Page 101 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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M
ad ison
— M
a rv in
L
o w e n t h a l
Matthew Arnold’s definition of “Hebraism” as narrow and
fallacious, he maintained that Jewish humanism in tru th “suf-
fuses one with a general skepticism toward preconceived notions
of history; tha t is, toward the nature and behavior of mankind,
and impregnates one with an understanding of culture as a
changing process with many directions in its changes.”
Writer on the Treasures of Jewish Culture
During the late 1920’s Lowenthal also served as European
representative of the American Jewish Congress (1926-1928)
and as secretary of the World Congress for International Peace
Through Religion (1928-1930). All the while he studied Jewish
monuments and relics, synagogues and cemeteries, museums
and public buildings, making detailed notes for a book on
Jewish culture, which was published in 1933 under the title
of
A World Passed By.
He describes the work as “a compre-
hensive guide—the first in any language—to old and often
little-known seats of Jewish civilization in Europe and North
Africa.... I have visited the lands I describe and pored over
more documents, local histories, tombstones, and synagogue
descriptions than I care to admit.” The book is indeed a
highly readable informal history of Jewish life in the Dias-
pora over the centuries. His felicitous style enhances the his-
toric significance of the treasures of Jewish culture. T h e reader
is made to see that “The history of the Jew is a Gulf Stream
through Europe, wet and salt like the surrounding waters,
taking hues from the same sun, ruffled by the same storms,
inhabited by the same creatures, bu t always with a different
temperature and an individual direction.... He has everywhere
been a native—with a foreign past and a chance of a foreign
future.”
Lowenthal’s first published book was a translation of
The
Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln
(1932) which he undertook as
a labor of love. He had, on a first reading, conceived a fond-
ness for this virtuous and vital Jewess, who in certain respects
reminded him of his own mother, as he indicated in the ded-
ication: “T h e pleasant labour of this translation is dedicated
to the memory of my mother who, together with all women who
have lived deeply and well, shared the sorrows and knew the
joys of Gluckel of Hameln.” His introduction provided the
necessary background and evaluation: “For her times, Gluckel
was astonishingly free from gross superstition. She had, in her
prime, no patience with old wives’ tales. When she became
an old wife herself, she yielded, it is true, to the frailty of
years—bu t in letting us see tha t she did, she gives us one of