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THE AMERICAN JEW: HIS PROBLEMS AND 
HIS PSYCHOLOGY 



MORRIS S. LAZARON 

Baltimore, Maryland 



There have been three waves of Jewish immigration into 
America. The first immigrants, in the early days of settle- 
ment, were Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch Jews with all 
their splendid background of breeding and culture. Their 
numbers were small. They intermarried with Christians and 
with the second wave of German- Jewish immigration which 
reached our shores in the forties and fifties. For these reasons 
they have almost disappeared, despite their pride of family 
and the wish to keep themselves distinct. The German 
immigration settled here and prospered, contributing much to 
that fine body of stable, hard-working, clear-thinking citizens 
who make up our great middle class. The flood tide of 
immigration was reached after the May Laws of Russia in 
the eighties, which created the Pale. This amounted to a 
flight of a whole people. These last comers found their 
homes in the crowded centers of the great cities. They 
sought employment in the vocations to which they were 
trained, more particularly in the needle trades and clothing 
industry; this was their work in the old country; to this they 
set themselves on arrival here. They have achieved remark- 
able success and are pushing the German- Jewish group from 
places of influence and power by their overwhelming numbers. 

The older resident groups, those who have been here for 
several generations, are as different from these, their brethren, 
as men of different races. They cannot understand the 
adherence to the old marks that characterize the ghettos of 
Europe. The inhabitants of the ghettos in the American 

378 



THE AMERICAN JEW: HIS PROBLEMS AND PSYCHOLOGY 379 

cities seem all out of harmony with American life as we under- 
stand it. And so the two largest groups remain divided, 
having little in common, eyeing each other with more of 
suspicion than sympathy, yet suffering together the burden 
of Jewry. 

Grave problems which arise out of this situation face the 
American Jew; problems we should be frank to realize, and 
to the solution of which American Israel must set itself. We 
must not be swept from our moorings because we are in the 
minority. The influence of the immigrant Jew is cast definitely 
in the scale of exclusiveness, clannishness. Such institutions 
as the Jewish parochial schools or the tendency to inject into 
our American political system European conceptions of group 
rights and minority privileges must be combated with all our 
influence and all our power. 

The greatest task which confronts American Jewry is the 
problem of the younger people among our immigrant popula- 
tion. The attitude of the older generation is easily understood. 
They seek refuge in the authority of the past; they dig back 
to origins and attempt to assert themselves by a futile clinging 
to the old, in the endeavor to stay the flood that is sweeping 
away their offspring. This uncompromising attitude, as much 
as the disintegrating influence of the struggles to readjust 
themselves, is the cause of the greatest number of the 
unsynagogued, the indifferent, the criminal, and the anti- 
social among our immigrant brethren. Despairing of any 
real observance of the faith as they have learned it and 
practiced it, gripped in the tyranny of the economic machine, 
knowing no other interpretation of Judaism — for from the 
beginning the liberal interpretation of Judaism was pictured 
to them as shameful heresy — they break completely with the 
past. Rejoicing in the untrammeled freedom of the new land, 
they cast aside, with the shackles of their old political tyranny, 
the restraining tenets and practices of the only Judaism they 
know. They cut the roots and would start anew. And this 



38o THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

is the tragedy of the immigrant Jew — and, let us not mistake, 
the tragedy of all American Israel too, for the position of 
American Jewry can never be stronger than the regard in 
which the least of our brethren is held. The people to whom 
traditions were sacred and the spirit of law and obedience to 
disciphne were the highest imperatives in life shows a tragic 
disregard for law, fiUs the courts of our crowded centers with 
transgressors and the papers with Jewish names associated 
with crime. 

It is evident that something should be done. The non- 
Jew will not distinguish between Jew and Jew, between 
up- town and down- town Jew, between reform and ortho- 
dox Jew, between immigrant and older resident. We cannot 
stand aloof in complacent superiority announcing that we, 
the older residents, are different, and expect to escape the 
contumely. The consequences are equally dangerous for us 
as for our immigrant brethren. We should and must come to 
realize that this problem of the immigrant Jew is the problem 
of the whole household of American Israel. 

I do not believe we have given the immigrant in our midst 
the sort of welcome which he needed. This applies not only 
to the immigrant Jew but to all our immigrant population. 
We have organized our great philanthropies, and generous 
has been the response of the older residents. But for the most 
part we have thrown the immigrant into the stream of Ameri- 
can life and left him to swim for himself. The Jewish immi- 
grant needed by his nature, craved from his soul, something 
more than a full stomach. The terrible pressure of economic 
life, together with his natural desire to be with his fellow- 
countrymen, and also his wish to live near a synagogue and 
so observe his reUgious customs, forced him into the crowded 
sections of our cities, there to live or to die. We expected the 
natural laws of adjustment to Americanize him. And America, 
great and vibrant being that she is, engulfed him in the 
maelstrom. In a very short time he learned the superficialities 



THE AMERICAN JEW: HIS PROBLEMS AND PSYCHOLOGY 381 

of American life, the ways of politics, the veneers of the Ameri- 
can spirit, and when he had fulfilled the allotted time he 
became a citizen — but without ever knowing spiritually the 
land of his adoption. We became annoyed when he did not 
dress and talk and think like us. We became alarmed when 
he cut loose from his past entirely. At the same time we took 
no care to maintain within him the spiritual values of his old 
life nor to appropriate those values to strengthen, beautify, 
and stabilize our American and our Jewish life. And we are 
paying the price in vast numbers of indifferentists, in economic 
discontent, in broken family morale, in disloyalty, disintegra- 
tion, and crime. 

You see then the great difficulties which are confronting us. 
The great mass of American Jews, including the immigrant, is 
law-abiding. The heritage of reverence and respect for the 
law is deeply ingrained in the Jewish character and expresses 
itself in obedience to constituted authority. This lawlessness 
is the reflex of previous restrictions, the growing-pains of 
adaptation to the new environment. Even in Russia, though 
names of Jews are prominent in the Bolshevik movement, the 
great mass of Jews is known to be opposed to the Bolshevik 
program of appropriation, confiscation, and terror. 

One of the most interesting phases of the situation is the 
attempt which certain Christian bodies are making to take 
advantage of the drifting, unmoored Jewish mass and con- 
vert it to Christianity. Large smns of money are being 
appropriated for this work. Such a policy should be a 
challenge to American Jewry which we shoidd hail, not in 
anger, but as an opportunity. Pride should stimulate Ameri- 
can Jews that others should not do the work which is inherently 
our own: of arousing an active interest in rehgion. 

The situation is by no means a desperate one. My expe- 
rience with the children of the immigrant fills me with a great 
hopefulness. I have fovmd a latent idealism among most of 
the immigrants and children of the immigrants which expresses 



382 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

itself in other than Jewish ways simply because it has never 
been given an opportunity to realize itself Jewishly. Through 
these many weary centuries of oppression the Jew, thrown 
back upon himself, sought and found solace and inspiration 
in the vast store of Jewish literature, rich in idealism. Herein 
he read and studied day and night. The darkness of the 
ghetto was lighted by the faith and spirituality of his poets, 
philosophers, and teachers. All this ideaUsm has been choked 
down, repressed, but it has accumulated in the Jewish heart 
and soul; and all this restrained but stored-up energy and 
spiritual passion are ready to break through into the present 
and flow into the stream of American Jewish life, enriching 
and glorifying America and Jewish life in America. This 
idealism rooted in the genius of the Jew can best express itself 
after its own kind — in a Jewish way. These our brethren can 
best serve the coxmtry as citizens if they serve it as Jews. It 
is our duty as Jews to capture this Elan, to organize and direct 
it; to give it the means for conscious realization; it is our duty 
as American Jews to see to it that our household is well ordered, 
that our children contribute their full share to the stabilization 
of American life. 

This, then, is the situation in American Israel. It is the 
story of a great people attempting to adapt itself to a new and 
different atmosphere. It is the heartbreaking effort to remain 
loyal to its heritage in the maelstrom of an environment that 
it does not yet completely understand, and which as yet does 
not understand it. If American Israel is blameworthy, it is 
in this, that it is not striving mightily enough to unite all the 
discordant factions into a single race-conscious, God-conscious 
people. Upon the Jewish population of the United States 
rests the first responsibiUty to redeem the delinquent in its 
ranks by a revival of loyalty to the best traditions of the 
Jewish faith and the Jewish people. A clear understanding 
of the situation by Jews themselves, the will to work together 
in harmony as Jews and Americans, must inevitably precede 



THE AMERICAN JEW: HIS PROBLEMS AND PSYCHOLOGY 383 

any intelligent effort to counteract anti-Semitism in the 
United States. 

Several other charges demand refutation. They are based 
upon a misunderstanding of the psychology of the Jew. I 
would have you see this Jewish soul as it grapples with itself, 
as it seeks to express itself in our world. I would have you 
know how the Jew regards himself in relation to other peoples, 
to America, to his God. 

It is said that the Jew is a distinct nationaUty; that he will 
never completely identify himself with the American RepubUc 
because he is intensely nation-conscious! 

The war brought into recognition new definitions of the 
terms nation and nationality. A nation is a political organiza- 
tion. It is the mechanism and institution of government 
which a people creates to secure its stability and ordered 
progress. Nationality is the spiritual background or back- 
grounds of a nation. For instance, the United States of 
America is but one nation; in the American nation there are 
as many nationalities as there are peoples who have come here 
from other lands. 

The Jews are not a nation. Many Jews of the world are 
opposed to the creation of a Jewish nation. The question of 
Zionism nearly caused a schism a few years since in the ranks 
of American Israel. Even today great bodies of liberal and 
orthodox Jews refuse to support the movement for Palestinian 
restoration, because they fear it may lead to the creation of a 
nation. There are those who believe in a Jewish homeland, 
who believe there should be one place in the world where the 
Jewish soul shall have the unhindered opportunity to express 
itself in a culture of its own. As a matter of fact, the Zionist 
policy itself has undergone radical changes since the Balfour 
Declaration. The most that is hoped for, and that at the end 
of a long period of time, perhaps many decades, is the 
establishment of autonomy under the continued suzerainty 
of Great Britain. The immediate emphasis is on the 



384 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

philanthropic, practical, cviltural, and spiritual aspects of the 
movement. 

That the Jews of the United States do not constitute a 
nation, a people with divided loyalty, is not debatable for a 
moment. I need hold no brief for the patriotism of the Ameri- 
can Jew. He came with Colimibus; he fought with Wash- 
ington; he made possible the continued struggle for American 
independence. Jewish blood consecrates every American battle- 
field in every war from the earliest days. American Jews, 
conscious of the freedom they enjoy here, realizing the 
concordance of American ideals with Jewish ideals, will ever 
be ready to take their places, shoulder to shoidder with their 
fellow-Americans, as they have in the past, in defense of the 
institutions of this blessed land. They want no other country. 
They spurn any other allegiance. Their love of America is 
writ in a story of Jewish blood and Jewish sacrifice ! Th e native- 
born Jew and the immigrant Jew with broken English unite 
at least in eloquent testimony to their devotion to these United 
States. No — the Jews are not and do not desire a nation! 

The Jews are a nalionalily. 

If a common past, a common history, common sacrifice 
and suffering, the same language and hterature, if a common 
hope and ideal and a common faith, constitute the spiritual 
background of a people, then are we a nationaUty. But this 
is a spiritual allegiance and not a political loyalty. And our 
Christian brethren with their splendid background of Christian 
historic tradition will be able to imderstand it. Of course, 
with us there is this difference: in addition to the bond of 
union as believers in the same religion, Judaism, there is the 
consciousness of peoplehood — the realization that we belong 
to a people, the Jewish people. This consciousness is fre- 
quently lost wilfully by renegade Jews or lessened in the 
process of adaptation; but the outside world, through prejudice 
or discrimination, or barriers in business and social life, forces 
upon us Jews — even upon those who would forget — the 



THE AMERICAN JEW: HIS PROBLEMS AND PSYCHOLOGY 385 

knowledge that we belong to a distinct people. The best 
type of American Jew is eager to proclaim his fealty to Judaism; 
is willing to accept the discomforts of being a Jew. 

If we are to be convicted because we are true to ourselves, 
true to the best in our past; if we are to be convicted because 
of our willingness to bend oiu: necks to the slaughterer in 
refusal to relinquish truth as we conceive it; then upon the 
nations of the earth who make the unholy claim be the blame — 
not upon us! It is our duty to be ourselves. The tragedy 
is the greater in that many among us are not loyal. On the 
other hand, we do not feel the narrow chauvinism which sees 
only good in Jews, which recognizes no evil in the household 
of Israel. But we must be what we are, Jews, by the blood 
that flows in our veins, by the faith and sacrifice of imnumbered 
of our fathers. 

Again, it is said: The Jews are against society, against the 
gentile scheme of things. Someone has remarked of the Jew 
that he is a democrat against monarchy; a socialist against 
democracy, and a Bolshevik against the socialist state. We 
are iconoclasts, lawbreakers, revolutionists. 

The Jewish people is not obhged to defend the opinion of 
individual Jews. Without doubt the foregoing describes 
most aptly many of my coreUgionists. Just as truly it 
describes many who profess Christianity. But to say that the 
Jew and Judaism are against society and Christian civiliza- 
tion is to exhibit either ignorance or hate or both. 

Many years ago one man's heart was gripped by the wrong, 
injustice, inhmnanity, and illiberaUty of the world. This 
man's soul was enthralled by a vision of brotherhood, of a 
time of justice and of peace. He taught his children thus to 
dream, and they their children's children, till a whole people 
felt the divine call to so live that these ideals should be realized 
in the institutions and relations of men. 

The Jewish soul has always kindled to a flame when 
injustice rose in the land. It is no accident that the prophets 



386 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

were Jews. It is no accident that Jesus was a Jew. It is no 
accident that Jews throughout the world today are striving to 
better conditions among men. 

When an instinctive longing of the soul is met by cruel 
repression it will burst its bonds and make itself manifest — 
usually to an extravagant degree. The Jew is essentially a 
personalist. God is a reality to him. He identifies God's 
interests with his own. God demands that he cry out against 
unrighteousness and wrong wherever they may be. He feels 
called to do the work of God in cleaning the dirty places of 
the world, in binding up the wounds of society, in creating 
such an order as shall make men free. Therefore, wherever 
there is injustice, there Jewish arms are lifted as instruments 
of God for the right; wherever there is hate, there Jewish 
hearts are found as ministers of love. 

If we are accused of anarchy, revolution, and destruction, 
I would answer that some Jews are leaders in these movements, 
because their innate sense of justice, long rebelling against 
oppression, yet \mable to express itself, swings now to the 
extreme of radicalism. The wonder is that every Jew in 
Russia and Poland and Roumania is not an anarchist. But 
the discipHne exacted by the faith makes law-abiding citizens 
of the vast majority. According to the Jew, law, a funda- 
mental attribute of the universe, must likewise determine 
the freedom of the individual. The passion of his soul for 
liberty and justice, for himself and others, is tempered by the 
discipline of his Torah, is himianized by his concept of God, 
the universal Father, whose children are his brothers. 

If we are accused of being protestants, disturbers of the 
peace, I answer that we would protest against the wrongs and 
inequities of modem society; we would disturb the smug 
content of them that eat of the fleshpots of Egypt; we would 
destroy the peace of them who sit at ease in Zion! Where 
there are sin and misery, superstition and error, prejudice and 
hate, wrong and injustice in the world, when there is God's 



THE AMERICAN JEW: HIS PROBLEMS AND PSYCHOLOGY 387 

work to do, we cannot abide in our tents at peace. We 
summon to this hallowed crusade, not only the loyal among 
our own, but those from the folds of our Christian brethren, 
that together in the blessed fellowship of a common cause 
we may wage the battle against the forces of tyranny to capture 
for the poor and the weak the inalienable rights of freemen. 
Jewish discontent is constructive! 

I have purposely emphasized the religious conditions in 
American Israel and described the psychology of the Jew, 
because an understanding of these things wiU show the base- 
lessness of the charges against us and will dispel the anxiety 
of those who fear us. When the Jew breaks from the spiritual 
heritage of his people and his faith, then he becomes a menace; 
he breeds Jewish criminals and Jewish radicals and gives just 
cause for Christian condemnation. 

I confess we must sweep before our own doors! Before we 
cry out by reason of the prejudice of the world against us we 
must tear out of our hearts the prejudices we have against our 
own brethren. An awful responsibility rests upon the Jew in 
America to realize in his personal life as husband, parent, 
child, friend, and citizen those noble ideals which his faith 
enjoins upon him. Jewish capitalists and employers should 
conceive it to be their highest duty as Jews, out of the rich 
storehouse of our prophets' inspiration for social justice, to 
apply in their relations with their employees such high stand- 
ards of justice and benevolence that they wiU lead the way to 
a peace of industrial democracy here in America. Jewish 
manufacturers and leaders of industry must show that their 
capital is ready to become the stepping-stone for the new 
economic organization of society, which shall be based upon 
the right. Jewish laborers must not ally themselves with 
the hinderers, radicals, and destructionists, who delay the 
ordered progress of society, sow the seed of hate among 
us, divide the body politic into angry groups, and bring 
misfortune to thousands. To the Jewish employer and the 



388 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Jewish worker I would say: According to our religion, God 
and man are partners in the work of the world. The work we 
do is His work. Beyond the obligation we owe our fellow- 
men and sanctifying that obligation is the figure of God! 
"Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who 
build it." The eyes of the non- Jewish world are upon us. 
They expect more from the Jew. They demand more from 
the Jew. And rightly! For the Jew considers himself a 
mission people. If we presume to call ourselves leaders of 
righteousness, in God's name we should so live that our 
example shall be worthy of emulation. If we "would be 
priests ministering to a world, we must first sanctify our- 
selves!" 

Would that the Jews of America would see these things! 
Too many of my people shut God out of their lives. They 
would not be Jews. They would be something else. An 
aching discontent gnaws at their hearts. They are hungry 
and thirsty. They crowd the shrines of lesser cults without 
the law. They believe they find healing and salvation at 
other waters than the rivers of Jordan. They know not why 
this anguish, this hectic neurosis, this tragic madness. I 
know: It is because they would not be themselves. It is 
because they have forgotten God. 

Would that my people should understand these things! 
The physical characteristics of the Jew may be lost as he 
reacts to the environment of freedom. The back may be 
straightened, the form heightened, the face lose its rugged, 
crude, and elemental strength. But the Jewish heart throbs 
within him. The Jewish soul is unchanged! 

Would God my people would heed these things! Amos, 
Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ha-Levi, Maimonides, Mendelssohn 
— all his people's seers and prophets and poets — live in the 
Jew of today. Their inspiration forms the fabric of his being. 
Their redeeming revelations are graven on his heart. He is 
born with them. They live again in him. The Jew's past 



THE AMERICAN JEW: HIS PROBLEMS AND PSYCHOLOGY 389 

is in his soul. He cannot forget it, no matter how much he 
would. He cannot blot it out. It is the heritage of his birth. 
It haunts him. It gives him no peace. God has chosen the 
Jew! God will not let him alone! The Jew abandons his 
God ? Turns his back upon him ? Ah, he cannot ! " Whither 
shall I go from Thy spirit ? Or whither shall I flee from Thy 
presence? If I ascend into heaven. Thou art there; If I make 
my bed in the nether-world, behold Thou art there. If I take 
the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts 
of the sea; Even there would Thy hand lead me and Thy right 
hand would hold me." It was written. It is so. All the 
mighty imperatives of his tragic past, all the martyrdom of his 
people, rise up to agonize his heart with a thousand dis- 
contents. He becomes restless, unhappy, a cynic, a debauch- 
erer, an anarchist — a lonely, lonely seeker who gropes blindly 
in the dark! But — God comes into his soul and he is trans- 
figured! The prophets live again. The poets sing. The 
Jew serves! He has answered the call of his God. He has 
fulfilled the divine purpose for which he was created: He is a 
blessing! 

Prejudice will die out only when there is no fuel to call it 
forth. When all is said and done, prejudice cannot be fought 
with prejudice; but it can be met by courage; it can be 
conquered by love; it can be overcome by service! When the 
world hates us, let us love; when the world reviles us, let us 
serve! The only justification for our separateness is that 
which our history, our literature, and our tradition teach us: 
to exemplify the reality of God in our daily lives and in our 
relations with our fellows. 

America charges the Jew to be himself. America expects 
the Jew to give himself to his faith and his people. America 
is rightly alarmed at the lack of Jewish loyalty to Jewish 
ideals. America charges every Jew that the responsibility for 
the unsynagogued, the delinquent, the criminal, the anarchic 
Jew, is upon him. America demands not that he forsake his 



390 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

faith; America proclaims: I do not want you, renegade Jew. 
I do not respect you, disloyal Jew. You do me no good. 
You do me harm. America declares: You serve me best when 
you serve me as a Jew! 

Let the Jews of America accept the challenge! Let them 
lay upon their souls the burden of a new consecration. Let 
my people strip from their hearts the narrow and petty 
prejudices which divide them, which make their efforts futile, 
which hold them up to scorn! Let them cling fast to the 
spiritual imperatives of our great tradition. Let them eschew 
the fleshpots of Egypt and the worship of the golden calf. 
Let them throw themselves upon the God of their fathers as 
their forebears have done in days gone by. Let them serve 
the Lord God with all their hearts and all their souls and all 
their might with the old cry: I shall not die but I shall live 
and declare the deeds of the Lord! We shall have naught to 
fear. Our fellow-citizens shall have naught to blame.