Page 171 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

Basic HTML Version

1 5 9
Emma’s trip to Europe was educational for her as well as politi­
cal. Letters to her indicate that she met with a range o f people,
from Laurence Oliphant, the non-Jewish British exponent o f
Jewish colonization in Palestine, to Maude Stanley, the daughter
o f Lord Stanley, who was a writer on social problems and who had
opened the first “club” for working girls in 1880, to Georgiana
and Edward Burne-Jones, the pre-Raphaelites and close friends
o f George Eliot, to William Morris, the British socialist-
craftsman-humanitarian with whom she spent a day at his work­
shop. Emma Lazarus’ interest in socialist ideas was not new;45 in
fact in 1881 she herself had written a sonnet “Progress and Pov­
erty” inspired by Henry George’sbook. She sent George a copy o f
it and he responded warmly.
Undoubtedly it was this commitment to social justice that kept
Emma Lazarus from the prejudices that so many o f her fellow
Jews o f Sephardic and German origin had against the masses o f
Eastern European Jewish immigrants that now were pouring into
America. To the contrary, she wrote, “The unworthy desire on
the part o f manyJews to conceal their lineage, evinced in the con­
stant transmutation o f family names, and in the contemptible
aversion and hostility manifested between Jews o f varying
descent, painfully prove the absence o f both the spirit and the
training essential to a higher national existence.46 But her atti­
tudes regarding social justice were not expressed in words alone.
She involved herself in the practical task o f helping the new immi­
grants to resettle, and helping them in their economic and social
plight. She was not only involved in fund raising (indeed “The
New Colossus” was written for a fund raising event), and not only
was she responsible for the founding o f the Hebrew Technical
Institute for Vocational Training, but, as her sister writes, she
“came into personal contact with these people, and visited them
in their refuge on Ward’s Island.”47 And no less than Abraham
Cahan, who arrived in 1882, writes, “When I arrived, the immi­
gration committee included one wealthy young Jewish lady who
45 In her essay “The Jewish Problem” in
The Century,
February, 1883, Emma
Lazarus writes, “The modern theory o f socialism and humanitarianism erro­
neously traced to the New Testament has its root in the Mosaic Code.”
46 Morris Schappes, p. 74.
47 Josephine Lazarus, pp. 23, 24.