Temple Israel of the City of New York
The reading of Genesis in the synagogue has not yet begun. The “Exodus” from the synagogues has already set in.
The stirring forensics of the preachers, the challenging blasts of the Shofar, the reputed compelling-ness of the Kol Nidrei and the sweet, tender emotions which the Yizkor engendered have had little effect on the normal indifference of the American Jew to his synagogue and to his faith.
Some weeks before the Yamin Naraim Judaism was peddled over sidewalk counters in Ghetto streets, in theatre and dance-hall lobbies, in the ante-chambers to lodge halls and foreclosed churches, even in professional ticket-agencies for “unheard of prices” (the language used by one rabbi in his announcement) but the fever and fervor of loyalty to the God of Israel have subsided.
The more dignified “campaigns” of organized temples and congregations, urging their affiliants to “please renew your seats for the holidays now, otherwise we will be compelled to sell them to others” has kept trustees and rabbis in a state of devastating ferment and worriment since last May. Banks and life-insurance companies holding mortgages on magnificent structures, have been equally anxious, waiting for the report of “sale of seats” to decide whether to foreclose on God or take a reduction in interest.
Now there is silence. The “sale of seats” in the House of God is over. The mushroom synagogues, the “new deals”, midtown and “budget-less” extravaganzas, the thousand and one little “shuls” started by shamasim, chazanim and rabanim out of pocket and out of position, have folded their tents and have silently stolen away to hibernate until next year, when they will “go into business” again and offer “traditional services with Union Prayer Books” for prices “against which no one can compete.”
It was the proud boast of Reform Judaism that these undignified and irreligious practices, this scramble for parnasah at the expense of an otherwise unaffiliated Jewry, was confined to the orthodox “shuls.” It is our tragedy that this is no longer true. Among the “entrepreneurs” who flourished during the past yamin naraim were men who had been ordained in modern seminaries, who had held pulpits in liberal congregations. The mushroom now thrives on Park Avenue as readily as on Orchard Street.
What are we to do about this evil?
The first impulse is to pillory the rabbis, pseudo and ordained, who resort to such methods. This is ungenerous. Their families need bread. They are hungry for food and for the chance to make themselves heard. The shame lies with the organized synagogues who are so eager each for its own prestige and its own financial ease, that they disregard the needs of the community. Were the synagogues and temples to band together and conduct overflow services in the more beautiful places for all those who are otherwise unaffiliated and select qualified cantors and rabbis out of work, the Jewish masses would quickly learn that it is better to worship under proper auspices in the beauty of holiness than in the claptrap surroundings of the average “mushroom.” The shame lies too with the thousands of Jews who have the means to support the organized synagogue but who have taken a page out of the technique of a local department store and insist on having harinah vehat’ filah at “six percent less”! They shop around until God comes downâ€”to their price!
The period of the Holy Days is termed Yamim Naraim. The liberal rabbis hate to translate this as “awful days” and seek refuge in euphemismsâ€””revenential days”, “penitential days”, “awe-inspiring days”. Their attitude is a clear example of wish fulfilment. The weeks before Rosh Hashonah and the period of the Yamim Naraim now are in truth awful days, awful for the organized synagogue, awful for the truly pious who are seeking spiritual refreshment at the altar of their ancient faith, and awful to the non-Jewish community which cannot reconcile this commercialization of religion and this grotesquerie of God with the sublime account of “the heritage of Israel” upon which their Jewish neighbors so vaunt themselves.
The Jew is on trial now and his religion is being studied more than ever before. One plank in the program of the new day should be to remove the faith fakirs from the booths of our people. Then we may hope for the Genesis of a new return to Judaism as a living faith and as a faith by which men will want to live and for which Israel will live!
Some months ago Dr. Conrad Henry Moehlman, professor of the History of Christianity in the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, published a work entitled “The Christian Jewish Tragedy,” wherein he urged a Gentile atonement of Gentile injustice to Jewry and Judaism throughout the ages.
Now this word is being made deed, by another Christian clergyman. Before an audience in San Francisco, the Rev. Walter John Sherman, head of the Oakland flock known as the First Methodist Episcopal Church, announced that he would ask his parishioners at tonight’s services to impose a fast on themselves as an act of penance for the crimes of the Hitler government against the Jews of Germany.
We respect the feeling of outraged indignation against injustice and persecution which prompts the Rev. Mr. Sherman to ask his congregants to impose this penitential discipline on themselves. But we hope that in his zeal he will not impose upon them a discipline which they may resent.
There are perhaps other ways in which the members of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Oakland, California, and of as many other churches as wish to follow suit, may make amends for the crimes of Hitlerism against the Jews of Germany. They cannot wipe out the past. But they can guard to some extent against the possibility of the future repetition of the Hitler past.
Each Christian in the United States can make himself, as men like Sherwood Eddy have, a bulwark against anti-Semitism in whatever community he may be. He can help, if he wishes, in the attempts to relieve the most pressing necessities of beleaguered German Jewry. And even if he does not care to be an active agent against anti-Semitic slanders, let him, at least, not accept passively the slanders of anti-Semitic hate-mongers as the truth. For Christians who take seriously their faith there is always work to be done in this world to foster understanding and amity among nations, among races and among peoples. Hitlerism, as even the gagged Christians of Germany know, is a denial of the Christian spirit. It is possible for the ungagged Christians of other countries to affirm those principles in other ways than in fasting for the crimes of Hitler.