UNCONVERTED

The Reverend Thomas Gillespie (it may have been William—I am not sure of
his first name) noticed a tall old man with fierce brown eyes standing
in the front of the crowd. Then a stone struck the Reverend Gillespie in
the face. The crowd pressed in upon him, and it would have gone ill with
the preacher if the tall, brown-eyed man had not turned upon the crowd
and, in a voice that drowned every other sound, cried:

“Touch him not! Stand back!”

The crowd hesitated and halted. The tall man had turned his back upon
the Reverend Gillespie, and now stood facing the rough-looking group.

“Touch him not!” he repeated. “He is an honest man. He means us no harm.
He is but acting according to his lights. He is only mistaken. Whoever
throws another stone is an outcast. ‘Before me,’ said the Lord, ‘there
is no difference between Jew and Gentile; he that accomplishes good will
I reward accordingly.’ Friends, go your way!”

In a few minutes the entire crowd had dispersed; the tall man was
helping the clergyman to his feet, and the first “open-air meeting” of
the Reverend Gillespie’s “Mission to the East Side Jews” had come to an
end. The Reverend’s cheek was bleeding, and the tall man helped him
staunch the flow of blood with the aid of a handkerchief that seemed to
have seen patriarchal days.

“Friend,” he then said to the clergyman, “can you spare a few moments to
accompany me to my home? It is close by, and I would like to speak to
you.”

The clergyman’s head was in a whirl. The happenings of the past few
minutes had dazed him. He was a young man and enthusiastic, and this
idea of converting the Jews of the East Side to Christianity was all his
own idea—all his own undertaking, without pay, without hope of reward.
He knew German well, and a little Russian, and it had not taken him long
to acquire sufficient proficiency in the jargon to make himself clearly
understood. Then began this “open-air meeting,” the sudden outburst of
derisive cries and hooting before he had uttered a dozen words of the
solemn exhortation that he had so carefully planned, then the rush and
the stone that had cut his cheek, and—he was only dimly conscious of
this—the sudden interference of the tall man. He was glad to accompany
his rescuer—glad to do anything that would afford a moment’s quiet rest.
The Reverend Gillespie wanted to think the situation over.

The tall man led him into a tenement close by, through the hall, and
across a filthy court-yard into a rear tenement, and then up four foul,
weary flights of stairs. He opened a door, and the clergyman found
himself in a small dark room that seemed, from its furnishings, as well
as from its odours, to serve the purpose of sitting-, sleeping-,
dining-room, and kitchen. In one corner stood a couch, upon which lay an
old man, apparently asleep. His long, grey beard rose and fell upon the
coverlet with his regular breathing; but his cheeks were sunken, and his
hands, that clutched the edge of the coverlet, were thin and wasted.

“Rest yourself,” said the tall man to the clergyman. “You are worn out.”

The clergyman seated himself and drew a long breath of relief. He was
really tired, and sitting down acted like a tonic. He began to thank his
rescuer. It was the first word he had spoken, and his voice seemed to
arouse a sudden fire in the eyes of his rescuer.

“Listen!” he cried, leaning forward, and pointing a long, gaunt finger
at the clergyman. “Listen to me. I have brought you here because I think
you are an honest man. You are like a man who walks in the midst of
light with his eyes shut and declares there is no light. You have come
here to preach to Jews, to beseech them to forsake the teachings of the
Prophets and to believe that the Messiah has come. But to preach to Jews
you must first find your Jews. You were not speaking to Jews. It was not
a Jew who threw that stone at you. It is true the Talmud says, ‘An
Israelite, even when he sins and abandons the faith, is still an
Israelite.’ But you have not come to convert the sinners against Israel.
You have come to convert Jews. And I have brought you here to show you a
Jew.

“That old man whom you see there—no, he is not sleeping. He is dying.
You are shocked? No, he has no disease. Medical skill can do nothing for
him. He is an old man, tired of the struggle of life, worn out, wasting
away. Oh, he will open his eyes again, and he will eat food, too, but
there is no hope. In a few days he will be no more.

“He is a Jew. We came from Russia together, he and I, and we struggled
together, side by side, for nearly a quarter of a century. It did not
take me long to forget many of the things the rabbis had taught me, and
to become impatient of the restraints of religion. But he remained
steadfast, oh, so steadfast! His religion was the breath of life to him;
he could no more depart from it than he could accustom himself to live
without breathing. It was a bitter struggle, year after year, slaving
from break of day until dark, with nothing to save, no headway, no
future, no hope. I often became despondent, but he was always cheerful.
He had the true faith to sustain him; a smile, a cheerful word, and
always some apt quotation from the Talmud to dispel my despondent mood.

“He argued with me, he pleaded with me, he read to me the words of the
law, and the interpretations of the learned rabbis, day after day, month
after month, year after year—always so kind, so gentle, so patient, so
loving. And all the while we struggled for our daily living together and
suffered and hungered, and many times were subjected to insult and even
injury. And he would always repeat from the Talmud, ‘Man should accustom
himself to say of everything that God does that it is for the best.’

“Then Fortune smiled upon him. An unexpected piece of luck, a bold
enterprise, a few quick, profitable ventures, and he became independent.
He made me share his good fortune. We started one of those little
banking houses on the East Side, and so great was the confidence that
all who knew him possessed in him, that in less than a year we were a
well-known, reliable establishment, with prospects that no outsider
would ever have dreamed of. Through all the days of prosperity he
remained a devout Jew. Not a feast passed unobserved. Not a ceremony
went unperformed. Not an act of devotion, of kindness, or of charity
prescribed by the Talmud was omitted by my friend.

“Then came the black day—the great, panic of six years ago—do you
remember it? It came suddenly, on a Friday afternoon, like a huge
storm-cloud, threatening to burst the next morning.

“They came to him—all his customers—in swarms, to ask him if he would
keep his banking place open the next day. ‘No!’ he said. ‘To-morrow is
the Sabbath!’ ‘You will be ruined!’ they cried. ‘We will be ruined!’
‘Friends,’ he said, in his quiet way, ‘I have enough money laid aside to
guard you against ruin, even if all my establishment be wiped from the
face of the earth. But to-morrow is the Sabbath. I have observed the
Sabbath for nearly sixty years. I must not fail to-morrow.’

“And when the morrow came the bank failed, and they brought the news to
him in the synagogue. But he gave no heed to them; he was listening to
the reading of the law. They came to tell him that banks were crashing
everywhere, that the bottom had fallen out of the world of business and
finance. But he was listening to the words that were spoken by Moses on
Sinai.

“And,” the narrator’s eyes filled, and the tears began to roll down his
cheeks, “on the Monday that followed he gave, to every man and to every
woman and to every child that had trusted him, every penny that he had
saved, and he made me give every penny that I had saved. And when all
was gone, and the last creditor had gone away, paid in full, he turned
to me and said, ‘Man should accustom himself to say of everything that
God does that it is for the best!’

“And the next day—yes, the very next day—we applied for work in a
sweater’s shop, and we have been working there ever since.

“We were too old to begin daring ventures over again. I would have clung
to the money we had saved, but he—he was so good, so honest, that the
very thought of it filled me with shame. And now he is worn out.

“In a few days he will die, and I will be left to fight on alone.

“But, oh, my friend, there, lying on that couch, you see a Jew!

“Would you convert him? What would you have him believe? To what would
you change his faith? Ah, you will say there are not many like him. No!
Would to God there were! It would be a happier world.

“But it was faith in Judaism that made him what he was. If I—if all Jews
could only believe in the religion of their fathers as he believed—what
an example to mankind Israel would be!

“My friend, I thank you. You have come with me—you have listened to my
story. I must attend to my friend. May the peace of God be with you!”

The Reverend Thomas Gillespie (although, as I said, it may have been
William) bowed, and, without a word, walked slowly out of the room. His
lips trembled slightly.

The “second outdoor meeting of the Reverend Gillespie’s Mission to the
East Side Jews” has never taken place.