|Vol. VII, No. 3
Sivan 5609, June 1849
Letter of the Rev. S. M. Isaacs
A Convention Necessary
Several months have now elapsed since a project was started to call together an assembly, in order that opinions might be exchanged tend<<138>>ing to the welfare of Israel; as yet no great alacrity has been manifested to ripen the subject to maturity. True it is, that you have nobly discharged your duty, in indicting various articles creditable to your head and heart, that other eloquent pens, have also written in its behalf; yet, let it not be concealed, that in some quarters, there exists a total indifference on the subject, whilst in other divisions there is evinced a determined desire to stifle and smother all attempts at public meetings, and the plea for such counteraction is, that no bench can be effected for the general good, but that much and unmitigated harm is likely to ensue to the house of Israel from all conventions, from the bare fact that some of the originators of the movement are known to be modern reformers; hence, say they, Let well enough alone. What reasoning to adopt in time of danger! because some members may differ in opinion, hence they are not to meet together, lest some crude legislation should remove the landmarks of our holy religion; “in fear of pirates they would sink the ship.”
My dear, sir, let us for a moment analyze such reasoning, and what will be the result? we shall have found a bugbear which may tend to spread alarm among a portion of our community, whilst others will laugh to scorn all such childish terror. Afraid to meet because revolution threatens to do mischief! Thank Heaven, we can meet and advise without touching the Synagogue. This cry of היכל ה׳ היכל ה׳. The temple Lord, the temple of the Lord, is so pregnantly employed, as if Judaism only flourished in a Jewish fane. Alas! alas! that it should be so with a number of our coreligionists; that they should imagine the Synagogue and the charnel house the only prerequisites to attain the key to immortality.
That such ideas are not current with the mass, may be gathered from the various congregations who have agreed to be represented at the approaching convention, and from many others, who, doubtless will follow so noble an example. By this post you will receive our credentials as a delegate, and it may not be out of place to remark, that the congregation we have the happiness to serve has ever been deemed ultra orthodox; yet, unsolicited on our part, have they agreed to send a delegate, with the foreknowledge that Reformers would be present, and would perhaps moot questions of vital importance to the collective body, either for weal or wo; yet this has not deterred them from doing their duty in the present exigency, and right glad are we that they have selected us for this holy mission.
We will endeavour to discharge our duty, if not ably, at least fearlessly. Reform and anti-reform will not escape our lips; there is a broad platform we can occupy in common, without in any way unfurling separate standards. Our advice will be, let the Synagogue alone, <<139>>let us employ our energies to beautify and adorn the exterior; not to touch the worship but to improve the worshippers; and this will be a fruitful theme for all. Away then with childish fears of danger; we can see nothing but benefit from meeting—the danger we apprehend is lethargic indifference. We for one are unwilling to waste time on the couch of indolence; we have arrived at the sere and yellow leaf of life, and ere we reach its winter; would gladly lay something in store to comfort us in the chilly hour of death; and we know of no better theme of consolation in that trying moment than the knowledge of having endeavoured to do good.
Individually we have no other object to obtain in the proposed assembly; we do not court ephemeral popularity; we desire no office; we require no patronage; all our wishes are centered in the welfare of Israel; and in the confidence that vital good must result from a Union, we unfurl our banner in Heaven’s daylight, and call upon all bearing the time-honoured name of Israel to enlist beneath its folds. We cannot prosper religiously as Jews, unless some great effort be now made to retrieve our condition. The whole church is out of order; instead of a commonwealth we have fifty distinct republics. Synagogues are crying aloud for ministers, and there are found none to respond to the call, Jewish children are hungering for religious food, לדבר ה׳ and there is none to supply the desideratum; and this in free and happy America! Where are our collegiate establishments? where our theologian institutes? Echo responds, “where?” Let us then arouse ourselves to see what can be done, and by convening for the general good, the Divine Presence will bless our efforts.
S. M. ISAACS.
669 Houston Street.