A Call to the Educated Jew
This challenge to the educated Jew was delivered at a conference of the Intercollegiate Menorah Association and was published in the first issue of the Menorah Journal (January, 1915) of which Justice Brandeis was then a consulting editor.
While I was in Cleveland a few weeks ago, a young man who has won distinction on the bench told me this incident from his early life. He was born: in a little village of Western Russia where the opportunities for schooling were meager. When he was thirteen his parents sent him to the nearest city in search of an education. There, in Bialystok, were good secondary schools and good high schools; but the Russian law, which limits the percentage of Jewish pupils in any school, barred his admission. The boy's parents lacked the means to pay for private tuition. He had neither relative nor friend in the city. But soon three men were found who volunteered to give him instruction. None of them was a teacher by profession. One was a newspaper man; another was a chemist; the third, as I recall, was a tradesman; all were educated men. And throughout five long years these men took from their leisure the time necessary to give a stranger an education. The three men of Bialystok realized that education was not a thing of one's own to do with what one pleases, that it was not a personal privilege to be merely enjoyed by the possessor, but a precious treasure transmitted; a sacred trust to be held, used and enjoyed, and if possible strengthened, then passed on to others upon the same trust. Yet the treasure which these three men held and which the boy received in trust was much more than an education. It included that combination of qualities which enabled and impelled these three men to give, and the boy to seek and to acquire, an education. These qualities embrace: first, intellectual capacity; second, an appreciation of the value of education; third, indomitable will; fourth, capacity for hard work. It was these qualities which enabled the lad, not only to acquire but to so utilize an education that, corning to America, ignorant of our language and of our institutions he attained in comparatively few years the important office he has so honorably filled.
Whence comes this combination of qualities of mind, body and character? These are qualities with which every one of us is familiar, singly and in combination; which you find in friends and relatives; and which others doubtless discover in you. They are qualities possessed by most Jews who have attained distinction or other success. In combination, they may properly be called Jewish qualities. For they have not come to us by accident; they were developed by three thousand years of civilization, and nearly two thousand years of persecution; developed through our religion and spiritual life; through our traditions; and through the social and political conditions under which our ancestors lived. They are, in short, the product of Jewish life.
Our intellectual capacity was developed by the almost continuous training of the mind throughout twenty-five centuries. The Torah led the "People of the Book" to intellectual pursuits at times when most of the Aryan peoples were illiterate. Religion imposed the use of the mind upon the Jews, indirectly as well as directly. It demanded of the Jew not merely the love, but also the understanding of God. This necessarily involved a study of the Law. The conditions under which the Jews were compelled to live during the last two thousand years promoted study in a people among whom there was already considerable intellectual attainment. Throughout the centuries of persecution practically the only life open to the Jew which could give satisfaction was the intellectual and spiritual life. Other fields of activity and of distinction which divert men from intellectual pursuits were closed to Jews. Thus they were protected by their privations from the temptations of material things and worldly ambitions. Driven by circumstances to intellectual pursuits their mental capacity gradually developed. And as men delight in that which they do well, there was an ever-widening appreciation of things intellectual.
Is not the Jews' indomitable will-the power which enables them to resist temptation and, fully utilizing their mental capacity, to overcome obstacles-is not that quality also the result of the conditions under which they lived so long? To live as a Jew during the centuries of persecution was to lead a constant struggle for existence. That struggle was so severe that only the fittest could survive. Survival was not possible except where there was strong will, a will both to live and to live as a Jew. The weaker ones passed either out of Judaism or out of existence.
And finally, the Jewish capacity for hard work is also the product of Jewish life, a life characterized by temperate, moral living continued throughout the ages, and protected by those marvelous sanitary regulations which were enforced through the religious sanctions. Remember, too, that amidst the hardship to which our ancestors were exposed it was only those with endurance who survived.
So let us not imagine that what we call our achievements are wholly or even largely our own. The phrase "self-made man" is mast misleading. We have power to mar but we alone cannot make. The relatively large success achieved by Jews wherever the door of opportunity was opened to them is due, in the main, to this product of Jewish life, to this treasure which we have acquired by inheritance, and which we are in duty bound to transmit unimpaired, if not augmented, to coming generations.
But our inheritance comprises far mare than this combination of qualities making for effectiveness. These are but means by which man may earn a living or achieve other success. Our Jewish trust comprises also that which makes the living worthy and success of value. It brings us that body of moral and intellectual perceptions, the point of view and the ideals, which are expressed in the term Jewish spirit; and therein lies our richest inheritance.
Is it not a striking fact that a people coming from Russia, the most autocratic of countries, to America, the most democratic of countries, comes here, not as to a strange land, but as to a home? The ability of the Russian Jew to adjust himself to America's essentially democratic conditions is not to be explained by Jewish adaptability. The explanation lies mainly in the fact that .the twentieth century ideals of America have been the ideals of the Jew for more than twenty centuries. We have inherited these ideals of democracy and of social justice as we have the qualities of mind, body and character to which I referred. We have inherited also that fundamental longing for truth on which all science, and so largely the civilization of the twentieth century, rests; although the servility incident to persistent oppression has in some countries obscured its manifestation.
Among the Jews democracy was not an ideal merely. It was a practice, a practice made possible by the existence among them of certain conditions essential to successful democracy, namely:
First: An all-pervading sense of duty in the citizen. Democratic ideals cannot be attained through emphasis merely upon the rights of man. Even a recognition that every right has a correlative duty will not meet the needs of democracy. Duty must be accepted as the dominant conception in life. Such were the conditions in the early days of the colonies and states of New England, when American democracy reached there its fullest expression; for the Puritans were trained in implicit obedience to stern duty by constant study of the Prophets.
Second: Relatively high intellectual attainments. Democratic ideals cannot be attained by the mentally undeveloped. In a government where everyone is part sovereign, everyone should be competent, if not to govern, at least to understand the problems of government; and to this end education is an essential. The early New Englanders appreciated fully that education is an essential of potential equality. The founding of their common school system was coincident with founding of the colonies; and even the establishment of institutions for higher education did not lag far behind. Harvard College was founded but six years after the first settlement of Boston.
Third: Submission to leadership as distinguished from authority. Democratic ideals can be attained only where those who govern exercise their power not by alleged divine right or inheritance, but by force of character and intelligence. Such a condition implies the attainment by citizens generally of relatively high moral and intellectual standards; and such a condition actually existed among the Jews. These men who were habitually denied rights, and whose province it has been for centuries "to suffer and to think," learned not only to sympathize with their fellows (which is the essence of a democracy and social justice), but also to accept voluntarily the leadership of those highly endowed, morally and intellectually.
Fourth: A developed community sense. The sense of duty to which I have referred was particularly effective in promoting democratic ideals among the Jews, because of their deep-seated community feeling. To describe the Jew as an individualist is to state a most misleading half truth. He has to a rare degree merged his individuality and his interests in the community of which he forms a part. This is evidenced among other things by his attitude toward immortality. Nearly every other people has reconciled this world of suffering with the idea of a beneficent Providence by conceiving of immortality for the individual. The individual sufferer bore present ills by regarding this world as merely the preparation for another, in which those living righteously here would find individual reward hereafter. Of all nations, Israel "takes precedence in suffering"; but, despite our national tragedy, the doctrine of individual immortality found relatively slight lodgment among us. As Ahad Ha'am so beautifully said: Judaism did not turn heavenward and create in Heaven m eternal habitation of souls. It found 'eternal life' on earth, by strengthening the social-feeling in the individual; by making him regard himself not as an isolated being with an existence bounded by birth and death, but as .part of a larger whole, as a limb of the social body. This conception shifts the center of gravity of the ego not from the flesh to the spirit, but from the individual to the community; and concurrently with this shifting, the problem of life becomes a problem not of individual, but of social life. I live for the sake of the perpetuation and happiness of the community of which I am a member; I die to make room for new individuals, who will mould the community afresh and not allow it to stagnate and remain forever in one position. When the individual thus values the community as his own life, and strives after its happiness as though it were his individual wellbeing, he finds satisfaction, and no longer feels so keenly the bitterness of his individual existence, because he sees the end for which he lives and suffers." Is not that the very essence of the truly triumphant twentieth-century democracy?
Such is our inheritance; such the estate which we hold in trust. And what are the terms of that trust; what the obligations imposed? The short answer is noblesse oblige; and its command is twofold. It imposes duties upon us in respect to our own conduct as individuals; it imposes no less important duties upon us as part of the Jewish community or people. Self-respect demands that each of us lead individually a life worthy of our great inheritance and of the glorious traditions of the people. But this is demanded also by respect for the rights of others. The Jews have not only been ever known as a "peculiar people"; they were and remain a distinctive and minority people. Now it is one of the necessary incidents of a distinctive and minority people that the act of anyone is in some degree attributed to the whole group. A single though inconspicuous instance of dishonorable conduct on the part of a Jew in any trade or profession has far reaching evil effects extending to the many innocent members of the race. Large as this country is, no Jew can behave badly without injuring each of us in the end. Thus the Rosenthal and the white-slave traffic cases, though local to New York, did incalculable harm to the standing of the Jews throughout the country. The prejudice created may be most unjust; but we may not disregard the fact that such is the result. Since the act of each becomes thus the concern of all, we are perforce our brothers' keepers, exacting even from the lowliest the avoidance of things dishonorable; and we may properly brand the guilty as disloyal to the people.
But from the educated Jew far more should be exacted. In view of our inheritance and our present opportunities, self-respect demands that we live not only honorably but worthily; and worthily implies nobly. The educated descendants of a people which in its infancy cast aside the Golden Calf and put its faith in the invisible God cannot worthily in its maturity worship worldly distinction and things material. "Two men he honors and no third," says Carlyle, "the toil-worn craftsman who conquers the earth and him who is seen toiling for the spiritually indispensable."
And yet, though the Jew make his individual life the loftiest, that alone will not fulfill the obligations of his trust. We are bound not only to use worthily our great inheritance, but to preserve, and if possible, augment it; and then transmit it to coming generations. The fruit of three thousand years of civilization and a hundred generations of suffering may not be sacrificed by us. It will be sacrificed if dissipated. Assimilation is national suicide. And assimilation can be prevented only by preserving national characteristics and life as other peoples, large and small, are preserving and developing their national life. Shall we with our inheritance do less than the Irish, the Serbians, or the Bulgars? And must we not, like them, have a land where the Jewish life may be naturally led, the Jewish language spoken, and the Jewish spirit prevail? Surely we must, and that land is our fathers' land; it is Palestine.
The undying longing for Zion is a fact of deepest significance, a manifestation in the struggle for existence.
The establishment of the legally secured Jewish home is no longer a dream. For more than a generation brave pioneers have been building the foundations of our new old home. It remains for us to build the super-structure. The Ghetto walls are now falling. Jewish life cannot be preserved and developed, assimilation cannot be averted, unless there be reestablished in the fatherland a center from which the Jewish spirit may radiate and give to the Jews scattered throughout the world that inspiration which springs from the memories of a great past and the hope of a great future.
The glorious past can really live only if it becomes the mirror of a glorious future; and to this end the Jewish home in Palestine is essential. We Jews of prosperous America above all need its inspiration.
The following excerpt is from an address delivered before the Collegiate Zionist Society of Columbia University, May 2, 1915
We must make common cause with the small nations of the world. The big nations must surely come to the day when they will recognize that it is bad national policy to suppress any people in an effort to uproot its national instinct. We have had much of that in Russia. They tried to make people of every nationality conform to the national traits of Russia.
Is England less glorious because all of the little nations that went to make up England were permitted to develop naturally and constitute units within the greater unit? Is England wronged because the Scotch are different from the Welsh and the Irish are different from the English?
Disabilities are imposed upon the Jews in Russia, where they are denied the freedom to move about, the right to own land, the rights fundamental to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. To win these rights is the only solution possible for the Jewish problem, for any other solution involves suicide and death to Jewish aspirations. We must demand group liberty as well as individual liberty.
Dreams May Be Made Into Realities
The following four items consist of remarks delivered before the Convention of the Federation of American Zionists held in Boston and Chelsea in June, 1915.
This great assembly manifests the essential unity of the Jewish people. Those who are in this crowded hall, together wid1 those who have failed to gain admittance constitute a large part of the Jews of Massachusetts. You testify by your presence to your great interest in the movement which is destined to lead to the solution of the Jewish problem. Zionism points the way to a solution, because it will enable the Jewish people to help themselves and thus be also of greatest service to the world; Zionism will make it possible for Jews to put an end to wholesale misery and not merely alleviate it.
I interpret your presence here as an expression of your faith; as testimony to your interest; as a promise to aid in carrying forward the Jewish ideals; as a determination to realize the Jewish hope of the twentieth century. Realization demands of you, of course, much more than expressions of sympathy. It demands action, and since you are Americans, we expect from you that you bind yourselves together by organizations into an effective body. By so doing you will not only manifest indomitable will; you will fashion the indispensable instrument for achievement. Stand up, each and everyone of you, and be counted. Join the Zionist Organization and shoulder your part in this great movement. Only by bearing your part can you be true to the Jewish people, just as you can be true to the American Government only by doing your share. No American, man or woman, may shirk when a great cause is to be striven for and won.
Such is our duty as Jews and as Americans. By battling for the Zionist cause, the American ideal of democracy, of social justice and of liberty will be given wider expression. By such action the manhood and womanhood of American Jews will be made manifest to the world. By concrete action, the prayer of twenty centuries will be made to come true. The great Herzl was right when he said in his Altneuland, "If you wish it, it is no fable." Dreams may be made into realities.
It is fitting that I should preface the report of the Provisional Committee with this statement: What has been accomplished is due primarily to the great cause which we represent, and next to the constant aid and support given us at home and abroad by the officials of the United States Government. Without the aid given by officials of the Department of State and of the Navy Department, it would have been impossible to render the assistance which has preserved the Palestinian colonies and saved our brethren from distress. In recounting the aid nobly given us by this great Republic, it would be invidious to name individuals. For help has been given, generously and graciously, by every official of the United States, highest or lowest, whenever help was possible. But it may be proper to mention Ambassador Morgenthau, because he is a Jew. With signal devotion, and with the efficiency and ability which is his own, he has watched over our interests. Supported by a great and sympathetic government he has done all that man could do to aid our efforts to preserve and protect Zionist institutions and the Jews of Palestine.
The path of the Zionist in America, during this year of trial, has been relatively clear solely because the Zionist ideals, the highest Jewish ideals, are essentially the American ideals. Democracy is also a Zionist concept. Social justice is also a Zionist aim. Full and complete liberty is an essential of triumphant Zionism as it is the American ideal of the twentieth century. As Americans, and as Jews battling for American ideals, we may look forward to the support of a great majority of the Jews of the United States.
The detail of the work of the Provisional Committee will be stated at later meetings of Convention week. But this I should say on behalf of the committee. We believe as must each of you, that the day for which Rabbi Berlin prayed is near, the day when we Zionists will speak only of Jews, for practically all Jews will be Zionists.
The Zionist Movement is Democratic
All of you will agree with me that we have had a wonderfully successful convention or series of conventions, and that the plan of bringing together all the various organizations that we might each learn what the other is doing has proved a wise one. Now the question is one of the future. The Success that we have attained, the interest that we have awakened by means of the convention throughout the country gives us hope that there is opportunity to accomplish much. We must make it our task to increase greatly the number of those who become directly affiliated with our organization, who are willing to stand up and be counted, and having been counted, are willing to lend support in various ways. The Zionist movement is essentially democratic and, being that, it must rest upon the activity of the many and their appreciation of what we are attempting. To develop our Palestine institutions we must also have large resources, and we should not get it from the affluent few but from the people, from our own members, taxing themselves voluntarily each one to the limit of his means. We ought to begin right now with a resolve to extend to the utmost of our ability the opportunities and activity of the organization in each and very community.
Every Jew a Zionist
We have come to Chelsea. We have transferred our meeting to another city. In doing so, we have made an exception to a rule hitherto adhered to vigorously by the Zionist conventions. We have not done this because the invitation extended was uncommonly gracious. We have come because in Chelsea Jews constitute a larger percentage of the population than in any other city of the United States; because the Jews of Chelsea have, by their conduct, given to the Jewish name a good reputation here and throughout the Commonwealth; because one of our great leaders has told us that nowhere in the wide world had he been given more sympathetic and intelligent attention than by your city. These are the reasons why we accepted the Chelsea invitation.
We did so, not, however, as a compliment. We have come in order to achieve for our movement something both definite and practical. We want not merely Zionist sympathy, we want definite Zionist action. That is essential to the development of our movement. It is indispensable to acquiring the influence which w expect to exercise among the nations of the world. The Jews of America must manifest their interest by overt acts. They must stand up and be counted. They must show by sacrifices their readiness to support the cause which we espouse.
Chelsea, we believe, is the place where the plan which we have formulated should be inaugurated; our purpose is to make every adult Jew in this city a member of a Zionist society. We say every Jew, women as well as men, for in the Zionist organization there prevails equal suffrage, equal rights. Equal rights spell equal obligations. Indeed no part of the Zionist membership has shown a more definite determination to bear its obligations than Hadassah, the women's organization. I may add that measures and projects evidencing the highest statesmanship manifested in the conduct of our Palestinian colonies have originated in the minds of the women. And they have been carried out largely through their determination, persistence and devotion. So in asking for the enrollment of the Jews in Chelsea, we are making no distinction; men and women, both, are equally welcome.
We shall not be satisfied merely with the enrollment of the twenty-five hundred adult Jews of Chelsea. We ask that in the appropriate manner every child also should be enrolled. Boys and girls should be enrolled as members of Young Judaea. There they will be trained in Zionism. There they will learn to know their ancestors' great past. There they will be taught to live in a way becoming that past; and when they grow up, the, too, shall be equipped for the harder task of Palestine building even better than their parents. Therefore, we propose that not only shall the twenty-five hundred adult Jews become members of some local Chelsea Zionist organization; their children shall become members of Young Judaea. And as shekel payers all should be formally associated with the Zionist Organization.
More than two years ago it was my great privilege to come to Chelsea on the occasion of a banquet given by the Young Men's Hebrew Association. The young men whom I then met were full of determination. They made me believe more strongly than ever in the possibilities of the American Jew. Their membership, as I recall, is about three hundred; I propose to them this task: Let these three hundred men enlist as volunteers, under a committee to be formed by your Chairman, Mr. Lourie, and undertake the task of enrolling the Jews of Chelsea, both parents and children, in the Zionist organization. In this way they may prove that they are prepared to make sacrifices for the cause.
When Chelsea has performed this task, we propose, with your example as our slogan, to attempt the same work in other cities of the Commonwealth. The other cities are less favorably situated in this respect than yours. But with your good example and the lesson learned through your experience, we shall be encouraged to attempt the enrollment of the Jews of Massachusetts. With Massachusetts won, we shall proceed to other New England States, and finally to other parts of the country. By steady pursuit of these means we may hope to secure formal recognition of the demands of the Jewish people. Such action will be compelling evidence to the world of Jewish unity. It will make manifest the Jewish determination to secure for the Jews everywhere full liberty. And in that is included the right to a publicly recognized, legally secured home in Palestine.