Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
6
want to continue a separate cultural existence indefinitely. They
were picturesque wayfarers who would succumb to the melting-
pot of America. Longfellow described a Sephardic Jew in
Tales
of a Wayside Inn.
This exotic survivor of an ancient people had
the grand and grave appearance of an old patriarch or High-
Priest, with lustrous eyes, olive skin, and flowing beard. He was
garbed in aromatic garments which breathed a spicy scent of
cinnamon.
“Well versed was he in Hebrew books,
Talmud and Targum, and the lore
Of Kabala; and evermore
There was a mystery in his looks.”
The process of Jewish adjustment to the point of complete
identification with the majority population, a process regarded as
inevitable* by Longfellow and other sensitive New England writers,
was, however, arrested in the pre-Civil War decades by the influx
of a large group of Jewish immigrants from Central Europe.
German-speaking Jews, who had tasted of freedom and prosperity
during the Napoleonic period, could not easily adjust themselves
to the burdensome economic restrictions and the affronts to
human dignity again imposed upon them after the defeat of
Napoleon and the restoration of the ancient regime under the
Holy Alliance. They looked wistfully to America, whenever their
freedom was threatened. In the New World there was a promising
haven for human beings of all races and creeds. Heinrich Heine,
the literary spokesman of German Jewry, voiced their a ttitude a
century ago, when he wrote: “ Even if all Europe should become
a single prison, there is still another loophole of escape, namely
America, and, thank God! the loophole is after all larger than the
prison itself.” Heine noted th a t America was sound, America was
resplendent, America was not attached to mouldy symbols and
outworn traditions. America was the last hope of a dying Occident.
German Jews quickly outnumbered the Sephardic Jews in the
United States and, even before the Revolution of 1848, which
hastened the pace of their immigration, they were exercising a
dominant role in Jewish communal life. They, too, grew in wealth
and prestige from decade to decade. Some, who had begun as
penniless peddlers with packs on their backs, became department
store owners. Others, who had started as workers, became affluent
industrialists. The success-stories told of Adam Gimbel, Lazarus
Straus, Meyer Guggenheim, Samuel Rosenwald, and their de-
scendants were paralleled on a somewhat smaller scale by many
other German-Jewish immigrants. America was indeed the land
of opportunity. Americanization, assimilation remained popular