The normal man lives in a state of instinctive self-affirmation in respect of his race, his religion and his nationality. He will often, whether he admits it or not, have the gravest doubts concerning his personal cleverness or virtue. But he is sureâ€”sure to the point of not commonly having to affirm itâ€”that the ancestors who begot and bore him, that his faith and his nation are equal in worth to any in the world. Such is the inner state of a normal man of high type. A lower type, of which unluckily the majority of men consists, will at the slightest instigation turn self-affirmation into truculence and declare that all racial stocks but his own are mongrel, that all faiths but his own are false and that his country can lick creation.
It is the good fortune of minorities that they cannot ape the barbarous and war-like second type; it is their tragedy that they cannot always attain the normal self-affirmation of the first. For that quiet assurance of the worth of one’s kind, blood and ways is the minimum condition of psychical health, of ethical balance, as well as of normal and healthy relations with men of other kinds and other ways.
Our country is the best laboratory in the world for the study of the psychical ills of minorities. The process of Americanization is often both painful and pathetic. The swift disintegration of inherited speech, culture, folk-ways under the dazzling compulsion of Anglo-American civilization produces during the process tragedies, humiliations, neuroses. But for the German, the Italian and the Slav this painful and tragic process has in all likelihood a definite term and limit. The third generation is a generation of Americans. Doubtless the Americanization of these masses will have subtly changed the character of America. Of that fact they themselves will be unaware. They will be Americans and as such confident in the worth of their race and faith.
It is otherwise with us. We are the classical and eternal minority. The democratic and libertarian institutions of America are far closer to us and to our spirit and our tradition, to our faith and our folkways than they are to those of the immigrant German or Sicilian or Pole. Hence we cooperate at once; hence the theoretical spirit of America is ours at once. We are Americans in the first generation by taste, will, temper. We remain Jews. The centuries will pass and there will be in America, except through dim ancestral memories, neither German nor Czech, neither Finn nor Greek. There will be Jews.
This is the lesson of the German catastropheâ€”the lesson burnt into our people and into the world with beatings and flayings of the living flesh, with unspeakable humiliation and unforgettable woe. Once there were in Germany Slavic Prussians and Wends; once there were groups of Celts and Latins. Where are they now? Merged indistinguishably into the body of the folk. In spite of a conscious assimilatory effort on the highest plane of intellectual and spiritual merging and profoundest cooperation from withinâ€”the Jews remained. They remained and having stripped themselves gradually of every vestige of a normal and instinctive self-affirmation of their race and faith and people, they remained with souls and minds as defenseless as were their bodies against the rubber cudgels of the barbarians.
Since the day on which Napoleon summoned the Sanhedrin in Paris we have sought to conciliate the world by attempting to yield to its impossible demands of self-annihilation and disappearance. We have not disappeared; we cannot disappear even if we would. We are, whatever the cause, an eternal people. It is our task and our duty not only to ourselves but to our fellowmen of other nations and faiths to make that truth prevail, to affirm ourselves as Jews, to cooperate, to give, to sacrifice ourselves as Jews, to obliterate by the witness of our lives and of our ways the falsehood which no self-humiliation and no self-evisceration nor brutal pressure nor open exclusion nor poisonous intrigue has turned into a truthâ€”the falsehood that Jews can be other than themselves.
Is this a dangerous policy? In the first place it is not a policy but a duty, the duty of loyalty to truth. Secondly, can it be more dangerous than the policy of the post-assimilatory era which has issued in the Rumania, the Poland, the Germany of today? Shall we play into the hands of the barbarians? Shall we earn the name of cowards and slinkers by which they call us? I have more faith in the world than has the suppliant and conciliatory Jew. I, too, would conciliateâ€”but not the mob of fools by my humiliation. We shall conciliate all gallant hearts and all generous minds in Christendom by an intense and dignified affirmation of our Jewish selves, our people and its history, our culture and our faith, our rights here and in Palestine, our dignity and our worth. If we issue this moral challenge to the worldâ€”the best men and women of all the nations will be on our side. And that will be enough.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.