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The Human Touch

September 6, 1934
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There is a man in New York who is living a perfectly sinless double life. That sounds like a contradiction in terms but it isn’t. A double life is lived usually by the kind of man who maintains his wife on Main street and his mistress on a by-treet. But this man lives the kind of double life that Negroes, for example, epitomize in the word "passing."

Quite some months ago I wrote about a young architect who had obtained a position, and was rising in it, in one of the most important architectural and constructions companies in the East. His name is Gentile, his appearance not strikingly Jewish. He plays the role of a non-Jew by implication. That is, the men and women with whom he dines at his home and at whose homes he dines are Gentiles. And to these people he says neither "I am not a Jew" nor "I am a Jew." There is nothing in the furniture of his apartment, or on his walls, no photographs of an ancestor bearing Semitic features to suggest his race; his life seems to be dedicated not to negation but to neutrality. But at least he bears his own name and he maintains social relations with his fellow-employes and perhaps if he came out in his true colors, a great load might be lifted and no job lost.

But the man who lives the double life has a cross to bear. And it is only because his shoulders are broad, and somewhat insensitive, that he does not feel the weight of that cross. His appearance was not Jewish, his name was. He changed his name to conform to his appearance and obtained a position in a stronghold of Gentileness, if not of gentility. His salary checks, which have been rising even during the depression, are made in the name of the man whose personality he assumed when he changed his name. Perhaps I shouldn’t say changed his name; took on an alias, in effect.


Even this situation would be, to a far more sensitive person, sufficiently depressing, but it has to be complicated by other considerations. The young man married recently, but so far as his office associates are concerned, he is still a single man and therefore an eligible one to the girls in the office, but a curious eligible, an eligible who is not even remotely interested in the women around him. Being a Jew out of office hours and having married a Jewish girl, and having been wedded according to the orthodox Jewish rites, it was obviously impossible for him to invite any member of the Gentile office to his wedding or even to show off his wife to his office "friends," for the wife is a Jewess and looks like a Jewess, and were she to appear for him some evening, or call some noon for lunch, he might be giving the show away, and he can’t afford to give the show away.

Perhaps if this man appeared in the office of his superior and said: "I am a Jew, my name is not Cranston, but Cohen; I have tried to do my work as best I knew how: am I to stay on or do you wish me to resign?" the superior might say, either through sense of shame that such deception should have had to be practiced, or for some other reason: "Of course you’ll stay on, and stay on under your true colors." Or he might not. And because he might not, the man who is a Jew in his home and social life and a Gentile in his office fears to bring the issue to a head and continues living his double life.

Some day when, and if, I ever become truly acquainted with the subject of the sketch, I will seek to discover the self-protective devices by which a man finds it possible to cut himself in half, to sever the navel-tie with his race, so to speak, in the morning, and become an integrated man again after he has left the office. And yet there never can be any such integration. The man cannot ever be fully at ease, but there must be thoughts he forces himself to think to rationalize the division of himself. Recently, on the occasion of the meeting at which the case of civilization against Hitlerism was to be stated, that is a few days before, his wife wished him to attend the meeting; he preferred not to go. He did not wish to attend that meeting, I venture to suggest, because he did not wish to have occasions for feeling identity with the race which he is compelled to deny by implication six days a week. It was easier that way.

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