"Brethren," said the spokesman of the delegation, struggling with his sobs, "we are a committee of the Jewish students of the university, sent to clasp hands with you and to mingle our tears with your tears. We are here to say to you, `We are your brothers; Jews like yourselves, like our fathers!' We have striven to adopt the language and manners of our Christian fellow countrymen; we have brought ourselves up to an ardent love of their literature, of their culture, of their progress. We have tried to persuade ourselves that we are children of Mother Russia. Alas! we have been in error. The terrible events which have called forth this fast and these tears have aroused us from our dream. The voice of the blood of our outraged brothers and sisters cries unto us that we are only strangers in the land which we have been used to call our home; that we are only stepchildren here, waifs to be trampled upon and dishonored. There is no hope for Israel in Russia. The salvation of the downtrodden people lies in other parts,--in a land beyond the seas, which knows no distinction of race or faith, which is a mother to Jew and Gentile alike. In the great republic is our redemption from the brutalities and ignominies to which we are subjected in this our birthplace. In America we shall find rest; the stars and stripes will wave over the true home of our people. To America, brethren! To America!"
On February 2, 1882, a public meeting was held at Checkering Hall, New York. The proceedings were presided over by William R. Grace, then mayor of the city, with Judge Noah Davis, Hamilton Fish, Robert L. Stuart, Anson Phelps Stokes, Charles H. Van Brunt, Joseph H. Choate, and other well-known citizens as vice-chairmen. Ex-Secretary Evarts and the Rev. Dr. Hale were the principal speakers. The resolutions, adopted unanimously, and which met with the hearty approval of the entire American people, recited "that the citizens of New York have heard with sadness and indignation of the sufferings inflicted upon the Jews of Russia," and "that in the name of civilization we protest against the spirit of medieval persecution. In this age the recognized equality of all men, irrespective of their religious confessions, an essential element in American constitutions, is a principle and a practice which secures the loyal devotion of all classes. This is eminently true of the Hebrews, who constitute faithful citizens and subjects wherever accorded the rights of manhood." The resolutions continued: "We sympathize with our fellow citizens of the Hebrew faith in their sorrow for their afflicted brethren in Russia and in their energetic efforts for the welcome of the exiles."
The two gatherings, held in two hemispheres, mark the opening of an important chapter in the history of the Jewish race, the beginning of a new great exodus of the wandering people. In the summer following the Checkering Hall meeting almost every incoming transatlantic steamship brought hundreds of Russian refugees to these shores.
Before 1882 the emigration of Russian Jews to America was restricted to the provinces lying about the Niemen and the Dwina, notably to the government of Souvalki, where economical conditions caused Catholic peasants as well as Jewish tradesmen and artisans to go elsewhere "in search of bread." Some of these Lithuanian and Polish Jews sought their fortune in the southern districts of the empire, where their brethren enjoyed a high average of prosperity, while the more venturesome crossed the frontier to embark for the New World. Among the Jews of the south (Ukraine and New Russia) and of the central provinces (Great Russia) self- expatriation was an unknown thing. But with the breaking out of the epidemic of anti-Jewish riots, which rendered thousands of well-to-do families homeless and penniless, Hebrew immigration to this country underwent an abrupt change in character as well as in volume.
Not only did the government of Alexander III blink at the atrocities and practically encourage them, but it even sent a series of measures in their wake which had the effect of depriving new multitudes of "stepchildren" of their means of livelihood, and of dislodging thousands of families from their long-established homes. The cry "To America!" was taken up by city after city and hamlet after hamlet, till its fascinating echo reached every synagogue in the empire. Many left because they had been driven from their homes, and these were joined by many others who, while affected neither by the outbursts of mob violence nor by the new restrictions, succumbed to the contagious example of their co-religiosity and to a general sense of insecurity and of wounded race pride. The efflux which had hitherto been sporadic suddenly became epidemic. The prosperous and the cultivated--an element formerly rare among the Jewish arrivals at New York--came to form a respectable minority in nearly every company of immigrants which, thanks to the assistance of Hebrew communities of western Europe and of this country, the steamships brought from the domains of the Czar. The Jewish college student, whose faith barred him from the educational institutions of the empire, sought these shores in order to complete his studies, and many a graduated physician, chemist, dentist, architect, and artist came here to take up the profession from which he was interdicted at his birthplace.
Sixteen years have elapsed. The Jewish population in the United States has grown from a quarter of a million to about one million. Scarcely a large American town but has some Russo-Jewish names in its directory, with an educated Russian-speaking minority forming a colony within a Yiddish-speaking colony, while cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston have each a Ghetto rivaling in extent of population the largest Jewish cities in Russia, Austria, and Roumania. The number of Jewish residents in Manhattan Borough is estimated at two hundred and fifty thousand, making it the largest centre of Hebrew population in the world. The Russian tongue, which twenty years ago was as little used in this country as Persian, has been added to the list of languages spoken by an appreciable portion of the polyglot immigrant population.
Have the newcomers justified the welcome extended to them from Chickering Hall? Have they proved a desirable accession to the American nation?
"Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips," is a proverb current among the people who form the subject of this paper; and being one of them, I feel that it would be better, before citing figures and facts, to let Gentile Americans who have made a study of the New York Ghetto answer the question. Here is what Mr. Jacob A. Riis, an accepted authority on "how the other half lives," has to say of Jewish immigrants:--
They [the Jews] do not rot in their slum, but, rising, pull it up after them....As to their poverty, they brought us boundless energy and industry to overcome it....They brought temperate habits and a redeeming love of home. Their strange customs proved the strongest ally of the Gentile health officer in his warfare upon the slum. The death-rate of poverty-stricken Jew-town, despite its crowding, is lower always than that of the homes of the rich....I am a Christian, and hold that in his belief the Jew is sadly in error. So that he may respect mine I insist on fair play for him all round. I am sure that our city has to-day no better and no more loyal citizen than the Jew, be he poor or rich, and none she has less to be ashamed of.The late Miss Ida Van Etten, who as a worker among the factory girls of the East Side, had ample opportunities to study the Russian Jew at close range, found that "politically the Jews possess many characteristics of the best citizens."
Mr. James B. Reynolds, who, in his capacity of head worker of the university settlement of New York, has for many years been in direct touch with the people of the very heart of the Jewish district, gives the following general description of Hebrew immigrants:--
My acquaintance has been mainly with the Russian, Polish and Roumanian Jews. The first quality in them which impresses me is their intellectual avidity. Much has been said about their desire for gain. But while one must recognize among them an almost universal and certainly commendable desire to improve their condition, the proportionate number of those with intellectual aims is larger than that of any other race that I have encountered. An essential oriental quality of mind and character also impresses me. This is reflected in a deep intensity of feeling, high imagination, and quickly varying emotions. Another oriental attribute is an occasional outburst of the extremest idealism, with an utter disregard of the restraining power of circumstances and conditions. This extreme idealism sometimes makes them impractical, but combined with their intellectual traits produces a character often full of imagination, aspiration, and appreciation.Another Gentile American whose statement is entitled to consideration is Mr. Lawrence Dunphy, superintendent of the workhouse at Blackwell's Island (New York City), who is quoted in the report submitted in 1893 by Dr. Radin, visiting chaplain of prisons, to the Jewish Ministers' Association.
"Rabbi," said Mr. Dunphy (in 1892, ten years after the beginning of the great Jewish influx) to the author of the report, "I am happy to say that we do not need a Jewish chaplain at the workhouse. We have a very small number of Jews among the prisoners. You can be proud of your race: you are indeed a good class of citizens. Usually, the degraded people confined at the workhouse once are brought back very often; but I have very seldom seen a Jew brought back here a second time."
Such are the impressions of Christian Americans on a subject upon which they speak with the confidence of positive knowledge, the result of close and unbiased observation. If there are people who take a less favorable view of the Russian and the Polish Hebrew, they are not to be found among those whose opportunities for studying the subject by personal observation and whose qualifications for the task are known to the public.
The question of limiting immigration engages the attention of Congress at frequent intervals, and bills aiming at reform in this direction are brought before the Senate and the House. In its bearings upon the Russian, Austrian, or Roumanian Jew, the case is summed up by the opinions cited. Now let us hear the testimony of facts on the subject. The invasion of foreign illiteracy is one of the principal dangers which laws restricting immigration are meant to ally, and it is with the illiteracy of the New York Ghetto that we shall concern ourselves first.
The last report of the commissioner-general of immigration gives twenty-eight per cent as the proportion of illiterates among the immigrants who came during the past year from Russia. the figure would be much lower, should the computation be confined to immigrants of the Mosaic faith instead of including the mass of Polish and Lithuanian peasants, of whose number only a very small part can read and write. It may not be generally known that every Russian and Polish Jew, without exception, can read his Hebrew Bible as well as a Yiddish newspaper, and that many of the Jewish arrivals at the barge office are versed in rabbinical literature, not to speak of the large number of those who can read and write Russian. When attention is directed to the Russian Jew in America, a state of affairs is found which still further removes him from the illiterate class, and gives him a place among the most ambitious and the quickest to learn both the written and the spoken language of the adopted country, and among the easiest to be assimilated with the population.
The cry raised by the Russian anti-Semites against the backwardness of the Jew in adopting the tongue and the manners of his birthplace, in the same breath in which they urge the government to close the doors of its schools to subjects of the Hebrew faith, reminds one of the hypocritical miser who kept his gate guarded by ferocious dogs, and then reproached his destitute neighbor with holding himself aloof. This country, where the schools and colleges do not discriminate between Jew and Gentile, has quite another tale to tell. The several public evening schools of the New York Ghetto, the evening school supported from the Baron de Hirsch fund, and the two or three private establishments of a similar character are attended by thousands of Jewish immigrants, the great majority of whom come here absolutely ignorant of the language of their native country. Surely nothing can be more inspiring to the public-spirited citizen, nothing worthier of the interest of the student of immigration, than the sight of a gray-haired tailor, a patriarch in appearance, coming, after a hard day's work at a sweat-shop, to spell "cat, mat, rat," and to grapple with the difficulties of "th" and "w." Such a spectacle may be seen in scores of the class-rooms in the schools referred to. Hundreds of educated Young Hebrews earn their living, and often pay their way through college, by giving private lessons in English in the tenement houses of the district,--a type of young men and women peculiar to the Ghetto. The pupils of these private tutors are the same poor overworked sweat-shop "hands" of whom the public hears so much and knows so little. A tenement house kitchen turned, after a scanty supper, into a class-room, with the head of the family and his boarder bent over an English school reader, may perhaps claim attention as one of the curiosities of life in a great city; in the Jewish quarter, however, it is a common spectacle.
Nor does the tailor or peddler who hires these tutors, as a rule, content himself with an elementary knowledge of the language of his new home. I know many Jewish workmen who before they came here knew not a word of Russian, and were ignorant of any book except the Scriptures, or perhaps the Talmud, but whose range of English reading places them on a level with the average college-bred American.
The grammar schools of the Jewish quarter are overcrowded with children of immigrants, who, for progress and deportment, are rated with the very best in the city. At least 500 of 1677 students at the New York City College, where tuition and books are free, are Jewish boys from the East Side. The poor laborer who will pinch himself to keep his child at college, rather than send him to a factory that he may contribute to the family's income, is another type peculiar to the Ghetto.
The innumerable Yiddish publications with which the quarter is flooded are also a potent civilizing and Americanizing agency. The Russian Jews of New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago have within the last fifteen years created a vast periodical literature which furnishes intellectual food not only to themselves, but also to their brethren in Europe. A feverish literary activity unknown among the Jews in Russia, Roumania, and Austria, but which has arisen here among the immigrants from those countries, educates thousands of ignorant tailors and peddlers, lifts their intelligence, facilitates their study of English, and opens to them the doors of the English library. The five million Jews living under the Czar had not a single Yiddish daily paper even when the government allowed such publications, while their fellow countrymen and co- religionists who have taken up their abode in America publish six dailies (five in New York and one in Chicago), not to mention the countless Yiddish weeklies and monthlies, and the pamphlets and books which to-day make New York the largest Yiddish book market in the world. If much that is contained in these publications is rather crude, they are in this respect as good--or as bad-- as a certain class of English novels and periodicals from which they partly derive their inspiration. On the other hand, their readers are sure to find in them a good deal of what would be worthy of a more cultivated language. They have among their contributors some of the best Yiddish writers in the world, men of undeniable talent, and these supply the Jewish slums with popular articles on science, on the history and institutions of the adopted country, translations from the best literatures of Europe and America, as well as original sketches, stories, and poems of decided merit. It is sometimes said (usually by those who know the Ghetto at second hand) that this unnatural development of Yiddish journalism threatens to keep the immigrant from an acquaintance with English. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Yiddish periodicals are so many preparatory schools from which the reader is sooner or later promoted to the English newspaper, just as the several Jewish theatres prepare his way to the Broadway playhouse, or as the Yiddish lecture serves him as a stepping-stone to that English-speaking, self-educational society, composed of workingmen who have lived a few years in the country, which is another characteristic feature of life in the ghetto. Truly, the Jews "do not rot in their slum, but, rising, pull it up after them."
Foreign criminality is the next evil with which restrictive legislation is to grapple. As to the Jews, it may suffice, in addition to Superintendent Dunphy's experience, to point out the fact that while they constitute six per cent of the total population of the state of New York, they furnish only three per cent of the prisoners of that state. When attention is limited to the immigrant residents in the state, which is more to the point, the statistical data on the subject are still more favorable to the Jews. The ratio of foreign-born Jews to the total immigrant population is fifteen per cent, yet less than five per cent of the foreign-born prisoners in the state are of the Hebrew race.
The influx of foreign pauperism is another source of alarm to the immigration reformer. "The foreign population of this country," says Dr. Wines in his Eleventh Census Bulletin, "contributes, directly or indirectly, in the persons of the foreign-born or of their immediate descendants, very nearly three fifths of all the paupers supported in almshouses." In the case of the Jews, however, the situation is more than reassuring. This will be seen by contrasting this general proportion with the figures quoted in Dr. Radin's report: "That eleven Jewish inmates are to be found at the Blackwell's Island almshouse among a total of 2170 males is sufficient proof how little the poor and needy among us become a burden on public charity. those who are opposed to the immigration of Jews may heed this."
Of far greater importance, however, is the effect which immigration has upon the general scale of wages. Speaking of the poor and ignorant foreigners who seek these shores, United States Senator Fairbanks observed (in his speech delivered before the Senate in defense of the anti-illiteracy bill, January 11, 1898): "Their standard of living and wages is such that they will accept lower compensation and harder conditions than our own workmen could or should accept. The natural and inevitable result of their coming will be to depress the wages of labor....the consideration of the pending measure, as Mr. Blaine said of the Chinese exclusion act, `connects itself intimately and inseparably with the labor question.'" It is labor, then, whose interests are to be consulted primarily; and against the Jewish immigrants labor has no grievance.
The only time when Jewish laborers threatened to come in serious conflict with the cause of American workingmen was during the great longshoremen's strike of 1882, at the very beginning of the new era in the history of Jewish immigration. Ignorant of the meaning of strikes, the newcomers blindly allowed themselves to be persuaded by representatives of ship- owners to take the places of former employees. No sooner, however, had the situation been explained to the "scabs" than they abandoned their wheelbarrows, amid the applause of the striking Gentiles. Since then the Jewish workmen have been among the most faithful members of the various trades-unions of the country. Outside of the clothing trades, Russian and Polish Jews are to be found in considerable numbers in the cigar industry, in the silk factories and the hat factories of New Jersey, in the shoe factories of Massachusetts, in the machine shops of Connecticut, among the jewelers of Rhode Island, and in several other trades: in all these employments their relations with their American associates are of the most cordial nature. Whatever may be the social chances of a Jewish banker, the Jewish workingmen of New England and their American shopmates are on visiting terms. So far from depressing wages and bringing down the standard of living, the Jewish workingman has been among the foremost in the struggle for the interests of the wage-earning class of the country. If he brings with him a lower standard of living, his keen susceptibilities, his "intellectual avidity," and his "almost universal and certainly commendable desire to improve his condition" impel him to raise that standard to the level of is new surroundings. Unlike some of the immigrants of other nationalities, the Essex Street Jew does not remain here in the same plight in which he came. Poor as he is, he strives to live like a civilized man, and the money which another workman perhaps might spend on drink and sport he devotes to the improvement of his home and the education of this children. When Senator Fairbanks speaks of "that immigration which does not seek to build homes among us" as the most objectionable element, as one whose "exclusion will be no loss," he surely cannot refer to the Russian Jew; and if "it may be stated as axiomatic that home-builders are good citizens," the Jewish immigrant makes a very good citizen indeed.
I have visited the houses of many American workingmen, in New England and elsewhere, as well as the residences of their Jewish shopmates, and I have found scarcely a point of difference. The squalor of the typical tenement house of the ghetto is far more objectionable and offensive to the people who are doomed to live in it than to those who undertake slumming expeditions as a fad, and is entirely due to the same economical conditions which are responsible for the lack of cleanliness in the homes of such poor workingmen as are classed among the most desirable contribution to the population. The houses of the poor Irish laborers who dwell on the outskirts of the great New York Ghetto (and they are not worse than the houses occupied by the poor Irish families of the West Side) are not better, in point of cleanliness, than the residences of their Jewish neighbors. The following statement, which is taken from the report made by the tenement house committee to the Senate and Assembly of the state of New York on January 17, 1895, throws light on the subject.
"It is evident," says the committee, "that there are other potent causes besides density of population at work to affect the death-rate of the tenement districts, and the most obvious one is race or nationality. It will be observed at once that the words showing the greatest house density combined with a low death-rate, namely the tenth and seventh wards, are very largely populated by Russian and Polish Jews. This is, in fact, the Jewish quarter of the city. On the other hand, the wards having the highest death-rate...constitute two of the numerous Italian colonies which are distributed through the city....The greatest density (57.2 tenants to a house) is in the tenth ward (almost exclusively occupied by Jews), which also has the lowest death- rate....The low death-rates of the seventh and tenth wards are largely accounted for by the fact previously mentioned, that they are populated largely by Russian Jews."
To be sure, life in a tenth ward tenement house is wretched enough, but this has nothing to do with the habits and inclinations of its inmates. It is a broad subject, one which calls in question the whole economic arrangement of our time, and of which the sweating system--the great curse of the Ghetto--is only one detail.
Is the Russian Jew responsible for the sweating system? He did not bring it with him. He found it already developed here. In its varied forms it exists in other industries as well as in the tailoring trades. But far from resigning himself to his burden the Jewish tailor is ever struggling to shake it from his shoulder. Nor are his efforts futile. In many instances the sweat- shop system has been abolished or its curse mitigated. The sweating system and its political ally the "ward heeler" are accountable for ninety-nine percent of whatever vice may be found in the Ghetto, and the Jewish tailor is slowly but surely emancipating himself from both. "The redemption of the workers must be effected by the workers themselves" is the motto of the two dailies which the Jewish workingmen publish for themselves in New York. The recurring tailor strikes, whose frequency has been seized upon by the "funny men" of the daily press, are far less droll than they are represented to be. Would that the public could gain a deeper insight into these struggles than is afforded by newspaper reports! Hidden under an uncouth surface would be found a great deal of what constitutes the true poetry of modern life,--tragedy more heart- rending, examples of a heroism more touching, more noble, and more thrilling, than anything that the richest imagination of the romanticist can invent. While to the outside observer the struggles may appear a fruitless repetition of meaningless conflicts, they are, like the great labor movement of which they are a part, ever marching onward, ever advancing.
The anti-Semitic assertion that the Jew as a rule avoids productive labor, which is pure calumny so far as the Jews of Russia, Austria, and Roumania are concerned, would certainly be out of place in this country, where at least eighty per cent of all Jewish immigrants are among the most diligent wage-earners. As to the remainder, it includes, besides a large army of poor peddlers, thousands of such "business men" as news-dealers and ragmen, whose occupations are scarcely less productive or more agreeable than manual labor. More than ninety per cent of all the news-stands and news-routes in the city of New York are now in the hands of Russian Jews, and most of the rag-peddlers of New England are persons of the same nationality.
Farming settlement of Jews have not been very successful in this country. there are some Jews in Connecticut, in New Jersey, and in the western states who derive a livelihood from agriculture, but the majority of the Jewish immigrants who took to tilling the soil in the eighties have been compelled to sell or to abandon their farms, and to join the urban population. but how many American farmers have met with a similar fate! This experience is part of the same great economic question, and it does not seem to have any direct bearing on the peculiar inclinations or disinclinations of the Hebrew race. It may not be generally known that in southern Russia there are hundreds of flourishing farms which are owned and worked by Jews, although, owing to their legal disabilities, the titles are fictitiously held by Christians.
Hundreds of Russian and Polish Jews have been more or less successful in business, and the names of several of them are to be found on the signs along Broadway, but the richest is hardly worth a quarter of a million.
As to the educated Jewish immigrants, the college-bred men and women who constitute the professional class and the intellectual aristocracy of the Ghetto, judged by the standard of the slum district, they are prosperous.
The first educated Russian Hebrews to come to this country were attracted neither by the American colleges nor by the access of their race to a professional career. In the minds of some cultured enthusiasts, the general craze for shaking off the dust of the native land and seeking shelter under the stars and stripes crystallized in the form of a solution of the Jewish question. Of the two movements which were set on foot in 1882 by the Palestinians and the Americans, the American movement seemed the more successful. Several emigrant parties (the eternal People, New Odessa) were sent out with a view to establishing agricultural colonies. the whole Jewish race was expected by the Americans to follow suit in joining the farming force of the United States, and numbers of Jewish students left the Russian universities and gymnasiums to enlist in the pioneer parties. All these parties broke up, some immediately upon reaching New York, others after an abortive attempt to put their plans into practice, although in several instances undertakings in the same direction have proved partially successful. The would-be pioneers were scattered through out the Union, where they serve their brethren as physicians, druggists, dentists, lawyers, or teachers.
Only from three to five per cent of the vacancies in the Russian universities and gymnasiums are now open to applicants of the mosaic faith. As a consequence, the various university towns of Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, France, and Austria have each a colony of Russo-Jewish pilgrims of learning. The impecunious student, however, finds a university course in those countries inaccessible. Much more favorable in this respect is the United States, where students from among the Jewish immigrants find it possible to sustain themselves during their college course by some occupation; and this advantage has to some extent made this country the Mecca of that class of young men. It is not, however, always the educated young men, the graduates of Russian gymnasiums, from whom the Russian members of the American colleges are recruited. Not to speak of the hundreds of immigrant boys and girls who reach the New York City College or the Normal College by way of the grammar schools of the Ghetto, there are in the colleges of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston, as well as among the professional men of the Jewish colonies, not a few former peddlers or workmen who received their first lessons in the rudimentary branches of education within the walls of an American tenement house. I was once consulted by an illiterate Jewish peddler of thirty-two who was at a loss to choose between a medical college and a dry goods store. "I have saved two thousand dollars," he said. "Some friends advise me to go into the dry goods business, but I wish to be an educated man and live like one." There are several practicing physicians with a similar history in the Ghetto, and in fairness it must be said that by reading and study, while at college and afterward, some of them have become well-informed and cultivated men. Altogether there are in New York alone about one hundred and fifty Russian physicians, about five hundred druggists and drug clerks, some twenty lawyers, from thirty to forty dentists, and several representatives of each of the other professions.
The Russian-speaking population is represented also in the colleges for women. There are scores of educated Russian girls in the sweat-shops, and their life is one of direst misery,--of overwork in the shop, and of privations at home.
Politically the Jewish quarter is among the most promising districts in the metropolis. The influence of the vote-buyer, which is the blight of every poor neighborhood in the city, becomes in the Ghetto smaller and smaller. There is no method of determining the number of votes which are secured for either of the two leading parties by any of the several forms of bribery enumerated by Mr. James Bryce; but there are always some reform parties in the field which have no money to put up, and whose vote--whatever might be said of their doctrines--is exclusively one of principle. At the last municipal election there were four such parties in Greater new York. These were, the Citizens' Union,--whose candidate for mayor, Mr. Low, appealed to the voters for purity in municipal; elections,--the Socialist Labor party, the Henry George Democracy, and the Prohibitionists. In the four Assembly districts (the fourth, eight, twelfth, and sixteenth) composing the main Ghetto to the metropolis, the aggregate vote polled by these four reform parties was 8678 (with Low in the lead, and the Socialist as a good second) in a total vote of 25,643,--a proportion which gives the Jewish quarter a place among the least corruptible districts in the city. if some immigrants have not the "adequate conception of the significance of our institutions" of which Senator Fairbanks speaks, it is the American slum politician who gives the newcomer lessons in that conception; and if it happens to be an object lesson in the form of a two-dollar bill and a drink, the political organization which depends upon such a mode of "rolling up a big vote" is certainly as much to blame as the ignorant bribe-taker.
The ward heeler is as active in the Ghetto as elsewhere. Aided by an army of "workers," which is largely made up of the lowest dregs of the neighborhood, he knocks, on election day, at the door of every tenement house apartment, while on the street the vote market goes on in open daylight as freely as it did before there was a Parkhurst to wage war against a guilty police organization. This statement is true of every destitute district, and the Jewish quarter is no exception to the rule. As was revealed by the Lexow committee, some of the leading district "bosses" in the great city, including civil justice, owe their power to the political cooperation of criminals and women of the street. Unfortunately this is also the case with the Jewish neighborhood, where every wretch living on the profits of vice, almost without exception, is a member of some political club and active "worker" for one of the two "machines," and where, during the campaign, every disreputable house is turned into an electioneering centre. If the tenth ward has come to be called "the Klondike" of the police, so much the worse for the parties who are directly responsible for the evil which justifies both that appellation and the name of the "Tenderloin," which is borne by a more prosperous neighborhood than the Ghetto.
The malady is painful enough, but it is not the guilty politician from whom the remedy is to be expected. As to the Jewish quarter, the doctrine of self-help is practiced by the working men politically as well as economically. In proportion as the intelligence of the district is raised by the thousand and one educational agencies at work, "the many characteristics of the best citizens" with which Miss Van Etten was impressed in the Jews of the East Side come to the front, and the power of the corruptionist wanes.
The immigration reformer's dread of foreign socialism is scarcely consistent with his classification of the various nationalities who immigrate in large numbers. To judge from the overwhelming social-democratic vote in Germany, a large proportion of the Germans who come to our ports are socialist, and yet they are placed at the very top of the list of desirable immigrants. Moreover, with some twenty states of the union officially recognizing the socialist labor Party and printing its ballots, a crusade against the doctrine by the government would be a self-contradiction. Nor is it true that socialism is a foreign importation. The two socialist aldermen in the country (at Paterson, New Jersey, and Haverhill, Massachusetts) were elected by American working men; the new socialist organization called the Social Democracy is largely composed of Americans, and makes converts among the native elements of the working class. the Jewish immigrants, at all events, bring no socialism with them; and if it is true that the socialist following among Jewish workingmen is considerable and is growing, they owe it to the economic conditions which surround them here and to the influence of the American socialist with whom they come in contact. Like other socialists, they look to the ballotbox for the changes which they advocate. It is the Jewish socialist who leads the neighborhood in its fight against the political and moral turpitude which the politician spreads in the tenement houses.
The Jewish immigrants look upon the United States as their country, and now that it is engaged in war they do not shirk their duty. They have contributed three times their quota of volunteers to the army, and they had their representatives among the first martyrs of the campaign, two of the brave American sailors who were wounded at Cardenas and Cienfuegos being the sons of Hebrew immigrants.
The Russian Jew brings with him the quaint customs of a religion full of poetry and of the sources of good citizenship. The orthodox synagogue is not merely a house of prayer; it is an intellectual centre, a mutual aid society, a fountain of self-denying altruism, and a literary club, no less than a place of worship. The study-rooms of the hundreds of synagogues, where the good old people of the Ghetto come to read and discuss "words of law" as well as the events of the day, are crowded every evening in the week with poor street peddlers, and with those gray-haired, misunderstood sweat-shop hands of whom the public hears every time a tailor strike is declared. So few are the joys which this world has to spare for these overworked, enfeebled victims of "the inferno of modern times" that their religion is to many of them the only thing which makes life worth living. In the fervor of prayer or the abandon of religious study they forget the grinding poverty of their homes. Between the walls of the synagogue, on the top floor of some ramshackle tenement house, they sing beautiful melodies, some of them composed in the caves and forests of Spain, where the wandering people worshiped the God of their fathers at the risk of their lives; and these and the sighs and sobs of the Days of Awe, the thrill that passes through out the heartbroken talith-covered congregation when the shoffar blows, the mirth which fills the house of God and the tenement house upon the Rejoicing of the law, the tearful greetings and humbled peacemakings on Atonement Eve, the mysterious light of the Chanuccah candles, the gifts and charities of Purim, the joys and kingly solemnities of Passover,--all these pervade the atmosphere of the Ghetto with a beauty and a charm without which the life of its older residents would often be one of unrelieved misery.
How the sweat-shop striker and the religious enthusiast are found in the same person is an interesting question, and the following little episode may not be out of place.
It was a late hour during the recent strike of the Vest-Makers' Union, and the Jewish quarter was enveloped in the quiet of night. As I made my way through market-place, a merry, bizarre hubbub of singing voices broke upon the stillness of the street. The voices came from a tumble-down frame house,and were traced to three tiny low-ceiled rooms on the second floor. A Holy Ark and a reading-desk betokened the character of the place. The little synagogue was crowded with bewhiskered, pious, ragged old men. They sat at long tables, swaying and nodding, curling their side-locks or stroking their beards, as they sang a joyous Sabbath melody. Their faces shone and their voices trembled with emotion. A dark-eyed little girl of ten and her gaunt, sallow-faced father were hovering about, serving barley soup, cake, and beer to the company.
"I am no waiter," explained the gaunt man. "I am a member, like the others; but my wife prepared the feast and somebody must serve it, so my little girl and I took the task upon ourselves. We are a Mishnah class. We meet every evening, after work, to study the holy words, and now that we have concluded the sixth tractate we celebrate the event. Each of us has contributed twenty-five cents, and so we are enjoying what the Uppermost has sent us. What other delights are open to us in this world?"
The assemblage proved to be made up of striking vest-makers. "Yes, we attended the meeting to-day," said a shaggy, red-haired man, "but you know the saying,`half for yourselves and half for your God.' To-morrow we shall go to the meeting again. Ours is a just cause. It is for the bread of our children we are struggling. We want our rights, and we are bound to get them through the union. Saith the law of Moses: 'Thou shalt not withhold anything from thy neighbor nor rob him; there shall not abide with thee the wages of him that is hired through the night until morning.' So it stands in Leviticus. So you see that our bosses who rob us and who don't pay us regularly commit a sin, and that the cause of our union is a just one. What do we come to America for? To bathe in tears, and to see our wives and children rot in poverty? Tears and sighs we had in plenty in the old country."
A frown had settled upon his face, but it suddenly disappeared as he said with a wave of his hand: "Well, this is not the time to discuss matters such as these. We have enough of them during the day. This is our holy feast--a time for joy, not for woe. We have concluded the sixth tractate, thank the Uppermost."
The shaggy vest-maker shut his eyes and with his features relaxed in a smile of unfeigned bliss, he burst out singing and snapping his fingers with the rest.
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