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בס"ד

The Prospect.

 

Since our remarks under this head in the November number, the world has not stood still, and events, as usual, have chased each other in the ceaseless course of things, and we have at least grown older, if not wiser, in the meantime. But days have flown, and our religious world has stood still, as far at least as outward movements would render it apparent, if we except the efforts which have been made this, as every year, to raise funds for the supply of the poor with the necessaries of life, and to bring together the means to erect places of public worship. Now it is true that the sweetest traits of religion are discoverable in charity and devotion; in the beautiful exhibition of benevolence to those whom the Lord has afflicted with straitened circumstances, and the outward display of a united adoration of the common Father of all. We therefore acknowledge that if Judaism were to exist in these two traits only, then indeed would the Israelites of the United States be the most religious people in the world. They do organize societies for the relief of the indigent, and they do build every year more Synagogues for the union of prayer among the faithful. But we fear that no one will dispute that much is left undone, which could be as easily accomplished as charity and Synagogue-building. Indeed, we  are of those who believe that both of these pious efforts do often and but too generally receive an entirely wrong direction. Let us be correctly understood: we rejoice in the welfare of all charitable societies, no matter how numerous they are; we would rejoice still more, were their means become so extensive that they could relieve the <<470>>calls of all the distressed, even without depending on the annual contributions of members and proceeds of voluntary donations, charity balls and dinners, or whatever may be the various methods by which the managers contrive of necessity to fill their respective treasuries. We should be delighted to see houses of worship arise, as they have done hitherto, in whatever place there exists a community of Jews, and that this may be the case in every village and hamlet of the far-spread Union. But there is something more needed;—it is the elevation of the recipients of charity, and the proper use of the houses of worship after they have been erected.

Look at the thing calmly, as it daily unfolds itself to the view of an observer, and what do you see? Hundreds of poor, with able bodies and strong limbs, come hither from Europe, chiefly from German and English ports; and barely are they landed, when they apply for some sort of assistance. One wishes to go south or west to seek a relative; another has to redeem his few chattels from a transportation company for his passage money; and a third needs immediate relief to supply his pressing wants. The applications are generally acceded to; but the recipients disappear at once from view, and are never or seldom heard of again, till more aid is needed at a future day. But this would not be of much importance; since if the relief has answered its purpose, the object of the charity is accomplished, and thus the claims of the distributors are amply satisfied, so far as they or their societies are concerned. Still we ask, Upon what grounds do these applicants obtain relief? Simply upon the ground of their being Jews. It cannot be on any other; for there are multitudes of other immigrants who have on the score of humanity the same claims, and still we do not think ourselves bound, as associations, to aid them on their first arrival. It is therefore assumed that, if these people whom we are called upon to relieve were not Jews, they could not be aided in the manner indicated.

Now let us ask again, do these applicants prove a Jewish character when they come? We are sorry to say that many do not; they are, like many who have a competency, Jews by name; and this is about the whole of their right to appeal. But why do they not go to work and help themselves? The answer is, They do not wish to eat in the country forbidden food, or to violate <<471>>the Sabbath, which they would have to do, should they seek for labour, which must be obtained from Christian employers.

The theory indeed is good: a religious motive should be respected; but on the other hand, what do they do if left to themselves after they have been aided? Is any notice taken of their delinquencies in case they violate the dictates of our faith? Is the money demanded back of them? Or, in short, is any notice whatever taken of their doings and omissions? We know well enough that it may with justice be said, that the societies are not responsible for the acts of those whom they help with the small sums which can be allotted to each individual. But we are not quite satisfied that this is true in the full sense of the words. Whilst a man asks nothing of me or mine, neither I nor they can be held responsible for his misconduct, as I have no means of controlling him legally. When, however, he comes to ask me for aid, what is more fair than that I look into his character, and if possible, induce him to be benefited by my advice even more than by my money? It may indeed look like exercising undue authority to those who are themselves irreligious, as though one wishes to use the power which his position gives him, to coerce the conscience. But we beg to differ from them entirely, if thus they argue. We do not speak of force, but of persuasion; we wish the poor relieved, but at the same time elevated; and to effect this, the mere giving of charity once upon their arrival, or oftener thereafter, will not be enough. On the contrary, it may retard it greatly, if the pious and industrious see that they are placed upon the same level with the wicked and lazy, whose only claim is their actual poverty, let it have been brought about by their own fault, folly, or wickedness, or the inscrutable decrees of Providence. We can, we do feel for the sorrow of those on whom the world only too often looks as incumbrances on the face of the earth, simply because they lack the universal solvent—gold. We would therefore hinder no one in aiding them to the extent of his abilities; yes, we would go farther, and make every possible excuse for waste and extravagance in the use of the means granted in relief; but in the name of honesty and virtue, do not offer a bounty for sturdy and impudent beggary, which sees no shame in making wants known which well-directed labour might supply. Do not encourage, by your too great delicacy in not asking questions, <<472>>the habitual transgression of the law of our God. As we write to and for Israelites, we will not offer any apology for laying a great stress upon the religious character of the recipients of charity. We would not buy them to be good; but being good should be an additional recommendation to have their case duly considered, and remedies applied to the full extent of our private and public means.

We do not know whether we said it before or not, but if we have, we will repeat it, that there are poor houses provided for all the indigent in the large cities, to which we all contribute by the taxes we pay into the public treasuries; therefore, as far as equitable claims are concerned, the Jews have the full right to send their poor to the same establishments, to be fed and clothed as are those of other denominations. But Israelites do not like to do so; they prefer feeding their own hungry, and to clothe their own naked. Why? Upon the simple religious grounds that the needy shall not be compelled to transgress. But suppose that these nevertheless violate the Sabbath and neglect their other religious obligations, where then is the use of taxing ourselves twice, once for the public purse, and once again for the sole purpose of having Jewish charity funds, to be used for the benefit of those who are Jews only in name? We do not say, God forbid, that all the recipients of our charities are of this latter description. God forbid that we should so malign those who, perhaps but for their narrow circumstances, would be the bright examples to attract men to virtue, and whose hand and heart would be open to the calls of the distressed. We only say that, as things now are, no questions are asked, no notice is taken, and no discrimination made; it is only to ask, to receive, and all duty is discharged if the applicant is not sent away empty handed. Do we speak the truth? We appeal to the general facts to justify our remarks; and hence we say that giving charity, as it is done by our benevolent societies, is not that which we can approve of. We need a more thorough system of distribution, a more familiar intercourse with the poor themselves, to discharge a duty than which hardly a more important one can devolve on mortals.

We think that we could discern a remedy, but we almost fear of proposing it, simply because there is no likelihood of its being ever adopted; but still it is worth while to put it on record, as <<473>>we have done many other things hitherto, which have perhaps aroused the attention of our readers; have perhaps received their spoken or silent approval, and then been left unheeded as the dreams of an excited enthusiast. But we repudiate the claim to such a title; we are only too little enthusiastic, too cold by far in calculating the chances; and we would be more fitted for our office, were we to be more headlong, more energetic, less regardful of consequences than we are. We do not know what we might have been, had our early feelings been seconded by the same sentiments in others; but we only met with coldness where we expected warmth; with a doubtful support where we looked for heart-and-hand assistance; and we have gradually shrunk into our narrow cell of selfishness, and only venture out occasionally, when a bright sunshine invites us to a moral excursion over the face of things. But what is the use to speak of self?

So let us proceed at once with our views, though we fear that they will scarcely be adopted. To our mind, as we said last year, the whole of the system of distributing charity is defective and wrong in principle. The amount given may suffice to relieve immediate want, but no more. Perhaps under existing circumstances, this is all that can be done; but might not a union of all the charity funds raised in any one city be effected, and they be placed under the control of a central board? Let there, as heretofore, be societies to raise funds for clothing, fuel, and the necessaries of life; let each association have its officers for the management of its business; but let there be—to call it by a well-known name—a bureau of distribution, to be composed of public-spirited persons of both sexes, who are to see that all charities are given only to the deserving. A saving might be effected likewise in the expense of collecting the annual dues, by appointing but one collector for all the societies, who is to receive a stipulated sum or a reasonable salary for his labours; and thus do the whole work for about what is now paid by each society alone, besides insuring more regularity than is now obtainable. We should be more pleased yet, could all the charity funds be raised by one association; but this we hardly think could be expected, as there are persons who might give to one object, and decline doing so to another. But surely it would be wise to have a proper supervision over the recipients of the various benevolent contributions, <<474>>and to see that no one should receive more than his just share, or that the undeserving should be altogether excluded from the private bounty of Israelites, seeing that the common public institutions are open for all.

The advantage of a mixed board of ladies and gentlemen would, however, chiefly be in the possibility thus presented of having the poor visited in their own domiciles, and to see that the bounty is not alone deserved, but properly bestowed. In such a plan, the peculiar qualities of both sexes could be best brought into requisition. Men are best fitted to manage public business in a business-like manner,—the ladies will pardon us for the assertion; but the latter are far better fitted, both by nature and their not being required to be engaged in the active pursuits of life, for devoting time to the wants of the poor.

Men are besides too busy to speak to and exhort the needy; whereas the ladies can well afford to spend an occasional hour to exhort those whom they aid to a course of religious conduct, and to point out the way to the presence in the Almighty Father’s mansions. They can enter into the little details of domestic life, advise where they see faults, direct where they know that something can be improved; and it will be beautiful in them to leave a religious work in the hands of those who receive charity along with the gift of worldly things, so as to call up holy feelings in those who are bowed down with sorrow.

We know that Christians do not disdain to spread religion among all classes by means of tracts, Bibles, &c.; and why not endeavour to do the same? What objection can the poor make, if the condition of their being relieved is that they become better and more enlightened, more tidy and cleanly, more moral and more religious? Surely no one of them can, if he only puts a proper estimate on the value of a man in the scale of society; for the higher a character stands in moral worth, no matter how little wealth he may have, the higher will he be regarded in the sphere which he occupies; and then at last the acquisition of a religious course of life, with its attendant cleanliness, sobriety, and frugality, will perhaps be the means of enabling him soon to be above the necessity of human aid.

We put great faith in Union, and deem it the parent of all conceivable improvements, and insist that to elevate the character of the poor in the large cities, where they mostly congregate, <<475>>something more is needed than mere and constant giving. But individual efforts are perfectly useless, and only concert can attempt a remedy. Now should such a union of charity funds ever be made, it is highly probable that a surplus would soon be realized, a saving of much which is now distributed to unworthy objects This surplus might then be made the means of a permanent blessing, by permitting the directors of our various charities to do something more than merely relieving immediate and pressing wants, in enabling them to lend to the most deserving small sums wherewith to commence business for themselves, somewhat on the plan of the Bachelor’s Loan Society of New York, of which we have spoken several times. There may be some difficulty in organizing a separate institution of the kind in every place; but if a moderate balance could be left every year after paying all reasonable demands from the necessitous poor, what could be better or wiser than to invest a portion thereof in small loans, to those who are struggling with adversity, on some well-organized basis? Having already established a mixed and permanent board of charity commissioners, the selection of the borrowers would not be very difficult, and thus the best security would be easily discovered for the ultimate repayment of the loans, in the character of the poor themselves. Of course we do not speak of an absolute security, for sickness and losses might put it out of the power of the most honest and deserving to be punctual in repayment; but a probable security would be thus established without any doubt; besides which, the character of the indigent would be thus materially amended, seeing as they then must, that it depends upon themselves whether their prospects in life will be permanently improved through the kind exertion of their brother Israelites. Perhaps our views are Utopian; but we still think they are practicable, and we truly hope that they will be adopted yet, as soon as people feel the defectiveness of their present system of raising and distributing charity funds.

We said in the beginning of this article that more was needed than mere charity and the building of Synagogues, and this is the elevation of the poor, and the proper use of the houses of worship. And we mean the whole of this in true and sober earnest, and both points can be readily united in practice. Let us see what is the object of a Synagogue? it is intended as a place <<476>>of union for the warship of God. But how is this to be effected? how is worship to be constituted? is it merely to have a handsome building and have it unattended on holy and Sabbath days, not to mention every day in the week? have men discharged their duty by taking or purchasing a seat, so as to be privileged to assemble, and to leave the seat untenanted from month to month? Perhaps some may think that they do enough in this way; that they support by their means the minister and the other officers of the congregation, and have thus discharged all duties, though they violate all the commandments in the Bible. But such a view must strike every one as quite irrational; for if there is no occasion to visit a place of worship, it might as well not be built, as far as these are concerned. Their very contributing to it proves that they have an interest in it; and unless they attend some other one, it evidently appears commensurate with reason that they should repair hither for the sake of uniting in prayer with the other worshippers.

But how are we to attain that knowledge which should make assembling in the Synagogue welcome to us? Evidently by education only, especially as our service is and should be in the Hebrew language; and this education should be general, universal, so that all might be able to participate therein, whether the learner be wealthy or not. This again imposes the duty of fostering a good system of education, through which alone the Synagogue can be a place of edification, and which is to render us all familiar with our duties to God and man.

Only look how pleasant it is for all worshippers, not the minister only, to see the seats well occupied; to find themselves amidst a crowd of those who all pray in the same manner to the sole universal God whom we adore; and who can doubt that to produce such a result is something in which we ought to be active, and than which nothing can be more fruitful of beneficial results? And still it is the school only which can effect this, the school, which is to place the rich and the poor on the same level, and teach them all to know their God and how they are to serve Him. By this means of a general religious training, there will be produced a greater equality among the various classes, if worth be the criterion for fixing it, than now exists even in this country of general and equal rights, and many will be rescued from a course of error, to <<477>>which the uneducated poor are but too often predoomed from their birth.

We have felt deeply when seeing children roaming about the streets with tattered garments and begrimed faces; they appealed to us in accents louder than words: “Am I not a human being and brother as well as thou?” and still what could we do? how rescue them from degradation? how implant in them virtuous thoughts? how imbue their tender minds with religious principles? And yet who knows but that in the rigged dirty urchin there may dwell a spirit bright, and pure, and free, thirsting after holy aspirations, only choked by the weeds which spring up in the fruitful soil, engendered in the noxious atmosphere in which the future culprit breathes. Have our readers seen and felt the like? we imagine they have; and yet they and we perhaps dash away a tear from the eye, arising involuntarily at the prospect of future misery in the offspring of poverty and crime, and then pass away, in the mournful consciousness, that there is no remedy provided for such as these.

Is this right? We say “no,” humanity re-echoes “no;” and still the evil goes on, augmenting daily in the increase of the population of large cities, where often the poor become poorer, the vicious more vicious, whilst the rich grow richer by the natural increase of their stores. We do not say this of Jews so much as the general population. As the general rule, we confess it with pride, the Jewish poor have maintained a good character; but there are sorrowful exceptions; and where once crime had entered a family, we have known other members to follow in rapid succession, and clearly proved that a Jewish descent is no bar to crime and immorality.

These are sober facts; and since with the increase of population, as said already, there is a tendency in the nature of things to form classes, on a parallel with European society, it becomes a serious question for every philanthropist’s consideration, whether something could not be done to mitigate the evil, when it does come, as come it will. At present, it is true, the country is ample, and no one is bound to stay in a place where he is miserable. But the limits must become more and more filled up, and the chances ofone’s obtaining a livelihood with small or no means greatly circumscribed, until the class of labourers will find it difficult to rise from their low estate. Like causes produce like results; and the great merchant, or the <<478>>great manufacturer, or the extensive farmer, will have his dependents, absolutely his, as well here as elsewhere. Besides, even those who wander away ought to have that within them which will render them fit to become virtuous inhabitants in their new homes. And how is this to be effected? Simply, as our readers already know, by a system of religious education. We shall be told that the public schools, organized in most states, furnish a large fund of knowledge to all classes of society, provided only they will embrace the opportunity thus offered them. But we contend, on the other hand, that mere knowledge is no bar to crime; with the increase of a knowledge of things only, no man is lifted above temptation, and is only fortified by more means than otherwise, to gratify a vicious propensity.

The space already consumed admonishes us to be brief with our concluding remarks; so we will hasten to our proposition without discussing sufficiently the premises. If, then, the ordinary school education will not prevent the ordinary man to be fortified  against crime, (and this proposition is susceptible of demonstration,) it certainly cannot give the Israelite sufficient means to avoid doing what his religion forbids. He is not alone bound to be moral and charitable, because he must abide also by the ceremonies which his faith enjoins. Is he to acquire a knowledge of these in the common schools? The proposition is too absurd to be seriously entertained by any one; and yet, as we now act in most congregations, the absurdity is seriously acted upon, and Israelitish children, both poor and rich, are allowed to grow up in ignorance of their religion, as though this was precisely that branch of education which could be attained without a teacher.

Now we ask what use is a Synagogue to parents, if they do not train their children to resort thither likewise? But it requires no argument to prove that, if it is right and proper for the elders to go, it must be so likewise for the juniors. Should it not, then, be the first duty of Israelites, even before erecting a Synagogue, to see that the children are duly trained and taught their religion? Would it not be better for little grievances to be overlooked, so as to keep people together?—to have but one place of worship sooner than throw away their means upon stone and wood, brick and mortar, by which a liberal system of education must be retarded? It is certainly a very pleasant thing to see beautiful <<479>>places of worship, so numerous too that all may have ample room to come together to praise the Lord.

But when this is once accomplished, how much better would it be to see the school-house alongside the Synagogue, and see there daily the sons and daughters of both rich and poor mingling together to learn the duties they owe to God and to themselves. What is the use of supporting unnecessary establishments of ministers and sextons, when their salaries had better be bestowed on schoolmasters, to train up properly the youth of the neighbourhood? To our mind the answer is self-evident; and he will be a benefactor of his brethren who first successfully opposes this useless expenditure of the people’s means, and concentrates them on the bestowal of that which confers the greatest good—religious education. Synagogues in that case will be erected as soon as they are needed; and when they are built, they will not look as though our brothers were afraid to enter the courts of the Lord; but when all know the God of Abraham, they will surely hasten to testify to Him their love and reverence, and be ready to prove that they desire to pray at his footstool, and seek instruction in his sanctuary.