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The Human Touch

I have been informed that one of the most notable architects of churches in the United States is a Jew. His name is not Jewish. But the story comes to me on good authority. I regard this as a special triumph of adaptation, in view of the actual, if not legal, numerus clausus in America on the Jew in the realm of architecture.Frank C. Kirk, who, like this architect, is Jewish with an un-Jewish name and some of whose work has been reproduced in The Bulletin is authority for this story. When I first saw the name Kirk I could hardly believe it was that of a Jew, but his paintings were definitely Jewish in subject matter. It seemed odd.

When, several weeks later, I called on Mr. Kirk at his studio, I was informed that he had been born with that name, in the very deeps of the Ukraine, of whose villages and market places he had memory sufficiently vivid to enable him to put them on canvas. Mr. Kirk told me that he had made many murals in his time and fittingly, because his name is Scotch for church, he had done work in churches, too. Once he had the commission to paint a Madonna in a Catholic church and he painted a Madonna from his memory of the other painters’ Madonnas, and when he had finished this commission, he was taken aback to see groups of nuns kneeling before his Madonna and praying. It may be forgiven in Mr. Kirk if the sight gave him deep satisfaction, and if even the recollection of it pleases him, for people nowadays have no worshipful attitude in regard to paintings; they pass by pictures with a dead face, much less pray and kneel before them.

Nor, come to think of it, would this Madonna have been falsely represented if the painter had intruded a touch of Jewishness in his portrait, for only the most bigoted of Hitlerians will insist upon the pure “Aryanism” either of Jesus or of his mother. Everything is mixed up, as Paul Radin and Franz Boas, the anthropologists will tell you. And now with Shevuoth coming on any day now, we learn, a new, that in the blood of David ran the blood of Ruth, the Moabite, no Jewess she.

THEY SHALL NOT PASS

The publicity office of Madison Square Garden appeals to the Bible, and exclusively to the Old Testament, for its propaganda against the gentlemen who try to get in for nothing. I don’t know how much this appeal dampens the ardor of the gentlemen who try to pass into the six-day bike race, or a featherweight match, or who seek to watch the greased embrace of wrestlers bulging with muscle, but in any event the placard is an unexpected sign of Biblical scholarship, even in spite of the purpose which it seeks to encompass.

The commandments against passing come to ten and may be read by all who pass in the main vestibule just before the publicity director’s office. The commandments begin with “Thou shalt not pass,” from the Book of Numbers, chapter twenty, verse eighteen, and the tenth commandment is taken from Ezekiel, chapter fourteen, which reads: “No man may pass through because of the beasts.” The most apt of the commandments seems to me to come from Jeremiah, chapter five, verse twenty-two, which reads: “Though they roar yet they cannot pass.” The third chapter of Judges tells us “Suffer not a man to pass,” which might be used in a different context. Isaiah, chapter twenty-four, is perhaps a little bit too inclusive, reading as it does “None shall pass.”

These ten commandments of the publicity department of the greatest sports arena in the United States, if not in the world, are all negative, but there is an eleventh, of a positive nature, appended at the end of the ten, from Jonah, chapter one, verse three, which informs us: “So they paid the fare thereof, and went,” which means that if you pay the price of admission you can get into the Garden and see what you want to see.

I am retaining the copy of the commandments, taken down for me by our enterprising sports editor, Morris Weiner, for possible use by others, such as theatre press agents, opera and concert press agents-always a much besieged lot-and even radio broad-casting press agents.

It occurs to me, on second thought, that Joffre must have been cribbing from the Bible when, at the Battle of the Marne, he proclaimed “They shall not pass,” which, it is believed, may have been said, in a Greek version, by the leader of the three hundred at Thermopylae against the host of Persian invaders. Which brings us back to sports again, for the word Marathon, which we take for granted, was the twenty-six mile distance which was covered by the courier who brought news to Athens of the defeat of the 300. Because that distance was supposed to be twenty-six miles every Marathon run since has had to measure the same distance.

THE EFFECT OF THE PRODIGY

If, in a gathering of six, five are familiar with a certain story and the sixth has never heard it, it is considered fitting for one of the five to tell the story for the pleasure and benefit of the sixth, the other four listening as politely as they know how and taking pleasure in the story if they can. This means that if you have heard this story-and it’s not a new one-there must be someone somewhere who has not.

A new boy prodigy had come to town, a violinist out of the Russian pale. Let’s call him Jascha Heifetz. He was to make his New York debut in Carnegie Hall. Among the occupants of a box rather up front were Mischa Elman, violinist, and Ossip Gabrilowitsch, pianist. As the boy prodigy moved with facile virtuosity from Bach to Mozart to Paganini-or whatever the order was-and as the wonder grew and the applause became anything but polite, in fact, thunderous, Mr. Elman was seen to show signs of fidgetiness. (Know the story?) He twisted his neck in his collar and inserted his forefinger in between his neck and collar and took perhaps a noticeably small share in the applause. Then turning to Gabrilowitsch, he said: “It’s getting pretty warm in here.”

Whereat Mr. Gabrilowitsch, smiling his blandest, replied: “Not for pianists!”

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