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On Association


One of the greatest evils to which we, as Israelites, are subjected in America, is the state of isolation in which every community is found, uninfluenced by and without influence on others. We all move along in a very narrow orbit; and even statistical knowledge is not accessible to an inquirer. We know nothing of the number of seat-holders in the various Synagogues, that of children fit for education; the progress in prosperity, religiousness, enlightenment observable among us; the new settlements, the nature of the emigrants arriving in this land; and in brief, no data whatever, on which to found a general movement, or to concert a plan for the advancement of the public good. We have before this alluded to the subject, and have also proposed a remedy. But our ideas have hitherto not been responded to, the disunion remains undisturbed; and hence there is a necessity for farther appeal, for renewed agitation. It is only by presenting a subject often to the consideration of the public that they begin at length to find out that there is something in it; and hence we would not consider that man possessed of true courage, who would become faint-hearted and despairing of the republic; who stops, because in the beginning of his career, he found few or none willing to listen to his well-timed advice and sage counsel. It is not the wisest words which find the first and readiest entrance into the minds of men, and not rarely are those misunderstood <<314>>who offer their opinion to the public upon any point of useful reform, or who propose some new measure to the acceptance of the people.

No doubt many thought when we spoke some years ago about a union of the American congregations, that we had some private ends of our own to promote; that we wanted to become a leader, a sort of governor over the united congregations. But, whoever judged us after this fashion did us grievous wrong. We have no private ends, no separate interests of our own to promote. Had we such indeed, it would be far better for us to leave things in their isolated position; for we have acquired an influence through the acceptance which our writings have met with from the public; and it is more than probable that in a general conference we would be entirely overlooked, or at least greatly eclipsed by the presence of men of eminence and learning far above what we can lay claim to. This is no confession to extort a negative, a forced compliment from our readers and friends; but an honest acknowledgment of what we feel to be the truth. We have already given currency to articles from correspondents which we could not have produced; and the persons who can write and speak them would, to a certainty, gain the ascendancy in any plan of union, and we would be compelled to rest satisfied with no, or an unimportant subordinate position, and sink from a leader down to a follower of others.. Is such a consummation one to be coveted by an ambitious mind? is this the boon to which a man is to direct the energies of his mind for his own gain? We think not. In any assembly which may meet, and which, we take it for granted, will meet sooner or later, the most deserving, the most eminent for learning, and talents, will be chosen to preside; and the others, no matter how great their services have been, will have to fall quietly into the ranks, and assume that precise position for which they are fitted by nature and education. There is no possibility of a mere man of words to occupy the highest point; there we will want one capable of grappling with the real difficulties which we have to encounter. Our friends may believe us, that we do not aspire to the leadership; we wish to aid in elevating the most deserving, and to seek for union in order to bind together the scattered elements of greatness which are now existing, and will continue to accumulate, <<315>>and only require to be put into form and shape to produce the happiest results for all Israelites in America.

In this country we are perfectly at liberty to organize our congregational and social relations on the basis of absolute Judaism, not interfering with, and not being interfered with, by the state in quality as Israelites, whilst we are perfectly free, at the same time, to take part in politics as citizens, and to decide, with our fellow-countrymen of other creeds, on the fate of the commonwealth by our votes and influence, and the assumption of all honourable offices. This being the evident effect of free government, as every one can see for himself, we ask, in all candour, of our readers, to answer the simple question: “Whether they have, individually or collectively, done anything to farther the general welfare beyond joining a congregation or some charitable society?” Many would be puzzled to satisfy an inquirer with regard to the number of congregations in their city, with the probable number of Jewish families; the names of the minister and distinguished Israelites among them; and if you were to beg them to tell you what had been done for the promotion of education and the advancement of religion and knowledge, they would either be compelled to maintain an inglorious silence, or to confess to their shame that, in all these matters, either nothing had been done, or what had been done was effected by private enterprise. Now we ask all our readers whether such a state of things is right? ought it to endure yet longer? shall not a commencement be made to remedy this acknowledged evil? The very existence of our unpretending periodical is not dependent upon the public will, (farther than each subscriber’s contribution goes,) but upon the mere caprice, if you choose to call it so, of the editor, who may, whenever it suits his fancy or convenience, discontinue his labours, after supplying his work to the end of a definite period, without incurring any blame or animadversion for this exercise of his judgment, and leave thus the American Israelites to find or establish, by other private enterprise, a new organ of the same or a dissimilar nature. We again ask, “Is this right?” As things have progressed against our efforts at times, and surely against our concurrence as a religious community, a public vehicle for the diffusion of thoughts and feelings is absolutely necessary; but where are the concerted efforts to maintain <<316>>a public press by public expenses and on general grounds? They exist nowhere; and this much we may be permitted to say in this place, without at all incurring the censure of mixing up our own private affairs with the discussion of public measures, that had we to seek for any support from our journalistic labours, we would have been long since compelled to discontinue our editorial career. It is a tax on time, and requires an immense expenditure of thought and exertion; and still so great is the lukewarmness among the people that the expenses necessarily attendant on such a work have been barely defrayed, after all the appeals which have been made to the public, and in spite of the many encouraging and flattering remarks which frequently reach us from many and distant quarters; (for all the opinions of this magazine are not of the kind we some time ago made public.) But what avails all, when a public business is not supported as it should be? When it is treated as though  it had been started merely for the private gratification and aggrandizement of some daring schemer? Again we ask, “Is there not any method to alter all this?”

Our readers know already what we mean to say. It is in the power of association to effect a great deal towards remedying the evil, even if it does not succeed in totally eradicating it. What is beyond the power of one man to lift, ten men may be able not alone to lift up from the ground, but to carry away with perfect ease; and thus, though one individual may be entirely powerless in effecting any public good, the accession of even a few determined spirits may carry the necessary measures through successfully and triumphantly. We are not prepared to say what the necessary measures which the public good demands will be proved to be upon investigation; nor would it be proper for us to forestall any future action which the assembled wisdom of the people may determine on. Nevertheless we will glance at one single institution which the situation of American Israelites, individually and congregationally, emphatically requires, and this is the occasional visit of a superior ecclesiastical authority to admonish them with respect to their religious and moral duties. We do not demand of Israelites to send missionaries to the gentiles, to convert non-Jews to Judaism; but we do demand that Israelites shall not be left without spiritual guidance; <<317>>that they shall not be exposed, day by day, to the corrupting influence of gentile association, without the whispering of a friendly voice to bid them to “remember their Creator.” We need not tell our readers that the country is fast filling up with Jews; that from the newly gotten Santa Fé to the confines of New Brunswick, and from the Atlantic to the shores of the western sea, the wandering sons of Israel are seeking homes and freedom; that either the tyranny of European sovereigns, the ill-will of popular assemblies, the assaults of brutal mobs, or the stagnation of all industrial pursuits, are driving our brothers hitherward, and that, should even the tide of governmental and popular favour turn for them, the impetus has already been too strongly given to prevent immense masses from emigrating from the over-crowded cities of Europe to seek for a wider and less restricted field for enterprise. Congregations will spring up wherever a favourable position for commerce presents itself; by degrees agriculture will claim the attention of our people; and who can doubt that herein too they will display the acute perception which they formerly bestowed upon trade, and succeed, with the blessing of God, in this to them new pursuit, though to their forefathers it was the chief business of their domestic life.

And we ask, Shall nothing be done to unite all these new-comers into the band of Israelitish union? shall they come over singly or in small groups, and sink, singly or in small groups, into the fatal embrace of gentile communion? It may be said in reply that we have a right to expect of all Jews coming over that they shall be well grounded in their faith, and that hence there will be no danger of their falling off from us. But we have no right to take any thing for granted; it is this fatal delusion which has caused so much injury already to the best interests of Israel, which has produced that great rage for reform which has nearly obliterated all religion among many congregations in Europe, and wrought much mischief elsewhere. It was the fatal blindness of our former teachers, who did not understand the change which had gradually come over the nature of views and opinions, which did not show itself publicly till the mind had far and wide been tainted by a vainglorious infidelity. And we ask, therefore, Shall we make an effort to induce all to remain Jews? to be proud of the Jewish name? to be glorifying themselves in the <<318>>possession of the law of Moses? Persons not so well acquainted as the writer of this, may not have experienced the contagion of enthusiasm; but it has been his good fortune to be occasionally at public meetings, such as consecrations and charity anniversaries, where people assembled to do honour to their faith, or to be active in its behests. He has seen people come in quietly, as though engaged in an ordinary pursuit, though deeply intent upon the business of the day; but he has seen them leaving the sacred precincts with feelings and expressions widely different from those with which they entered; their zeal had been kindled by others’ zeal, and they expressed what they felt—a joy in their faith, a pleasure in their Israelitish descent. Now was not the result of association, of a knowledge that they stood not alone, isolated and unsympathized with among the community at large? Human nature is the same everywhere; and should a man even be ashamed of being known as a Jew in a city inhabited by Christians, where his faith would, to his apprehension, be a reproach or injury to him were his religion discovered, he will soon be aroused to a more correct appreciation of his own value as a man, (provided always he feels the truth of revelation  in his heart, and is only, though foolishly. ashamed of Judaism,) so soon as he sees that others are present who will bear honourable testimony to their attachment to the same rule of life; and he will then be as ready to make an open profession as he was anxious to entertain his opinions unknown to all his neighbours.

We do not mean to enlarge on this point; but leave it as proved enough, that we can, by a proper effort, arrest all defection from our communion by proper admonition, and bringing persons into contact with teachers of religion. Nor must it be lost sight of, that men in distant and lonely situations, will not be deterred by that circumstance, seeing their worldly prosperity, is benefited by their staying where they have pitched their tent, from raising children, to grow up among associations entirely hostile to the religion of Israel. Are we to reject all such from our communion? Is no helping hand to be stretched out to them to save them from being lost among the gentiles? Is the Word of Life never to be preached to them, so that they may “hear, and learn to fear the Lord their God all their days”? And yet the plan is not so difficult, nor are the means beyond our reach; provided <<319>>only we make use of the advantages of our position, and labour unitedly for the spread of the kingdom of God among us. We are well aware that twenty years ago, such a proposition as we now make, would have been utterly impracticable, and any one offering it might have been accused of being troubled by an enthusiastic, overheated fancy. But circumstances have changed; population has increased; new men and able teachers have come as labourers into the field; the harvest is ample; and the question is not therefore, “Where are the materials? and where are the artificers in the holy work?” but “How are we to employ our materials? how are we to set those who are willing to work, and to render good service in the holy cause?” We think that we may pledge all our ministers who are endowed with the power of speech, that they would be willing, nay, anxious to travel over the face of the land, armed with the power of the Word of God, to speak and to teach, to admonish and to reprove those who are of Jacob’s household, if only they were bidden by their brothers, and were sure of a welcome reception among the various congregations and distant settlements. Still they cannot appoint themselves; they could not be welcome unless commissioned by the various congregations; and it is therefore the business of the various Synagogues already organized, to send those willing to go on the mission of love and faith which we have indicated; and sure we are that the small addition to the congregational burdens thus caused, would be amply repaid by the immense good which would thence result.

Look at the Christian churches, who have all the advantages of numbers, wealth, organization, bishops, conventions, and whatever else tends to consolidate power and to encourage adhesion to the popular creeds: and still they have their Boards of Foreign and Domestic Missions; their male and female missionaries and teachers; and look also at the immense sums expended every year; the large number of books, tracts and Bibles, printed for sale at a nominal rate, or gratuitous distribution. Is it a wonder, then, that they flourish? If human exertions can elevate a cause, Christianity must needs flourish and on the other hand, if human indifference, if perfect standing still, can ruin a cause, it is to be expected that Judaism must perish in this land. But, thank God! this, it will not! its fate is onward whatever its teachers and professors may neglect to do; it will <<320>>conquer, though all who lay hold of the Law should rebel against the Lord. There is a spirit among the people which cannot be repressed, and defenders will arise from the ranks, whenever occasion requires them, as has always been the case hitherto. But it is nevertheless wrong to do nothing for ourselves, and leave everything for the interference of kind Providence. Are we not guilty of an unpardonable outrage against Judaism by so doing? are we justified in constituting ourselves lazy shepherds and careless watchmen, provided only our private interests do not suffer? Is this the measure of our piety, and shall we always continue to compel (so to say) the Deity to snatch his flock from our hands? And still the indifference which prevails is as much blamable on the people as on the leaders; because the latter are powerless if unsupported by the others; and only by duly combining the strength which is now diffused in many useless channels into one common fertilizing stream, can blessing be expected. Will our friends listen? Shall we have Union? We repeat, that alone, either as individual, editor or minister, we can do nothing; perhaps in the estimation of some persons our advocacy may injure or retard the cause. But no matter, we cannot stop to measure consequences; we, for our part, speak out boldly what we think right; but at the same time, we beg all who have power of speech or pen, to come to our aid either in our pages, or what is better yet, in the circles where they have influence, to urge with persuasion and eloquence, so as to hurry on a movement which must, and therefore, will take place. We would rejoice to see the large community of Israelites in New York city taking the lead. They have the advantage of numbers and of superior men; and should they be in earnest to carry out the plan of Mr. Lindo, to which we briefly alluded last month, there can be no question but that before another year has elapsed, a better understanding of our mutual wants would result as the first step to the commencement of a better system than that of our present isolation. If the movement were to commence in a small community, it is but too likely that larger ones would hesitate to follow; it is therefore most desirable that those should lead whose lead would be gladly followed. We will not make an appeal, at present, but leave the matter to find its advocates among all Israelites, who are equally interested in it as we are.

<<321>>But before the large masses are put in motion, could not a meeting of the elected ministers of the various congregations be held, as a friendly reunion? The idea was first broached to us by the learned Rabbi of Albany, Doctor Isaac Wise, one of our correspondents; he wishes to see the ministers meet and exchange their ideas about the situations and wants of their flocks. Much action cannot be expected from such a gathering; but something might be elicited, and some general plan of public teaching might be developed for the farther action of the congregations. We hope, therefore, that the various ministers will find the leisure to meet some time during the approaching spring. The thing speaks for itself, and hence we forbear to urge the propriety, nay, the necessity of such a step; and we trust that all ministers will think it their necessity to promote the meeting. Those desirous of participating at it, will have the goodness to address the Rev. Dr. Wise at Albany, or the editor of the Occident in Philadelphia; and we venture little in saying that application may be likewise made to the various ministers in the city of New York, the Rev. Dr. Lilienthal, Rev. Messrs. Lyon, Isaacs and Leo, together with those connected with the other congregations of that city, though we have no authority to speak for them, as we write this article without consulting with any one, not even the gentleman from whom the proposal emanated.* We would suggest that New York be the place of meeting, and the time, between the Passover and Pentecost, which would enable all who wish to participate to exchange their views and be punctual in their attendance. As no legislation is contemplated, it not being in the power of the ministers, whether Rabbis or Hazanim, we hope to see all taking part in the meeting, whether  in favour of reform or the ancient order of things. In the mean time, we wish correspondents to forward us their views; and we close for the present with the hope that the assembly, should it take place, will be for the advancement of our blessed faith and the good of the people.

* Since the above was written, we have had the pleasure of conversing with Rabbi A. Rice, of Baltimore, who unhesitatingly offered to attend the meeting should it convene as above. Will Dr. Wise have the goodness to give us his views for publication?