her father had filled Elijah's goblet with wine and
it was her annual privilege to open the door for the prophet's entry.
Intuitively she knew that David was pacing madly in front of the house,
not daring to make known his presence, and perhaps cursing her
cowardice. A chill terror seized her. She was afraid to face him--his
will was strong and mighty; her fevered imagination figured it as the
wash of a great ocean breaking on the doorstep threatening to sweep her
off into the roaring whirlpool of doom. She threw the door of the room
wide and paused as if her duty were done.
"_Nu, nu_," muttered Reb Shemuel, indicating the outer door. It was so
near that he always had that opened, too.
Hannah tottered forwards through the few feet of hall. The cloak and hat
on the peg nodded to her sardonically. A wild thrill of answering
defiance shot through her: she stretched out her hands towards them.
"Fly, fly; it is your last chance," said the blood throbbing in her
ears. But her hand dropped to her side and in that brief instant of
terrible illumination, Hannah saw down the whole long vista of her
future life, stretching straight and unlovely between great blank walls,
on, on to a solitary grave; knew that the strength had been denied her
to diverge to the right or left, that for her there would be neither
Exodus nor Redemption. Strong in the conviction of her weakness she
noisily threw open the street door. The face of David, sallow and
ghastly, loomed upon her in the darkness. Great drops of rain fell from
his hat and ran down his cheeks like tears. His clothes seemed soaked
"At last!" he exclaimed in a hoarse, glad whisper. "What has kept you?"
"_Boruch Habo_! (Welcome art thou who arrivest)" came the voice of Reb
Shemuel front within, greeting the prophet.
"Hush!" said Hannah. "Listen a moment."
The sing-song undulations of the old Rabbi's voice mingled harshly with
the wail of the wind: "_Pour out Thy wrath on the heathen who
acknowledge Thee not and upon the Kingdoms which invoke not Thy name,
for they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his Temple. Pour out Thy
indignation upon them and cause Thy fierce anger to overtake them.
Pursue them in wrath and destroy them from under the heavens of the
"Quick, Hannah!" whispered David. "We can't wait a moment more. Put on
your things. We shall miss the train."
A sudden inspiration came to her. For answer she drew his ring out of
her pocket and slipped it into his hand.
"Good-bye!" she murmured in a strange hollow voice, and slammed the
street door in his face.
His startled cry of agony and despair penetrated the woodwork, muffled
to an inarticulate shriek. He rattled the door violently in unreasoning
"Who's that? What's that noise?" asked the Rebbitzin.
"Only some Christian rough shouting in the street," answered Hannah.
It was truer than she knew.
* * * * *
The rain fell faster, the wind grew shriller, but the Children of the
Ghetto basked by their firesides in faith and hope and contentment.
Hunted from shore to shore through the ages, they had found the national
aspiration--Peace--in a country where Passover came, without menace of
blood. In the garret of Number 1 Royal Street little Esther Ansell sat
brooding, her heart full of a vague tender poetry and penetrated by the
beauties of Judaism, which, please God, she would always cling to; her
childish vision looking forward hopefully to the larger life that the
years would bring.
END OF BOOK I.
THE GRANDCHILDREN OF THE GHETTO.
THE CHRISTMAS DINNER.
Daintily embroidered napery, beautiful porcelain, Queen Anne silver,
exotic flowers, glittering glass, soft rosy light, creamy expanses of
shirt-front, elegant low-necked dresses--all the conventional
accompaniments of Occidental gastronomy.
It was not a large party. Mrs. Henry Goldsmith professed to collect
guests on artistic principles--as she did bric-a-brac--and with an eye
to general conversation. The elements of the social salad were
sufficiently incongruous to-night, yet all the ingredients were Jewish.
For the history of the Grandchildren of the Ghetto, which is mainly a
history of the middle-classes, is mainly a history of isolation. "The
Upper Ten" is a literal phrase in Judah, whose aristocracy just about
suffices for a synagogue quorum. Great majestic luminaries, each with
its satellites, they swim serenely in the golden heavens. And the
middle-classes look up in worship and the lower-classes in supplication.
"The Upper Ten" have no spirit of exclusiveness; they are willing to
entertain royalty, rank and the arts with a catholic hospitality that is
only Eastern in its magnificence, while some of them only remain Jews
for fear of being considered snobs by society. But the middle-class Jew
has been more jealous of his caste, and for caste reasons. To exchange
hospitalities with the Christian when you cannot eat his dinners were to
get the worse of the bargain; to invite his sons to your house when they
cannot marry your daughters were to solicit awkward complications. In
business, in civic affairs, in politics, the Jew has mixed freely with
his fellow-citizens, but indiscriminate social relations only become
possible through a religious decadence, which they in turn accelerate.
A Christian in a company of middle-class Jews is like a lion in a den of
Daniels. They show him deference and their prophetic side.
Mrs. Henry Goldsmith was of the upper middle-classes, and her husband
was the financial representative of the Kensington Synagogue at the
United Council, but her swan-like neck was still bowed beneath the yoke
of North London, not to say provincial, Judaism. So to-night there were
none of those external indications of Christmas which are so frequent at
"good" Jewish houses; no plum-pudding, snapdragon, mistletoe, not even a
Christmas tree. For Mrs. Henry Goldsmith did not countenance these
coquettings with Christianity. She would have told you that the
incidence of her dinner on Christmas Eve was merely an accident, though
a lucky accident, in so far as Christmas found Jews perforce at leisure
for social gatherings. What she was celebrating was the feast of
Chanukah--of the re-dedication of the Temple after the pollutions of
Antiochus Epiphanes--and the memory of the national hero, Judas
Maccabaeus. Christmas crackers would have been incompatible with the
Chanukah candles which the housekeeper, Mary O'Reilly, forced her master
to light, and would have shocked that devout old dame. For Mary
O'Reilly, as good a soul as she was a Catholic, had lived all her life
with Jews, assisting while yet a girl in the kitchen of Henry
Goldsmith's father, who was a pattern of ancient piety and a prop of the
Great Synagogue. When the father died, Mary, with all the other family
belongings, passed into the hands of the son, who came up to London from
a provincial town, and with a grateful recollection of her motherliness
domiciled her in his own establishment. Mary knew all the ritual laws
and ceremonies far better than her new mistress, who although a native
of the provincial town in which Mr. Henry Goldsmith had established a
thriving business, had received her education at a Brussels
boarding-school. Mary knew exactly how long to keep the meat in salt and
the heinousness of frying steaks in butter. She knew that the fire must
not be poked on the Sabbath, nor the gas lit or extinguished, and that
her master must not smoke till three stars appeared in the sky. She knew
when the family must fast, and when and how it must feast. She knew all
the Hebrew and jargon expressions which her employers studiously
boycotted, and she was the only member of the household who used them
habitually in her intercourse with the other members. Too late the Henry
Goldsmiths awoke to the consciousness of her tyranny which did not
permit them to be irreligious even in private. In the fierce light which
beats upon a provincial town with only one synagogue, they had been
compelled to conform outwardly with many galling restrictions, and they
had sub-consciously looked forward to emancipation in the mighty
metropolis. But Mary had such implicit faith in their piety, and was so
zealous in the practice of her own faith, that they had not the courage
to confess that they scarcely cared a pin about a good deal of that for
which she was so solicitous. They hesitated to admit that they did not
respect their religion (or what she thought was their religion) as much
as she did hers. It would have equally lowered them in her eyes to admit
that their religion was not so good as hers, besides being disrespectful
to the cherished memory of her ancient master. At first they had
deferred to Mary's Jewish prejudices out of good nature and
carelessness, but every day strengthened her hold upon them; every act
of obedience to the ritual law was a tacit acknowledgment of its
sanctity, which made it more and more difficult to disavow its
obligation. The dread of shocking Mary came to dominate their lives, and
the fashionable house near Kensington Gardens was still a veritable
centre of true Jewish orthodoxy, with little or nothing to make old
Aaron Goldsmith turn in his grave. It is probable, though, that Mrs.
Henry Goldsmith would have kept a _kosher_ table, even if Mary had never
been born. Many of their acquaintances and relatives were of an orthodox
turn. A _kosher_ dinner could be eaten even by the heterodox; whereas a
_tripha_ dinner choked off the orthodox. Thus it came about that even
the Rabbinate might safely stoke its spiritual fires at Mrs. Henry
Hence, too, the prevalent craving for a certain author's blood could not
be gratified at Mrs. Henry Goldsmith's Chanukah dinner. Besides, nobody
knew where to lay hands upon Edward Armitage, the author in question,
whose opprobrious production, _Mordecai Josephs_, had scandalized West
"Why didn't he describe our circles?" asked the hostess, an angry fire
in her beautiful eyes. "It would have, at least, corrected the picture.
As it is, the public will fancy that we are all daubed with the same
brush: that we have no thought in life beyond dress, money, and solo
"He probably painted the life he knew," said Sidney Graham, in defence.
"Then I am sorry for him," retorted Mrs. Goldsmith. "It's a great pity
he had such detestable acquaintances. Of course, he has cut himself off
from the possibility of any better now."
The wavering flush on her lovely face darkened with disinterested
indignation, and her beautiful bosom heaved with judicial grief.
"I should hope so," put in Miss Cissy Levine, sharply. She was a pale,
bent woman, with spectacles, who believed in the mission of Israel, and
wrote domestic novels to prove that she had no sense of humor. "No one
has a right to foul his own nest. Are there not plenty of subjects for
the Jew's pen without his attacking his own people? The calumniator of
his race should be ostracized from decent society."
"As according to him there is none," laughed Graham, "I cannot see where
the punishment comes in."
"Oh, he may say so in that book," said Mrs. Montagu Samuels, an amiable,
loose-thinking lady of florid complexion, who dabbled exasperatingly in
her husband's philanthropic concerns from the vain idea that the wife of
a committee-man is a committee-woman. "But he knows better."
"Yes, indeed," said Mr. Montagu Samuels. "The rascal has only written
this to make money. He knows it's all exaggeration and distortion; but
anything spicy pays now-a-days."
"As a West Indian merchant he ought to know," murmured Sidney Graham to
his charming cousin, Adelaide Leon. The girl's soft eyes twinkled, as
she surveyed the serious little city magnate with his placid spouse.
Montagu Samuels was narrow-minded and narrow-chested, and managed to be
pompous on a meagre allowance of body. He was earnest and charitable
(except in religious wrangles, when he was earnest and uncharitable),
and knew himself a pillar of the community, an exemplar to the drones
and sluggards who shirked their share of public burdens and were callous
to the dazzlement of communal honors.
"Of course it was written for money, Monty," his brother, Percy Saville,
the stockbroker, reminded him. "What else do authors write for? It's the
way they earn their living."
Strangers found difficulty in understanding the fraternal relation of
Percy Saville and Montagu Samuels; and did not readily grasp that Percy
Saville was an Anglican version of Pizer Samuels, more in tune with the
handsome well-dressed personality it denoted. Montagu had stuck loyally
to his colors, but Pizer had drooped under the burden of carrying his
patronymic through the theatrical and artistic circles he favored after
business hours. Of such is the brotherhood of Israel.
"The whole book's written with gall," went on Percy Saville,
emphatically. "I suppose the man couldn't get into good Jewish houses,
and he's revenged himself by slandering them."
"Then he ought to have got into good Jewish houses," said Sidney. "The
man has talent, nobody can deny that, and if he couldn't get into good
Jewish society because he didn't have money enough, isn't that proof
enough his picture is true?"
"I don't deny that there are people among us who make money the one open
sesame to their houses," said Mrs. Henry Goldsmith, magnanimously.
"Deny it, indeed? Money is the open sesame to everything," rejoined
Sidney Graham, delightedly scenting an opening for a screed. He liked to
talk bomb-shells, and did not often get pillars of the community to
shatter. "Money manages the schools and the charities, and the
synagogues, and indirectly controls the press. A small body of
persons--always the same--sits on all councils, on all boards! Why?
Because they pay the piper."
"Well, sir, and is not that a good reason?" asked Montagu Samuels. "The
community is to be congratulated on having a few public-spirited men
left in days when there are wealthy German Jews in our midst who not
only disavow Judaism, but refuse to support its institutions. But, Mr.
Graham, I would join issue with you. The men you allude to are elected
not because they are rich, but because they are good men of business and
most of the work to be done is financial."
"Exactly," said Sidney Graham, in sinister agreement. "I have always
maintained that the United Synagogue could be run as a joint-stock
company for the sake of a dividend, and that there wouldn't be an atom
of difference in the discussions if the councillors were directors. I do
believe the pillars of the community figure the Millenium as a time when
every Jew shall have enough to eat, a place to worship in, and a place
to be buried in. Their State Church is simply a financial system, to
which the doctrines of Judaism happen to be tacked on. How many of the
councillors believe in their Established Religion? Why, the very beadles
of their synagogues are prone to surreptitious shrimps and unobtrusive
oysters! Then take that institution for supplying _kosher_ meat. I am
sure there are lots of its Committee who never inquire into the
necrologies of their own chops and steaks, and who regard kitchen
Judaism as obsolete. But, all the same, they look after the finances
with almost fanatical zeal. Finance fascinates them. Long after Judaism
has ceased to exist, excellent gentlemen will be found regulating its
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
"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
_naivete_. "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,"
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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."
"Then we are somewhat in the position of an ancient school-master
lagging superfluous in the school-room where his whilom pupils are
"By no means. Rather of one who stays on to protest against the false
additions of his whilom pupils."
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