Director of Jewish Day
For the last few weeks, and for the next few weeks, Chicago has been and will remain the Jewish capital of America. If anyone doubts this let him make a trip through the various Jewish centres of this country, and wind up with a visit to the city of Jewish Day.
For Zionists in particular, andâ€”almost to the same extentâ€”for all those Jews who for years have been interested in some regular type of public activity, the contrast between the spirit which reigns in Chicago, and that which reigns (if that word is not too strong for a condition which is, alas, more vegetative than active) almost everywhere else, is nothing short of startling. The depression has laid its hand on Jewish public work, as it has laid its hand on every aspect of American life. There has been, during these last two to three years, a veritable debacle in those movements which depended, for their progress, on the interest of the mass, and on the overflow from its normal income. And no one seemed to know what to do about it.
The tremendous Jewish agitation against the horrors of German anti-Semitism stirred up a semblance of activity. The protests were a huge moral success. Every meeting was packed; every community took its share of work. But, while the emotion was deep and genuine, the machinery was lacking to harness it to a long program of constructive effort. The old lethargy began to creep over American Jewry. Even Hitlerism could not conquer the moral effect of the depression.
THE NOTE OF JOY
Something new, invigorating, startling and appealing was needed to shake up the mass and touch it once more to activity: something which, for the moment, eased the heart by shifting the emphasis from tragedy to joy, from the healing of wounds to the building of something. We are finding it in Jewish Day.
The superficial evidence of the feverish activity which has spread out from Chicago to the rest of the country is to be found, first of all, in the public interest which Jewish Day has awakened. Not Chicago alone but the entire country has “caught on.” In Chicago hundreds of great posters, thousands of placards, scattered throughout the city, proclaim the coming festival, “The Romance of a People,” on July 3. From pulpits and paltforms, at mass and lodge meetings, in various committees, Jewish Day re-echoes like a refrain. The headquarters of the Mid-West Branch of the Jewish Agency, at 11 So. LaSalle street, look like the Zionist offices in New York in the years 1923-29â€”and more so. A whirlwind of preparations, a coming and going of individuals and groups, a tremendous mass activity, planned, controlled, all pointed to one end. The place is alive.
These are the surface evidences of interest. Below the surface there is a variety of forms of work which supplies us with the clue to the riddle: Why is it that Jewish Day has set the entire Jewish community in motion?
Jewish Day happens to combine the maximum number of features in one creative enterprise, so that it makes room for every kind of participation. The affair is, to begin with, all-Jewish. Sponsored by the Jewish Agency, and by a cooperating group of Jewish organizations which cover the whole field of Jewish life, it leaves no loop-hole for sectarianism.
Jewish Day is at once a demonstration of Jewish ability, an educational enterprise, a democratic expression of Jewishness, and a simple and easy method of fund raising for Palestine and for hundreds of American Jewish organizations.
At this time above all, there is a deep-felt, inarticulate desire to place before the world, if only for a single day, the evidence of the right of the Jewish people not simply to live, which every people has, but to be considered among the active and creative forces of civilization. “The Romance of a People” is an epitome of the Jewish struggle to maintain, through the ages, the purity of a religious and social ideal.
Let us turn to the educational side. “The Romance of a People” is an all-Jewish production. Thirty-five hundred young people are undergoing the long and arduous training for the dramatic pageant. For several months now groups have ben rehearsing scenes from Jewish history, have been capturing the spirit of the Jewish past, have been making the acquaintance of Jewish music, Jewish ritualâ€”all the dynamics of Jewish life. The rehearsals are lessons in the Jewish heritage. It is doubtful whether there has ever been such an intense Jewish consciousness in the community before. And it is pleasant to note that this consciousness is not an empty, noisy assertiveness: it is linked up to an artistic knowledge and cutlural appreciation of Jewish things.
Those who were present at the smaller pageant arranged under the same auspices at the Chicago Stadium last Chanukah will understand why Chicago is looking forward with the liveliest interest to the pageant to be held on Soldier Field, under the open sky, before an audience which is expected to reach one hundred and fifty thousand. At the Stadium Jews acquired for the first time, through the immediate effects of mass dramatic action, of music, of color, the feeling of the richness of Jewish history. It was a startling experience. It drew an audience of twenty-five thousand, and five thousand were turned away. The Chicago press spoke of “Israel Reborn” with genuine and unrestrained enthusiasm. Today Chicago is keyed up in anticipation of a performance which will set a high mark in dramatic production in this country, and unfold before one hundred and fifty thousand watchers the inmost spirit and power of Jewish history.
The pageant, as the public now knows, is only the climax of Jewish Day. A massing of Jewish conventions in Chicago during the long week-end of July first to July fifth, a youth demonstration, an athletic meet, and a children’s afternoon on “Enchanted Island”, are part of the entire day’s program. Jewish Day as a whole has been conceived on a scale, and with a wealth of imagination, which promise to make history in the art of Jewish public activities.
It is this largeness of conception which has converted Chicago into the capital of American Jewry. The significance of the foregoing account, brief and fragmentary as it is, can be understood only in the light of the amazing enthusiasm which Jewish Day has awakened. It is something for people to find out that they have not been rendered completely helpless by surrounding conditions. And this feeling of liberation, of unleashed energies, will later on be accounted the most important aspect of the success of “Jewish Day.”