Ten or twelve years ago Dr. James Rowland Angell, president of Yale University and ordinarily a very dignified gentleman, stood up before an assembly of the entire student body and told a story about “two Jews, Abey and Ikey,” in his conception of Yiddish dialect.
The story was not very funny. It went something like this (without the dialect):
Abey and Ikey were standing on a Sixth avenue corner in New York City, discussing what means of transportation they would use to reach their destination, some distance away.
“Let’s take the Sixth avenue elevated,” Abey suggested.
“Let’s walk down Sixth avenue instead and save a nickel,” Ikey said.
“Oh, well,” Abey replied, “since you want to save money, let’s go one block east and walk down Fifth avenue. Then we’ll be saving a dime.”
Dutifully the undergraduates laughed. After all, it was their university president’s story and they couldn’t very well let him down.
But after the assembly was dismissed, little groups of Jewish students gathered outside on the campus and discussed with long faces this “evidence of anti-Semitism” on the part of one so high in academic circles.
One of the boys suggested that while Dr. Angell’s attempt at humor was perhaps in poor taste, particularly in view of the fact that he was by no means an adept Yiddish dialectician, his story did not necessarily indicate a feeling of ill will toward the Jews.
“After all,” this callous youth pointed out, “the story might just as easily have been told in Scotch dialect, with the names ‘Angus’ and ‘Sandy’ substituted for ‘Abey’ and ‘Ikey.’ I doubt whether any of the boys of Scotch descent in the university would have taken offense if that had happened.”
The apologist’s ill-timed remarks were promptly cried down. Most of the boys had come to Yale expecting to find prejudice, and here, in their opinions, was a first-class example of it.
Nothing further ever came of the incident, but it did live in the memories of the Jewish undergraduates who had been present at the assembly. These columns undoubtedly will serve to revive it in the recollections of those readers who received degrees at Yale anywhere from seven to ten years ago.
Wednesday’s issue of The Jewish Daily Bulletin carried a story from Detroit, which told how Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia had agreed to delete from its pages, in a paragraph describing Salonica, a certain phrase which Jews had found offensive. The sentence containing this purported affront read as follows:
“The dignified fathers of Israel In Greasy Fur-Linged Gabardines rub elbows with kilted Greek peasants in tight white trousers tasseled under the knees, or booted Montenegrins with hanging sleeves.”
The editor of the encyclopedia takes a liberal’s view in his promise to correct the above sentence.
“However true this statement may be to the personal observations of the article, nevertheless it is a generalization which can hardly be defended,” he apologizes.
And it is at this point that today’s Day Book contributor inserts himself into the picture to ask, “But why?”
Has none of us ever seen a dignified father of Israel in a greasy gabardine? Or if not that, at any event a less dignified son of Israel with a greasy vest?
Why does the entire Jewish people rise up in arms over such things as this?
Anyone with a grain of sense can see with half an eye that no slighting generality is intended here. If one were to say, “The fat, sloppy, greasy-jacketed Heywood Broun rubs elbows with the dapper, pouchy-eyed Westbrook Pegler,” do you suppose for a minute that the endless army of columnists would demand an apology?
The fact of the matter is, Jews are annoying, to put it mildly, when they go into these petty poses of outraged nobility.
“The king can do no wrong,” declares the old truism which pretends to assert the divine right of royalty. Your super-sensitive Semite paraphrases this with, “The Jew can do no wrong.”
When the day arrives on which the Jew refuses to call out a battery of anti-aircraft guns to mow down a flea, he will have achieved true dignity, both in his own eyes and in those of his neighbors.
Men, after all, retain much of the psychology which motivated them when they were mischievous school boys. They enjoy “ribbing” anyone who “can’t take it.”
â€”A. J. B.