With so many Jews and Gentiles, Gentile Jews and Jewish Gentiles already having expressed themselves on the subject of “Yoshe Kalb,” the play produced by Maurice Schwartz in which he is appearing at the Yiddish Art Theatre, I hope that my own little critical croak will not create too much of a discord to the sounds which thus far have been floating up from the critical frogs’ pond.
In Euclid, I believe, there is a rule to the effect that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Therefore, if every chapter of a book is good it ought to go without saying that the book, as a whole, is good, and, therefore, if every scene in a play is good, the play, as a whole, is necessarily good too.
I am therefore puzzled, I am unsure and my critical croak is therefore not as clear and decided as a critical croak ought to be, or as clear as are some of the expressions of praise which have reached the Yiddish Art Theatre from the four corners of the earth, or three of the four corners, at least. I think that Maurice Schwartz, as the Nieshever Rabbi, does a magnificent role. The most miner roles are most carefully and aptly cast, down to the humblest teamsters, beggars and Chassids. The profound motivations are profoundly stated in terms of acting and the humorous touches relieve, without betraying, the tragic character of the play as a whole. Little flickers of excitement were lighted in me as the play moved from scene to scene. The play is full of touches of character, more in acting than in setting and the final setting, that of the trial before the Rabbis, was almost magnificent. But when the curtain fell and the acting company appeared en masse for the rounds of applause which it fully deserved, why did I rise with a disappointed sense that the whole did not add up to the parts; in other words, that the whole was not as good as each of its parts? Why was it that the slight flicker of interest each of the scenes lighted in me never became anything like a flame?
I hope I am not alone in this conclusion. I think that there is too much of “Yoshe Kalb.” It is not only a play, but attempts also to be a compendium, in the form of dramatic action, of the ways of life, habits and religious customs and beliefs of a large section of Eastern Jewry. There is perhaps too much ethnology for the drama. Frequent scene shiftings create shifts and declines of interest. Also, is seems to me, the play covers too long a span of years in the lives of its chief characters, so that we are compelled to look upon, in the last scenes, a Nieshever Rabbi entirely unlike the Nieshever Rabbi to whom we had got accustomed in the first scenes. Shall it be said, then, that “Yoshe Kalb” suffers from the fact that its producer and actors have given us too much? I believe there may be a grain of truth in a remark I have heard to the effect that “Yoshe Kalb” should be considered as a contribution, in the form of drama, to ethnology, in the same way, for example, that we looked upon “The Dybbuk.” My memory of “The Dybbuk” is a little too vague to make me accept the comparison, but I pass it on to those whose memories are clearer.
You can see, can’t you? that I am somewhat puzzled. I most strongly believe that you should go to see “Yoshe Kalb” and keep it running for at least another year. The great metropolitan theatre of Broadway has few things, if any, so fine as this. In writing what I have, I am merely recording my disappointment â€” perhaps with myself? â€” at not having felt the sustained lift which I expected.
ABOUT SHERWOOD EDDY
We cannot call Sherwood Eddy, in whose honor the Jewish Daily Bulletin is giving a dinner at the Commodore Hotel on Tuesday evening, Oct. 17, a lamed vovnik because he is not a Jew, and we cannot call him a Galahad because Galahads are not ordinarily guests of honor at public dinners, but it is not the least deviation from the solemn truth to call him a gallant and courageous Christian gentleman. The Bulletin is giving Dr. Eddy this dinnerâ€”which it is most sincerely hoped he will enjoyâ€” in order to mark the fact that he was the only American who dared speak up in open meeting in Berlin against the Nazi terror. The obligation to speak up in Berlin these days is one which has made men so strong as Dr. Eddy blanch. But the more one knows about his career the less, perhaps, is one surprised at such courage.
He is a missionary, but he happens to be a missionary in the social sense, in the sense which interprets religion in its broadest and most generous terms. Way back in 1898, when many of us were still toddling about on all fours, he went to India at his own expense and served for fifteen years as secretary for the Young Men’s Christian Association among the students of that Empire. He was then called to be Secretary for Asia for the National Council of the Y. M. C. A., where he worked among students and in the centers of political, industrial and social life in the Near and Far East. In 1915 he was Y. M. C. A. secretary with the British Army and later with the American Army at the front. And after the Armistice, he helped raise thousands of dollars for the relief of Germans in the Ruhr. Since his retirement in 1931 from the Y. M. C. A. he has devoted his time to the promotion of better understanding and better will among nations and people; he has been devoting himself to the Herculean task of eliminating race prejudice and social injustice and in the war against other social ailments in the body politic, lecturing in schools, colleges, clubs and churches all over the United States and Canada. He is waging the good fight.
It is curious to note that William Dudley Pelley, head of the anti-Semitic Silver Shirts of America, was also in the service of the Y. M. C. A., with the Japanese and American forces in Siberia. The Y. M. C. A. is no longer responsible for Mr. Pelley, a compost of ignorance and fanaticism. Mr. Pelley offends not merely by upholding false ideas, but by believing most passionately in facts which aren’t so. James Waterman Wise, editor of Opinion, interviewed Mr. Pelley recently, and emerged, somewhat dazed, having heard from Mr. Pelley his belief in the fairy-tale that Otto H. Kahn addressed a group of Bronx Jews in Yiddish, urging them to join in the fantastic Jewish conspiracy in which every fool anti-Semite believes. Mr. Pelley also informed Mr. Wise that he regards Hitler as a victim of Jewish persecution and assured him that the work of Hitler would have to be finished in the United States!
One does not know whether to be more grateful for Dr. Eddy than chagrined and mortified at Mr. Pelley, who, incidentally, also like Hitler, shrouds his anti-Semitism in a kind of metaphysical jargon.