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A Jewish Chaplain in France Part 10

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The boys in the service became largely socialized through the tremendous, constant work of the welfare agencies. They felt the value of the Y. M. C. A. or other welfare hut, not only for the entertainments, dances and canteen, but just as much as a center for the soldier community, a place to write, to read, to play games, to meet their friends. Since their return they have turned to such inst.i.tutions as the Y. M. C. A., the Y. M. H. A. and the rest, to find the club life, the community spirit, which they had in the welfare hut in camp or city at home and abroad. This need of the young men for a social center and a social life is a common need of all America. Every village needs a social center to further its growth into a finer culture and a more united citizenship. Every Jewish community large enough to have a little social life of its own needs a community center where that life can flourish and be guided in desirable and constructive channels. The expansion of the Jewish Welfare Board to join and a.s.sist the activities of the National Council of Young Men's Hebrew and Kindred a.s.sociations is a logical one, growing out of the similar needs of the same young men in war and peace. The furtherance of social centers for Jewish communities, for other groups of citizens who possess a common heritage or common background, and for a whole town where the town is not too large, is a piece of work in which the soldiers will partic.i.p.ate and which their very existence among us should suggest to the rest of the community. The return of the soldier may a.s.sist us more than we expect in socializing the Jewish community. The social spirit we once showed in his behalf, the social education we gave him while in the service, will return to benefit us all if we convert the two into Jewish social life.

Such a socializing will cut across congregational or sectional lines, across lines of birth and wealth, and unite the Jewish community in America, just as the same process will eventually, if carried far enough, weld together all the divergent social forces of America itself.

The need for personal religion at the front was a temporary need, or rather a temporary expression of a universal human yearning. It is now almost forgotten by the boys themselves, certainly by the church and the synagogue. Beside the liberal and the social demands of the day, there exists this mystical longing to be sure of G.o.d, to know for a certainty that He will protect His dear ones. This universal and eternal need was felt for the time by our men in immediate danger, in thankfulness, in mourning. Having discovered it once, they still feel it when the occasion comes. Here, however, there seems little likelihood of their contribution being accepted. The union of the social and mystical elements, even at different times and for different occasions, seems more than any human inst.i.tution can accomplish. If the soldier, in tune with the urge of the age, demands a social and a liberal response from the synagogue, he may get it in a large number of cases. The mystical element he will not ask for, and his inarticulate mood, now hardly evident, will certainly evoke no response.

One thing certainly the young men feel, which American Judaism is accepting from them. While the young Jew is wholly sympathetic to Zionism, he hardly ever feels that Zionism is the center or the conclusion of the Jewish problem. Zionism, as a movement, has brought to fruition much of the latent love of the young Jew for his people and his religion. But the Jewish soldier, or the same boy as a civilian, is not interested chiefly in solving the economic or the cultural problems of Palestine. He responds also to the similar problems among the Jews of America. Zionism is not enough for him; he must have Judaism as well. He and all of us are compelled to confront the spiritual and moral problems of the new world after the war.

The young man does not know, and the synagogue does not always show him, that the very things he demands most urgently are inherent in Judaism, especially in those great prophets whose words still ring forth with a youthful fervor. The unfaltering search for new truth, the recognition of the poor and the weak, the unity of all groups in the community, the triumphant search for G.o.d and finding of G.o.d--all these the young Jew wants and the prophets have given us. This aspect of the problem, then, becomes one of leadership, to interpret our Judaism in terms which express the life of the new day and to show the young men that their dearest longings are part of the ancient Jewish heritage. The antiquity of the prophetic summons is no disadvantage to the young men if it answers their personal need. It is of the greatest advantage to the synagogue in responding to the call of the great days after the war.

Those ancient responses to the errors and crimes of mobs and despots in the Orient contain principles whose vitality is not impaired by the pa.s.sage of time. It needs but the skill and the courage to apply them again, as in prophetic times, to the western world in the twentieth century.

War gave the world a new angle of vision on life and death, on good and bad. The deepest impress of this new viewpoint is on those men who were themselves at the front, who underwent the most extreme phase of it in their own persons, but some traces have spread throughout the entire western civilization. America must realize it as Europe does; Judaism and Christianity alike are entering, for good or bad, a new period. The world has changed in some respects; we who see the world have changed far more. In facing the future, with its political, its social, its moral problems, we need a new fullness of insight into the young men whose lives have changed and whose souls expanded overnight, even though they remain in externals the boys they were. We need a new intellectual content, covering not only the new map of Europe and Asia, but also the new ideas and ideals which swept the world for a time, as though they were to be eternal. Above all, we must have complete honesty in facing the thrilling challenge of the immediate future. We do not need a new form of Judaism any more than we need a new type of government in America. We are confronted by the demand to adapt Americanism and Judaism to the changing demands of a changing era, to find among the temporary and evanescent elements in both those things which have permanent usefulness for any demand and any era. We need ideals of the past, indeed, but only such ideals as have survived the past, as apply fully to the present, as will aid in building up a future of promise and achievement for the Jew. Judaism is on trial to-day. If we answer the need of the young man, he will be the loyal, active Jew for to-day and to-morrow. If we ignore him, whether through uncertainty, ignorance or pride, he will not come to us and we shall not be going after him.

Judaism needs the young man; it needs equally his great ideals, social and mystical as well. The test will result in a finer and more effective faith only if we respond to it bravely and honestly, in the very spirit of the soldier himself.

CHAPTER XV

THE JEWISH SOLDIER AND ANTI-SEMITISM

During the war we felt that prejudice between men of different groups and different faiths was lessening day by day, that our common enthusiasm in our common cause had brought Catholics, Protestants and Jews nearer together on a basis of their ardent Americanism. Especially we who were at the front felt this in the first flush of our cooperation, our mutual interest and our mutual helpfulness. After you have stood beside a man in the stress of front-line work, have shared a blanket with him, have seen him suffer like a hero or die like a martyr, his origin, his family and his faith become less important than the manhood of the man himself. More than once I have said, talking to soldier audiences of Jewish or of mixed faith: "After this war no man can knowingly call the Jew a coward again. If you ever hear such a statement, you can be sure that our detractor is not an honest bigot, as may have been the case in the past; he is either ignorant or malicious."

We knew that and our comrades knew it. The men at the front knew very little about the whole-hearted partic.i.p.ation of every section of our vast population, Jew and non-Jew together, in the campaigns for production, Liberty Bonds, the United War Work campaign, and all the rest. That record is a permanent one and is known to every man who did his duty in "the rear lines" back in the United States during the war.

But those who served overseas know the record the Jew made for himself at the front, his promotions, his decorations, his woundings and his deaths. They know that differences of religion and race counted not at all in the American army, that our heroes and our effective, able soldiers came from all religions and all races. With what high hopes we entered the war; with what fine fervor we saw it end! We felt that our efforts had insured something more of liberty for the oppressed of all the world, for Czech and Armenian, Alsatian and Belgian, Pole and Jew.

Perhaps the greatest disappointment of all to the fighters and the sufferers has been the survival and the occasional revival of the old hatreds in a more intense form. I am thinking of the many national and group hatreds and antagonisms which have tormented the world in the last years, and especially of one of them, that against the Jews. The oppression of the autocratic regime of the Czar has been carried on by the free nation of Poland; the pogroms of the Black Hundred have been revived in the Ukraine, where the slaughter of war was doubled by the slaughter of peace. Hungary has seen its "white terror," where Jews were murdered as Bolshevists and Bolshevists as Jews. Austria and Germany have seen a strengthening of the political anti-Semitism of pre-war times, here blaming the Jews for beginning the war, and there for ending it. Finally the movement has been carried over into the freest and most intelligent of nations, and some apologists for it have appeared even in England and America. Here the Anti-Semites can work by neither political nor legal means, but through a campaign of slander they strive to weaken the morale of the Jew and injure his standing before the ma.s.s of his fellow citizens.

I shall not turn aside to deal, even for a moment, with the ma.s.s of accusations against the Jew, trivial or grave as the case may be. They have been adequately answered by Jew and non-Jew, especially in the address on "The 'Protocols,' Bolshevism and the Jews," by ten national organizations of American Jews on December 1, 1920, and the subsequent protests against anti-Semitism by a distinguished group of non-Jewish Americans, notably President Woodrow Wilson, former President William Howard Taft and William Cardinal O'Connell. The only one of these accusations with which I can properly deal in this place, and one on which my fellow-soldiers will agree with me in every detail, is the revival of the ancient slander against the patriotism and courage of the Jew. We are reading, not for the first time in history, but for almost the first time in the _English_ language, that the Jews are not patriots in their respective nations, that they all have a super-national allegiance to a Jewish international conspiracy, that their real loyalty is to this other group within and above the state, even to the extent of treachery or anarchy against their own governments. We feel the disgrace, the pathos of such a charge just after the war when Jews died with non-Jews that America might be safe, at a time when Jews even more than non-Jews are enduring the dread aftermath of war, the famine, the poverty and the epidemics, in Eastern and Central Europe. It is the sort of charge which only facts can answer, the kind of facts which are present in this book, as in every official or personal story of the war by men who took a personal part in the war. Prejudice is too largely the product of those who gained by the war but did not personally enter the ranks. The men who know, the men who fought together and bled together, have a different story.

America has, in fact, too much fairness as well as too much humanity, to listen to any such movement of partisan hatred or bigotry. I quote the statement of over a hundred distinguished "citizens of Gentile birth and Christian faith," referred to above:

"The loyalty and patriotism of our fellow citizens of the Jewish faith is equal to that of any part of our people, and requires no defense at our hands. From the foundations of this Republic down to the recent World War, men and women of Jewish ancestry and faith have taken an honorable part in building up this great nation and maintaining its prestige and honor among the nations of the world. There is not the slightest justification, therefore, for a campaign of anti-Semitism in this country."

In this connection, we can recall the words written by Theodore Roosevelt, at that time President, in 1905, on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the first landing of Jews in what is now the United States:

"I am glad to be able to say that while the Jews of the United States have remained loyal to their faith and their race traditions, they are engaged in generous rivalry with their fellow-citizens of other denominations in advancing the interests of our common country. This is true, not only of the descendants of the early settlers and those of American birth, but of a great and constantly increasing proportion of those who have come to our sh.o.r.es within the last twenty-five years as refugees reduced to the direst straits of penury and misery. In a few years, men and women hitherto utterly unaccustomed to any of the privileges of citizenship have moved mightily upward toward the standard of loyal, self-respecting American citizenship; of that citizenship which not merely insists upon its rights, but also eagerly recognizes its duty to do its full share in the material, social and moral advancement of the nation."

It would be beside the issue to refer to the Jewish partic.i.p.ation in American life during the past, if that also had not been brought up as an accusation. But the records exist, and the facts are conclusive. In the American revolution forty-six Jews fought under George Washington, out of the little Jewish population of about two thousand in the United States at that time. The leading Jews of New York and Newport left those cities because they were patriots and would not carry on their business under British rule. Haim Salomon, the Jewish banker of New York and later of Philadelphia, was among those who rendered the greatest service in financing the infant nation. In the Civil War ten thousand Jewish soldiers of whom we to-day possess the records served in the Union and Confederate armies. Each generation of immigrants has been most eager to learn the English language and American ways, to take advantage to the full of American liberty and opportunity, to make a home for their families in a free land and to help that land maintain its freedom. The World War was for the Jews, as for all Americans, simply the culmination, bringing out most strongly the high lights in American life. Heroes and slackers, loyal and disloyal, showed themselves in their true colors during the war. And the Jew, like all Americans, showed himself in this crisis loyal to America. The Jewish record stands on a par with the best record of any group of American citizens, of any church or any race. Jews of Russia, whose only contact with their native government had fostered hatred and distrust, flocked to the colors in America. Jews of American birth, like all citizens of American birth, did their full duty for their country.

On this point again, my own facts, clear as they are, need not stand alone. I can quote Major General Robert Alexander, who commanded, in the 77th Division, the largest group of Jews in any unit of the American Expeditionary Forces: "I found that Hebrew names on the Honor Roll of the division were fully up to the proportion that they should have been; in other words, the Hebrew boy paid his full share of the price of victory. When the time came for recommendations to go in for marks of distinction which we were able to give, I found there again that the names of the Hebrews were as fully represented on that list as the numbers in the division warranted, by long odds."

To-day the Jewish soldier, no longer a soldier or a hero, but still a Jew and an American, appeals to the American people. Will they suffer such a propaganda, he wonders, such an attack on him and on his brothers who still lie overseas, in their American graves on foreign soil? Will they tolerate for a moment such a venomous and false attack on the defenders of their nation, on any group, small or large, of the boys who rallied to the defense of democracy? In the army overseas we felt that prejudice was a thing of the past, that only in ignorance or malice could the old serpent lift its head again. To-day, with all the newer bitterness, we feel the same. We know that our soldier comrades are loyal still, that America is still America, that as we have once defended her we need not now muster our arguments or records to defend ourselves against her. If the Jew ever needed justification, he surely needs it no longer to-day. The Jewish soldier has once for all made anti-Semitism impossible among the men who served America in arms, and who still in days of quiet continue to serve and save their country.

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A Jewish Chaplain in France Part 10 summary

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