Page 13 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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slogans. The process of complete integration to the point of
baptism and intermarriage, which had decimated Sephardic Jewry,
also made inroads upon German Jewry in America. But the pro-
cess was slower because the numbers involved were larger. Be-
sides, some resistance on the pa r t of non-Jews to Jewish infiltration
began to make itself felt. For example, in 1877, the Jewish banker
Seligman was refused lodging in Saratoga Springs because he was
a Jew. This incident was aired in the world’s press. The virus of
modern anti-Semitism had apparently crossed the Atlantic. Jews
began to worry: how were they to eradicate the first symptoms of
the infection before the moral disease had a chance to spread?
Or, to take another example, Lafcadio Hearn spent the summer of
1884 vacationing a t Grande Isle near New Orleans. Because his
hotel did not discriminate against Jews, this philo-Semitic writer,
who adored the people of the Talmud in the abstract, wrote for
the New Orleans
a series of such vicious anti-
Semitic articles about Jews in the flesh th a t the editor had to re-
fuse to prin t them.
These isolated incidents of anti-Jewishness, however, had no
lasting effect upon the tendency towards assimilation. They may
even have hastened the obliteration of minority characteristics
on the par t of those Jews who were not too strongly attached to
their ancestral heritage. Only among a few Jewish intellectuals
did a questioning arise: was it really wise to give up traditional
values of many centuries in order to be like unto their neighbors?
The first writer to face the problem boldly was Emma Lazarus,
the poetess of New York, who was born in 1849 of Sephardic
ancestry and who in her early works showed no desire to associate
herself with Jewish strivings. She treated Greek themes, German
themes, international themes, bu t carefully avoided Jewish themes.
Goethe was closer to her than Moses. Admetus, King of Thessaly,
meant more to her than David, the conqueror of Jerusalem. Even
Heine, whom she greatly admired and translated, was in her eyes
a German poet and not a Jewish poet. She aroused the interest of
William Cullen B ryant and Ralph Waldo Emerson with her verses.
She corresponded with the poet Edmund C. Stedman. To her
surprise, this non-Jewish poet reproached her for her indifference
to her own people. John Burroughs, another non-Jewish writer,
asked her to follow the example of Walt Whitman, who was the
greatest American poet because he had a biblical sweep. Let her,
the Jewess, also find her way back to her biblical roots.
The pogroms of 1881 did, indeed, lead Emma Lazarus to find
her way back to Jewishness. Visits to Ward’s Island, predecessor
of Castle Garden and Ellis Island, brought her into contact with
hundreds of Jewish victims who were knocking a t the gate of