Jewish Life Reviewed in Latest Cables and Letters
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Jewish Life Reviewed in Latest Cables and Letters

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Although writers in Palestine, sending their contributions to the world Jewish and non-Jewish press, have abundantly pictured the outward effect of progress and mass settlement here—a process involving some fifty to sixty thousand newcomers a year, little has been written upon the social and psychological character of the Jewish populace. And many abroad must be wondering at the effect these newcomers have had upon the native-born Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews and the long-standing residents into whose public life, and sometimes also home life, the newcomers have infiltrated.

Undoubtedly a metamorphosis is taking place. The turbulent arrival of thousands of people — from Poland, Germany, Russia, Austria, England and America—has placed its mark on the outward and inward appearances of the Yishuv.

To describe this metamorphosis in the social and home life of Zion’s veteran residents is, in limited space, a difficult task; it is, in fact, a difficult situation to describe, and the Jews altogether, speaking as one of them, are a difficult people to write about.


To start at the beginning, however, it is necessary to draw a dividing line between the social structures of the Yishuv in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is far more cosmopolitan in its appeal; personal tastes bind different sections of the populace, whether they be English, Jewish, Moslem or Christian, and there is frequently that overlap among social circles. Tel Aviv, on the other hand, is more of a closed area, confined to Jewish appeal, and a system of class distinctions has grown up there. There is even talk of a class of “patricians,” the first-comers or settlers in the city, who view the recent invasions with disfavor and stick closely to their own kin, not allowing upstarts to climb the “social ladder.” Tel Aviv’s “Four Hundred,” in fact, are a much more exclusive and limited social register than was ever New York’s.

You will find that in Jerusalem the Jewish residents as a rule are more polished and worldly in their attitude than in Tel Aviv, which for all its size and spread is still small-townish in demeanor and outward appearance. There is, it is true, the sturdy Jewish independence manifest in Tel Aviv which does not give a darn for who and what you are. I heard it rendered by one observer as a Jew saying to a non-Jew in that city, “Who are you? What are you? Why are you here? I’m me, damn you!”


There is that same independent, or impudent, manner among the children. Free, untrammeled, not knowing the restrictions of Diaspora life or the fear of Christian reprisals, without that faint stigma of being a Jew that is inherent in every Jew, no matter what his lofty position, in other countries, the children of this land are growing up to be the embodiment of the new Jewish liberty. And, as it is said, here, don’t they take liberties too!

There is no consciousness that, as in other countries, the Jews must be timid, afraid, self-effacing. There is the real spirit here of ancient Israel—indomitable will, proud temper. and stiff-necked attitude. They are unyielding. It is a colorful life, to be sure, and a symbol for the Diaspora. It is bred just as much out of resistance to an enervating climate, for which a special will-power is needed lest one falls into the sloth that has ruled Arabia for centuries, as from inner characteristics.


It is into this atmosphere that the newcomers are arriving to settle. They must face the same scorn as “greenhorns” in the lands of migration earlier this century. But they bring with them ideas, new outlooks, diligence, a bubbling energy. It is inevitable that they should leave their mark upon the social lives they enter. Some of them have already married locally, taking the proverbial beauties of Palestine as wives. That brings them closer into the new inter-Jewish assimiliation. Others strike up friendships based on mutual sympathy.

They find their niche, and the homes are thrown open to them. They must not expect to find a polished civilization, a land of leisurely, unhurried reflection. It is either hot or cold here, but rarely lukewarm; passions burst and passions subside; you meet a man today and get on the best terms with him, quarrel with him in the evening and say goodbye for ever, and the next afternoon you are having tea with him quietly again at your favorite cafe, just like that. One thing after another.


Talking of cafes, that is one of the places where social contacts are readily formed. In Tel Aviv, for example, life is just one cafe after another, and you can verify this from any of your friends living there. You eat, drink, and some sleep there. You can dance or play checkers, or just sip your aperitif and watch the passing show. It is almost but not nearly the same in Jerusalem. Certainly many of the new Germans frequent the old and new cafes, and that is where they meet.

The influence that these people are having on local life is tremendous. Much of it is cultural. They are bringing a new zest and a new energy into social affairs. Many of them are musical, and that is cultivating an entirely fresh love of the great art. Their manners, too, find a reflection, their mode of address. It may be that all these new elements will be welded into the general tradition of Jewish social life that is being formed in the towns—and I exclude from this article the effect on Jewish pre-war and post-war rural areas, where standards are different—and, as many think, create a more likable Jewish bourgeoisie in urban centers than some think have existed abroad.

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