The Human Touch

I have returned from my vacation to find New York very much its old self. Sunday afternoon I saw a fist fight in Madison Square Park—an impromptu fight without admission charge—and on Monday I learned that I had hay fever. On Tuesday I saw that a new store had opened on Fifth avenue and an old one closed on the Bowery. All of which, as you see, leaves New York very much in the same condition in which it was two weeks ago.

I had a good time while I was away and brought back an expensive coat of tan. Perhaps that is why I look like a million dollars. But I’d rather have it than look it. Incidentally, I observed the anti-Semitic front in what is called the Cape Ann section of the Granite State of Massachusetts.

This is the section of country of which the fishing town Gloucester may be called the capital and which includes such communities as Rockport, Pigeon Cove, Lanesville and Brier Neck. Of these only Gloucester is large enough to have an all-year Jewish community and a synagogue. In the other communities Jews, like the rest of the population, are only summer residents. And of these places Gloucester is the only one large enough to have a kosher butcher shop.

I worked hard in the attempt to enjoy my vacation. You can’t tell when another vacation will come your way. I therefore, did not spend too much time noting evidences of anti-Semitism and tabulating said evidence. I think I have expressed before an inclination to let sleeping dogs lie. I could not help but see that there is such a thing as anti-Semitism in Massachusetts.

It is an instinctive, an impulsive anti-Semitism, not rationalized into any philosophy, and it is an anti-Semitism amenable to modification, I think. When we reached Rockport, we had a little difficulty in finding accommodations, but that was because the season had been a good one, from the renting point of view. When, finally, we found a place, our fellow-lodgers showed an inclination to shy away from us, at first, but as time wore on and they remarked that we were not noticeably different from other human beings, their hostility thawed and there were smiles instead of frowns and at least civil good mornings instead of silence. I am not presenting our modus operandi of getting along with Gentile neighbors as a solution to the Massachusetts variety of anti-Semitism; I am no more than stating a very small experience.

I saw signs of active hostility in some faces, and I do not believe the anti-Semitism of such gentry can be treated by your being “a good Jew,” that is, an humble, servile, tractable Jew. But even in the faces of some of these hostile specimens I saw hostility clouded by confusion, doubt, uncertainty, as if experience were at odds with instruction. There seemed to be an admission in these confusedly hostile faces that Jews one might meet were not all the caricatures that had been served to them, perhaps in their reading matter. When a scowl can be changed, within a week, to a civil smile, something like a mental operation may be presumed to have occurred.

Perhaps it isn’t a pleasant thing to be made to feel, upon leaving one’s home, in New York, or Boston, or Chicago, or Philadelphia, or wherever one may be, that one is not at home, that one has to be vigilant not to offend, that one has to conduct a private educational campaign on the generally pleasant nature of Jews, but perhaps one has to take a vacation away from home to realize that one has no home. I assure you that the sun shone no less brightly and the waters gleamed no less entrancingly because some of the people happened to be stupid and ignorant.

But there is a responsibility upon every Jew who spends a week or a life-time in a non-Jewish community, and the responsibility needn’t be a burden. This responsibility was stated to me years ago by a relative during a summer visit to a small place in Connecticut. And that may be stated in some such terms as these: Conduct yourself in such a manner, wherever you are, that the next Jew who visits the same place will have less resistance to overcome. Of course, this counsel, crudely interpreted, may lead the way to servility; the best kind of friends the Jew can hope to make for other Jews is to be himself, naturally.

At one of the places at which we stayed, the hotel proprietor, a Scotswoman whose people had been of the district for much more than a lifetime, was aware a little of the attitude of our fellow-guests, and tried to make it up to us—although we were not in need of consolation—by playing a variation on that old theme of “Some of our best friends are Jews.” We were informed, among other things, that the place had been visited by such and such Jews and that the room we were occupying had once been occupied by a Rabbi Simpson of Kansas—which quite sanctified the place for us.

When I write that we were not in need of consolation, I mean that we were not. The sun, the sea, the sands—they made no distinctions. One could walk for miles and even obtain rides from passing motorists, and feast our Jewish eyes upon magnificent vistas of rocks and sailboats. And were one wanting in company one could seek out fellow-Jews. For where there is any evidence of anti-Semitism, the tendency of Jews in that community is to draw a little more closely together, and render each other more than perfunctory kindnesses.

And I discovered also that when Jews draw together under circumstances they tend inevitably to besprinkle their conversation with Yiddishisms. Walking along a country road, we would find ourselves falling into the habit of speaking Yiddish, and using it more frequently than we would in New York, for example. I recall one fellow-Jew reporting that he had used more Yiddish in Massachusetts than he had ever used in the large city from which he comes. And it was in a home in Gloucester that I heard a group of Yiddish songs I had never heard before—not even in the Yiddish Art Theatre.

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