Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library Shopping Mall of Zion AHAVA Hero Products 250x250

בס"ד

The Jews Of England.

Dear Sir,

Although the impressions made upon the mind of a stranger must be, from the nature of things, often erroneous, being as it were, but glimpses of the surface: still I trust those which presented themselves to me will not be altogether uninteresting to you, showing as I think, that our characteristics are nearly, if not entirely so, every where the same.

As past occurrences array themselves before the mind’s eye, what a striking contrast do the former sufferings of Israel and her wrongs present to us in comparison with the calm peace which, with some few exceptions, she now enjoys under the enlightened spirit of the present age—a spirit in which are blended feelings of shame for past injustice—of wounded honour in withholding from part of a nation its just and equal rights on account of difference of creed; and of long repressed but powerful feelings of admiration entertained towards that people who have so long withstood the shock of ages without once forsaking the standard of their faith.

Perhaps in no country are these feelings carried to so great an extent as they are in England, giving us they do to the Jews of Great Britain a position, and though restricted, for that very restriction on account of its very injustice, a power, an influence, nowhere else possessed. To one acquainted with the present position of the English Israelites this will become apparent on taking into consideration that their number is as but one to eight hundred of the whole population; and then comparing the distinction with which they are treated with the honours to which they would be entitled according to their ratio. Till now for a Jew here (one in feeling as well as profession) to obtain a classical education was almost an impossibility. Believing in the truth of the maxim that knowledge is power, the founders of the different colleges made it incumbent on each applicant for academical honours to submit to a religious test to which the scruples of our people would not allow them to bow; but causing them thus to labour under the disadvantage of having powers of mind and faculties of intellect but half developed. How far their own schools made up for this deficiency I will revert to hereafter.

It is a sad truth, but a truth that has been verified in every page of our history since Israel journeyed through the divided waters of the Red Sea, that under the genial air of prosperity many a fair scion forgot his bright inheritance in the eager longing to roam in strange paths; though quickly turning from them whilst the storm of destruction raged around, forgetting its terrors and the lesson it had taught once more in the clear sunshine that succeeded it. Proud and stiff-necked, Israel hath ever been; but of true respect, that self-esteem which causes one to value himself for the intrinsic qualities he may be in possession of rather than those meretricious ones which may gain him the empty plaudits of the world, she seems to have been ever deficient. Is not this truth daily forced upon us? Do we not see in England, France, Germany, and America, many of our noblest and our best bowing down to the world’s idols instead of commanding that world’s respect by a firm and consistent conduct? And in the end, what gain they by it? The bubble bursts and leaves not even a fragment behind; they gain the contempt of those whose favour they sought, and are remembered no more by their former friends. Certainly ages of darkness have been more prolific to us in the production of the wise and good than ages of light, which seem but to have served to dispel and scatter our host; so that when we look to the place it stood but now, we find a moiety merely left. So long as our nation has to look to itself for support, so long as it is able to fall back upon its own innate resources only: so long our people may act in unison; but until they learn to mix in worldly politics, and feel themselves but as possessing one body, one soul, one interest, it can scarcely be hoped that the means so profusely supplied will not be frittered away without accomplishing more than one iota of the good they would achieve under proper management.

Condensed into a small focus, the Jews of England from their social position, wealth, and intelligence, are capable of rendering themselves the rallying point of their co-religionists throughout the world; and should the chiefs amongst them deem it more worthy of their efforts to advance the social position of their brethren at large than to endeavour to make use of them as the mere stepping-stone from which their ambition may mount: they may perhaps find that whilst securing the permanent prosperity of their nation they were rendering their own position safer, their own advancement more certain.

In the words of a friend: “The Jews of England are forced into too prominent a position for their intellectual acquirements to sustain; or for which they have been fitted by their previous pursuits. Whilst all glides along calmly and securely they will not have to undergo a very rigid scrutiny, being supposed to possess every needful acquirement for any and every emergency; but let agitation succeed this calm, they may find that in the endeavours to elevate themselves without raising the masses with them, not having these masses to fall back upon in the hour of danger, they would—should they fall—fall below the elevation from which they had but just now risen.”

We shall see if advantage is taken of the present propitious times to develope those faculties so long lying dormant in the mass, which if properly cultivated and directed would elevate their position both mentally and religiously, and by planting a proper self­respect and energy in his soul, enable the Jew to emerge from the occupations and employments that the force of circumstances in bygone ages compelled him to follow in the pursuit of means of subsistence; and thus by casting from him his mean pursuits the accompanying associations would be lost. It would be a strange anomaly indeed if the same means that have improved the social condition of other sects should not be quite as beneficial in their operation when applied to our own.—These means are Education and the Press.

It must be admitted that much has been done and is being done in the way of primary schools for the children of the poor.—Attached to the Sephardim congregation are five schools:—The infant school, supported by the funds of the congregation, contains about one hundred and fifty boys and girls, whose clean and neat appearance combined with their cheerful looks cannot fail to interest the spectator. Much credit is due to the teachers for the pupils’ proficiency, and not a little to the ladies of the congregation, who by their constant supervision and solicitude shown in their advancement, implant the desire to please, by acquiring knowledge, in the minds of these infants. Seated upon rising steps, many of their exercises were repeated at the same time by the whole number. Pleasing was it indeed to hear their infantile voices raised in psalms and hymns, both in Hebrew (in which many of the eldest children had attained sufficient proficiency to translate without difficulty some parts of the daily service) and English to Him who was thus smoothing their paths through life. From this school they are drafted into the preparatory school for boys, and a limited number into the Villa Real school, a private endowment for educating, clothing, and binding out to trades of twenty girls. The system adopted here seems to be such as is best calculated to carry out the designs of the benevolent founder, and a simple structure of knowledge is here reared upon the foundation raised in the infant school; whilst care is taken that industrial habits shall be early formed by devoting some part of each day to sewing. The orphan school, as its name indicates, supplies the place of parents as far as its means permit to those bereft of earthly protectors. Eight receive their education and maintenance here. The Shanaray Tikva and the preparatory school for boys are now combined, and united they number ninety-five pupils. The education here is somewhat similar to that of the Talmud Torah school of New York; one part of the boys are studying English whilst the other moiety are endeavouring to acquire a knowledge of the Hebrew. This school seems to be badly conducted; the boys present an appearance quite the reverse of neatness; nor are their attainments such as they no doubt would be were the gentlemen sufficiently interested in this school to give it their active supervision. In spite of the bad system and little interest shown in this institution, some of the youth here give a promise not to be laggards in life, provided a proper path is opened for their efforts. This school is supported by the offerings at the Synagogue and by its general funds. It seems to be the settled policy of the managers of the schools of this congregation to bind out the youth of both sexes to trades when attaining a certain age, and either to give in addition a certain stipulated time to make up for the loss sustained by the masters in allowing the youth to keep their Sabbaths and festivals, or to pay so much in money in lieu thereof.

Unlike the schools of the Sephardim congregation the other schools are supported by annual subscriptions and donations. The Jews’ Infant school in Houndsditch, established in 1841, now numbers two hundred scholars, whilst the applications for admission exceed that number. The building temporarily appropriated for that purpose not being able to accommodate more than a limited number, a fund has been raised by subscription which promises soon to be large enough to enable the directors to construct a building capable of accommodating all that may apply. The system of education here is the same as that adopted in the Portuguese infant school, with the improvement of presenting the object to be described to the eye of the child. Thus:—a number of monitors sit in different parts of the room, one holding in her hand a piece of ivory, another of iron ore, a third some stalks of wheat, &c., and as each class goes in rotation from one object to the other, they are made to describe the various properties of each which they see to exist in the thing described by actual demonstration;—thus giving the ideas, instead of filling their minds with (to them) unmeaning words.

(To be continued.)