A DAUGHTER OF ISRAEL

There was a young man with a Christian heart and blue eyes—eyes that
made you look at him again and smile at his earnestness—who went among
the lowly Jews of the East Side to convert them to the faith of the
Messiah whom they disowned. Those blue eyes fell, one day, upon a head
of hair that gleamed like gold, fiery, red hair, silken and carelessly
tangled, and shining in the sunlight. Then the head turned and the young
man beheld the face of Bertha, daughter of Tamor, the rabbi. And Bertha
opened her eyes, which were brown, and gazed curiously at this young man
who seemed out of place in the Ghetto, and smiled and turned away.

A year went by and the Jews still disowned the Messiah, but a great
change had come over this young man. In the vague future he still hoped
to carry out his daring scheme, but now all his heart and all his soul
and all his hopes of earthly happiness were centred upon Bertha,
daughter of Tamor, the rabbi.

In the beginning she had been amused at him, but his persistence and his
earnestness won their reward, as those qualities always will, and when
this first year was at an end it came to pass that this Jewish maiden
wept, as a loving woman will weep, for sheer joy of being loved; she a
rabbi’s daughter, bred in the traditions of a jealous faith, he a
Christian lad.

She had kept the secret of her growing love locked in her heart, but now
it became a burden too heavy to be borne, and one night—it was shortly
before the fast of Yom Kippur—she poured out her confession into her
father’s ear. She told it in whispers, hiding her face in her father’s
long beard, and with her arms around his neck. When the full meaning of
the revelation dawned upon him, the Rabbi Tamor, ashen pale, sprang from
his feet and thrust her from him.

“A Christian!” he cried. “My daughter marry a Christian!”

He was an old man—so old and feeble that in a few days the synagogue had
planned to retire him and install a younger rabbi in his place. But now
fury gave him strength. His whole frame trembled, but his eyes were
flashing fire, and he had raised his arm as if he were about to strike
his daughter to the floor. But she did not move. Her eyes were raised to
his, tearfully but undismayed.

“Do not strike me, father,” she said. “I cannot help it. I love him. I
have promised to marry him. Will you not give me your blessing?”

“Blessings?” cried the infuriated old man. “My curses upon you if you
take so foul a step! Your mother would rise from her grave if you
married a Christian! How dare you tell such a thing to me—to me, who
have devoted so many years to bringing you up in the faith to which I
have devoted my life? Is there no son of Israel good enough for you?
Must you bring this horrible calamity upon me in my old age? Would you
have me read you out of the congregation? If it were the last act of my
rabbinate—aye, if it were the last act of my life, I would read out
aloud, so that all the world would know my shame, the ban of
excommunication that the synagogue would impose upon you! Have I brought
you up for this?”

But Bertha had swooned, and his rage fell upon ears that did not hear.

* * * * *

The cup of bitterness was full. Rabbi Tamor knew his daughter, knew the
full strength of her nature, the steadfastness of her purpose. He had
pleaded, expostulated, argued, and threatened, but all in vain. And to
add to his misery he saw in all his daughter’s passionate devotion to
her lover something that reminded him more and more vividly of the wife
whom he had courted and loved and cherished until death took her from
him. Many years had gone by, but whenever his memory grew dim, and her
features began to grow indistinct, he had only to look at his daughter
to see them before him again, in all their youthful beauty. His
daughter, the image of his dead wife, to marry a Christian! It was the
bitterness of gall!

The Rabbi Tamor’s father and grandfather had been rabbis before him, and
in his veins surged the blood of devotion to Israel’s cause. He had been
in this country many years, but the roots of his life had been planted
in Russia, in a Ghetto where the traditions of thousands of years still
survived in daily life, and in spirit he still dwelt there. To him
Christianity meant oppression, persecution, torture. His nature was
stern and unbending; there could be no compromise, no palliation; the
sinner against Israel was like a venomous serpent that must be crushed
without argument. And now his duty was clear.

When the officials of the synagogue met, a few days before Yom Kippur,
the Rabbi Tamor, pale and trembling, but firm in his determination, laid
before them the case of a young woman who had resolved to marry outside
her faith. The officials listened, horror-stricken, but turned to him
for the verdict. He was a wise man, they knew, learned in Mishna and
Thora, and they had become accustomed to abide by his decisions.

“The warning!” he said, in a low voice. “Let us read aloud the warning
of the ban!”

The new rabbi, who by courtesy had been invited to the meeting, and who
had listened with interest to Rabbi Tamor’s narrative, raised his hand
and leaned forward as if he were about to speak. But when he heard the
clerk ask for the girl’s name, and heard Rabbi Tamor, in a hoarse,
stifling voice, answer, “Bertha Tamor, my—my daughter!” his hand fell
and the words died upon his lips. But he frowned and sat for a long time
plunged in deep thought.

* * * * *

Upon the Day of Atonement Bertha fasted. She, too, had gone through a
bitter struggle. For a nature like hers to abandon the faith of her race
meant a racking of every fibre of soul and body. She had not slept for
three nights. Her face was pale, and her eyes were encircled with black
shadows. But through all her misery, through all the distress that she
felt over her father’s grief, she could not subdue the throbbing of
exulting joy that pulsed through her veins, nor blot out from her mind
the blue eyes of her lover or the ardour of his kisses. But grief and
joy only combined to wear out her vitality; she felt despondent,
depressed.

The sun began to sink below the housetops. The day’s fasting and prayer
were slowly coming to an end. Bertha went to the synagogue, where, all
that day, since sunrise, her father had been praying. The news of the
proposed reading of the warning had spread, and when Bertha entered the
gallery set aside for women in the synagogue, she felt every eye upon
her.

The Yom Kippur service is long, and to him who knows the story of
Israel, intensely impressive. When it drew near its close the Rabbi
Tamor slowly rose, and with trembling hands unfolded a paper. Several
times he cleared his throat as if to speak, but each time his voice
seemed to fail him. The silence of death had fallen upon the
congregation.

“Warning!” he began. He was clutching the arm of the man who stood
nearest him to steady himself.

“Warning of the ban of excommunication upon the daughter of——”

“Stop!”

The new rabbi, seated among the congregation, had risen, and was walking
rapidly toward the platform. A wave of excitement swept through the
hall. Rabbi Tamor’s hand fell to his side. For a moment a look of relief
came into his face. His duty was a terrible one, and any interruption
was welcome. When the new rabbi reached the platform he began to speak.
His voice was low and musical, and after the harsh, strident tones of
their old rabbi, fell gratefully upon every ear. He was a young man, of
irregular, rather unprepossessing features, and looked more like an
energetic sweatshop worker than a learned rabbi. But when he began to
speak, and the congregation beheld the light that came into his eyes,
every man in that hall felt, instinctively, “Here is a teacher of
Israel!”

“It is irregular,” he began, in his soft voice. “I am violating every
law and every rule. But this is the Day of Atonement, and I would be
untrue to my faith, to my God and to you, my new children, were I to
keep silent.”

When Bertha, in her place in the gallery, realised what her father was
about to do she had become as pale as a ghost, and had clutched the
railing in front of her, and had bitten her lip until the blood came to
keep from crying aloud in her anguish. And she had sat there motionless
as a statue, seeing nothing but her father’s pale face and the misery in
his eyes. When the new rabbi arose and began to speak, she became dazed.
The platform, the ark, and all the people below and around her began to
swim before her eyes. She felt faint, felt that she was about to become
unconscious, when a sudden passionate note that had come into the
speaker’s voice acted like a tonic upon her, and then, all at once, she
became aware that the vigorous, magnetic personality of the new rabbi
had taken possession of the whole synagogue, and after that her eyes
never left his face while he was speaking.

“‘The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation: He is
my God, and I will prepare Him a habitation; my father’s God, and I will
exalt Him!’

“So sang Moses unto the Lord, and so year after year, century after
century, through the long, weary dragging-out of the ages, have we, the
children of Israel, sung it after him. Our temples have been shattered,
our strength has been crushed, all the force, all the skill, all the
cunning of man have been used to scatter us, to persecute us, to torture
us, to wipe us off the face of the earth. But through it all arose our
steadfast song. He was our fathers’ God! We will exalt Him!”

And then the speaker launched upon the story of Israel’s martyrdom. In a
voice that vibrated with intense emotion he recited that world-tragedy
of Israel’s downfall, her shame, her sufferings throughout the slow
centuries. The sorrow of it filled Bertha’s heart. She was following
every word, every gesture, as if the recital fascinated her. It is a sad
story—there is none other like it in the world. Bertha felt the pain of
it all in her own heart. And then he told how, through it all, Israel
remained steadfast. How, under the lash, at the point of the knife, in
the flames of the stake, Israel remained steadfast. How, in the face of
temptation, with the vista of happiness, of wealth, of empire opening
before her, if only she would renounce her faith—Israel remained
steadfast. And he told of the great ones, the stars of Israel, who had
chosen death rather than renounce their faith, who had preferred
ignominy, privation, torture before they would prove untrue to their
God.




“He is our fathers’ God!” he cried. “Is there a daughter of Israel who
will not exalt Him?”

There was a moment of breathless silence. Then arose a piercing cry from
the gallery. Bertha had sprung to her feet.

“I will be true!” she cried. “I will be steadfast! He is my fathers’ God
and I will exalt Him!”

A commotion arose, and men and women ran forward to seize her by the
hand. But she brushed them all aside and walked determinedly toward the
new rabbi. She seized his hand and carried it to her lips.

“He is my fathers’ God,” she said. “I will exalt Him!”

And repeating this, again and again, she hurried out of the synagogue.
The elders crowded around her father and congratulated him.

* * * * *

It is but a short distance from the heart of the Ghetto to the river,
and in times of poverty and suffering there are many who traverse the
intervening space. The river flows silently. Occasionally you hear the
splash of a wave breaking against the wharf, but the deep, swift current
as it sweeps resistlessly out to sea makes no sound.

They brought to Rabbi Tamor, many hours afterward, the shawl which she
had left behind her on the wharf. They took him to the spot, and stood
near him, lest in his grief he might attempt to throw himself into the
water. But he only stood gazing with undimmed eyes at the dark river,
babbling incoherently. Once he raised his hand to his ear.

“Hark!” he whispered. “Do you hear?”

They listened, but could hear nothing.

“It is her voice. She is crying, ‘I will exalt Him!’ Do you hear it?”

But they turned their heads from him to hide the tears.