Isaacs Condemning Jewish Prejudice against Eastern Europeans

Reverend S. M. Isaacs Condemning Jewish Prejudice against Eastern Europeans in the New York Jewish Messenger, August 24, 1868, vol 20, no. 8, columns A and B.

Away With Prejudice

It is well known that while intermarriage with Christians is prohibited by our law, in some parts of the United States there is a tacit extension of this principle to a degree never contemplated, and, while essentially absurd, most injurious to the common weal. From some mistaken idea that blood is a grand possession upon which to pride themselves, descendants of once noble Spanish families adopt the conclusion that it would be degrading for their sons or daughters to associate or intermarry with Hebrews who cannot boast of coats of arms or crests. The posterity of learned but impoverished Polish Rabbins are not suitable matches for the "poor but proud" representatives of the ancient Castilians. The circumstance that all trace their descent from a common origin, that the ancestry of both sections once dwelt together in the land of Judah….

Thus we find indeed, that intermarriages with our Gentile neighbors have already undermined the strictly Jewish character of some families, once among the proudest, while the augmentation of the resident population, tracing their origin directly from Spain or Portugal, will not begin to compare with the vast numerical increase of Germans, whose arrival in any force did not commence until twenty years ago.

Another ridiculous and pernicious prejudice of a similar character prevails, and undoubtedly impairs the usefulness of measures intended to be broad and comprehensive in their scope. There is a species of contempt manifested by Germans for the Polish, which is thoroughly undeserved, and cannot be otherwise than unhappy in its manifestation. We hear frequently of these wholesale condemnations of a class of people whose records are by no means unflattering to their loyally,
zeal and intelligence. There has been for some years a happily prospering scheme for effecting a union of American Israelites for purposes all profess to have in view. Yet one of the would-be leaders of public opinion among us declines unreservedly to assist in or support the movement, because he thinks it controlled by Polish congregations. And what we cannot but condemn, there
is on the part of some a disposition to cater to this prejudice, and court the pseudo-aristocratic element at the expense of the fidelity and seal which are disinterestedly displayed by the unconscious objects of local prejudice.

We most—we Americans, who continue to love our religion for its divine origin and characteristics, and the spirit of brotherhood it inculcates and fosters—unhesitatingly condemn this growing tendency to maintain class prejudices. Here, in a land of liberty, we must be superior to traditions of European serfdom. We must repress these ebullitions of prejudice infallibly arising from ignorance.

We know and realize well enough that immigrants to our shores, even when learned in Scripture and grounded in theology, are not entitled, because of their rapid rise to wealth and grandeur, to look down upon their less fortunate brethren with contempt and the consciousness of self importance. As respects social position, they were neither princes nor dukes in Europe—
and many of these petty potentates would be held inferior to the pure untrammeled American citizen—a sovereign in his own right. As regards early instruction in Judaism, an essential element is humility—forgetting that, they have quickly learned to forget all that their
parents regarded as sacred and entitled to reverence.

Then why betray this ignorance and misnamed pride by affecting superiority to their brethren in faith who happen to hail from the other bank of the Danube? Why encourage these innumerable prejudices against Alsatians, Bavarians, Poseners and what not?

True nobility consists less in a grand ancestry than in personal recognition of that which entitles the man to his neighbors' respect and confidence. …

The usefulness, the true dignity of the American Jewish community is certainly compromised by the retention of these obnoxious prejudices. W e are, indeed, absolutely surprised to find them retained to such a ridiculous extent. They spring, we are convinced, from ignorance and misconception; and free, enlightened Americans should, with native dignity and an appreciation of that which in fact elevates the Jewish race, resolutely endeavor to repress and forever eradicate the baneful local prejudices which have counteracted the efforts of national men to create a oneness of feeling as well as of interest in all which properly preserves the distinctive character of the Israelite.

A word more. When some among us recount with mortification and indignation fresh instances of misconception and intolerance affecting the Jew, it would be well for them to consider how far this is encouraged and occasioned by the maintenance of the internal antipathies and prejudices to which we have adverted.

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