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The Poor of Palestine


We alluded last month briefly to the resolution of the Portuguese congregation of New York, to appropriate the annual sum of twenty-five dollars in aid of the poor of Palestine; under which term the greater part of the Jewish population must be comprised. Persons who live under the sway of constitutionally enacted laws, admitting even that these bear not rarely hard upon certain classes, cannot conceive the perfect deadening influence on the mind, where the will of one man, or the lawlessness of many, presents an insurmountable obstacle to improvement of even ordinary enterprise. To us, the idea of any community requiring foreign aid, to obtain literally their daily bread, would appear an absurdity. But were we to see it realized in the formerly opulent Palestine, were we to behold want of raiment and food, where are found evident traces of ancient abundance and splendour, our astonishment would yield to grief and vexation,—that human misrule could indeed succeed in reducing the garden of the Lord to a desert, and degrade its inhabitants into compulsory dependants on the cold charity of strangers. In truth, the Israelites now residing in Palestine are strangers in the ancient patrimony of their fathers, and they are subjected to the arbitrary rule of the political chiefs, who rule there on the one hand, and to the rapacity of the roving Arabs on the other. Security, such as we know it in America, is not to be thought of; you cannot lie down unterrified by the “fears of the night,” nor of the wrath of the robber, who lies in wait for you in every hollow of the road, and among all the groves that skirt your path.

Only in walled cities, where large numbers <<338>>congregate, are you safe against the marauder, even whilst you are subject to the irresistible will of the pacha sent either from Cairo or Constantinople, who uses his brief time in which he is permitted to rule in his pachalic to enrich himself by the oppression he is permitted to practise against those subjected to his control. If this be the case with those who, with the rulers, profess the belief in the Koran, or those connected with the various Christian churches, who all enjoy the protection of the powerful European states and sovereignties: how much more must the situation of those be deplorable who have no earthly friends to see them righted, who are, from their belief, detested by the one and abhorred by the other party. It is not alone, therefore, that the Jews of Palestine are maltreated by the Turks, who are the legitimate rulers of the land, but they also suffer not rarely from one or the other of the various Christian sects, who have a sort of precarious independence in the holy cities, under the various treaties subsisting between the Mahomedans and the European Powers.

Still do our people, the small remnant, we mean, who yet cling to the soil of their fathers, love the land with an undiminished ardour; it is there the law of their God formerly flourished as the abode of a happy and enlightened nation; it is there that their beautiful language was the vernacular tongue of poets and orators, whose works have become the study of the civilized world, whose words are the standard of eloquence and truth to the best part of mankind. Nor must it be overlooked that the Scriptures always point to Palestine as the scene of the future greatness of Israel; as the land where the regeneration of man is to see its principal accomplishment; as the centre of the rule of the glorious Messiah, under whose sway there shall be universal peace, a universal knowledge of the great God of heaven and earth. Prudence might therefore dictate to the Jews to avoid the land of Canaan, seeing that in France and England, in Germany and America, there are so many immunities which they have not at home; so many comforts which they must dispense with in the cities of Judah. But he who knows the spirit which always abided with us, the unchanging love and the clinging confidence which always united us to our religion despite of our sinfulness, will easily comprehend why the <<339>>devoted souls, who truly believe in the fulfillment of all which the Lord has promised, will remain attached to the very dust of Palestine, and love to linger near the ruins of their pristine glory, near the spot whence light and truth are to scatter themselves to the ends of the earth. We may not individually be able to acquire such a faith, to be masters of such a resignation as to enable us to yield everything for a principle, for a hope of which we see no realization, whilst the ills of life press heavily and constantly upon us. But we at least admire it in others; let us not withhold from the devoted of our race, our meed of approbation; let us not deride their humility, their poverty, and let us not turn a deaf ear to their earnest appeals which are constantly wafted to us over the bosom of the mighty deep.

It may be said that we have distress enough to relieve among ourselves; that the situation of Europe will force many to emigrate, who will seek this country with very limited means, or perhaps in entire destitution; and that hence we can ill spare the charity which has to be sent away, beyond the limits of the States. But herein is in error which calm reflection will readily correct. The poor of Palestine do not expect to be supported by the charity of the western world alone; but they appeal to all Israelites for aid, as all are interested in the Holy Land. It has been customary for many centuries to make an annual collection on the eve of Purim, under the name of “the half shekel” contribution; in addition to this, offerings were made on occasion of marriages and other festive meetings; so also in Synagogue, it has been allowed to make especial Mi-sheberach to that effect; and when from time to time missionaries came to collect these various periodical contributions, additional donations were made by those having the means.

It is evident that with all this the amount of relief for each individual residing in the four holy cities, as they are called, Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Zafeth, must have been small, merely to furnish the commonest necessaries of life, bread and humble clothing, as luxuries could not be thought of; since much that was destined for the general relief had to go to pay the expenses of the collectors, as the distance they had to traverse, and the long time their journeys, by the former comparatively slow methods of travelling, occupied, necessarily caused the requisite outlay to consume an undue <<340>>portion of the relief fund. We do not know that we are correct in our surmise, but we will hazard the opinion that this circumstance in part, moved the pious Rabbi Hirsch Lehren, a merchant of Amsterdam, to devote his time to collect the Palestine funds through the Netherlands and Germany, and to remit them himself to Jerusalem without the intervention of collecting agents.

Similar views swayed the authors of the Hebra תרומת הקדש in New York, about sixteen years ago, to enter into an association to take charge of any donations which might be devoted from time to time, either derived through the annual subscription of the members or from other sources, and to remit them to the above-named learned gentleman, who, notwithstanding that some fault has occasionally been found with his mode of distribution, (his honesty and faithfulness never having been called in question,) has displayed throughout, and for so many years, a devotion to his benevolent purpose which no one can help admiring. A member of a wealthy mercantile firm, with business which cannot be neglected devolving upon it every day, he has found time to travel at his own expense, and to correspond extensively, even to this country, in behalf of the sufferers in the land of Israel, and to excite and keep alive the sympathy which their wants demand,—setting an example of disinterested charity which many may envy, but few can hope to imitate.

Thus matters stood for a number of years; the relief, small as it was, came regularly from the numerous congregations of Russia, Poland, Austria, and Germany: when the commercial revulsions, political disturbances, and tyrannical oppressions, acting as they did separately and conjointly, to impoverish many individuals and congregations, caused the annual relief sum to become smaller and smaller; and when you superadd to this that the dearth of provisions in Palestine, owing to short crops, made the acquisition of food daily more precarious, you can easily form a picture of the distress which must have prevailed among the poor; and in fact, so well did our active enemies, the missionaries, understand this, that they endeavoured to make the poverty of the people the means of their conversion. The hospital at Jerusalem, belonging to the London Society for Evangelizing the Jews, which is presided over by the highest prelates and nobles of Great Britain (it is immaterial to specify names), <<341>>with its excellent medical attendants, apothecaries, and nurses, affording all the necessary comforts, supplied as it is by the well­filled missionary purse in the capital of England, was made a decoy to draw within its healing shade the unwary children of Abraham; and though the Rabbins pronounced a sort of Herem against persons going there, still their necessities drove them constantly, to the amount of about forty per month, to seek relief from those whose avowed object in coming was to destroy their faith.

The Jewish Intelligence, the organ of the society, was formerly in the habit of giving a monthly tabular statement of the persons received into the hospital; hence our information is drawn from an authentic source. The complaints against the prohibition of the Rabbis were loud and frequent; and the complaisance expressed at the futility of the interdicts appeared not the less earnest.

Now every one who knows anything of the aversion which Jews naturally feel against apostates, (and with a refinement of cruelty the missionaries at Jerusalem and the apothecary and his assistants are nearly all selected from the renegados, whom the society has purchased and pensioned from time to time,) will readily acknowledge that it must be absolute necessity which could drive even the poor to disregard the prohibition of their spiritual chiefs, and to accept aid and comfort from such as these we speak of. We acknowledge, that owing to the philanthropy and piety of Sir Moses Montefiore, a physician has been enabled to reside at Jerusalem, for several years past; we refer to Dr. Frankel, who devotes his time and talents to the relief of his distressed brothers. But he has no hospital at his command, no apothecary, no nurses, as has the missionary doctor, Macgowan, and hence he is nearly inefficient, whilst the other party is able to render great services though the object is anything but charitable.

To us it appears a little more than singular, that Christians should make such gigantic efforts to uproot Judaism in the place of its greatest glory, whilst the Jews stand idly by and see the mischief perpetrated for all that they do to check it. But it must be said in praise of the sufferers that all the arts of seduction have hitherto failed. Some few, misnamed in the missionary reports as Rabbis, no doubt, however, some men “to fame and fortune unknown,” without education as much as without prin<<342>>ciple, may have been enticed to forsake for a space their religion; but a success, deserving the name, has hitherto been totally wanting; and this could be proved, were we to reprint the whole of the successful perversions with the attendant circumstances, as detailed in the monthly reports of the Intelligence. It appears, however, from the whole, that the land of Palestine is of the greatest interest to the Christians, those of England especially, who maintain there a bishop, and have lately erected there a church, where they profane the name of our God by a Hebrew ritual and the endowment of a set of pensioned apostates; but alas! that we should say it, the Jews as a body have of late appeared perfectly quiescent whilst all this was transacted under their very eyes, as we may say without any exaggeration.

Again we acknowledge that an effort was made about six years ago by Dr. Louis Philipson, the Rabbi of Magdeburg, in Prussian Saxony, and editor of the Universal Jewish Gazette, to awaken the public attention and to establish a Jewish hospital and school of industry at Jerusalem; in which he was aided by Mr. J. A. Franklin, of London, then the editor of the Voice of Jacob; it is also true that the house of Rothschild offered one hundred thousand francs towards it; but the project failed; why? we cannot say: some indeed averred that the opposition came from Jerusalem itself: of this we know nothing; but fail it did, and the distress of the people has been progressing ever since, and no effort has been made to lend a helping hand.

Even, now, however, Sir Moses Montefiore has repaired to Palestine, but altogether on his own responsibility, and on his own means to endeavour to establish agricultural colonies of the resident Israelites. But we fear that his benevolent efforts will fail for the present, for one simple but all-powerful reason—“there is no security for personal property in Palestine beyond the walls of large cities”—and even there the rapacious Arab, except in Jerusalem, not rarely leaves the mark of his savage and untameable nature. What the Midianites were in ancient times, that are the Arab Bedouins now. We extract from Judges vi. 3-5: “And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up with the Amalekites and the children of the east—and they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth—and left no sustenance for Israel, neither <<343>>sheep, nor ox, nor ass.” And to this day the wandering tribes make the whole of the country between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean insecure by their constant incursions; and devastated fields, and burnt towns, and ruined dwellings, only too well testify where the bands of the desert have swept by like the destructive simoom of their own deserts.

And no country is more laid open to their incursions than is the present unhappy Palestine; and we cannot imagine how agriculture can be successfully pursued by the sparse population which is now found there. Say even the inhabitants of the cities should scatter themselves over the fields; still were their number tenfold, their ignorance of husbandry, their absolute unacquaintance with agricultural implements, their inexperience in the use of arms, yes, in the art of destroying life, would in the first place render their labours painful and unproductive, and in the other expose them without defence to the assault of the robbers.

We who live so securely, who imagine that every road can be traversed with safety, may not believe that beyond the walls of Jerusalem the plunderer plies his trade without fear of the civil arm; but so it is, and unless a more energetic government is established there, it is likely to continue so for an indefinite period. All travellers agree that the valleys are as fertile as ever, the shrubbery and flowers beautiful beyond description, the climate as healthy as it ever was; but there are desolation, and waste, and ruin, just as Moses predicted in the 29th of Deuteronomy, and the curse of God for our disobedience seems to brood over all.

We do not say by this that all efforts at improvement should be omitted; far from it: man must do his own and leave the remainder to Providence; we only say what we do to warn our readers against being disappointed, should Sir Moses return without effecting anything. Could a different government be organised; were military stations established in every short distance, so as to overawe the Arabs, something might be done; people would have a little peace, and by degrees they might become used to the labours of husbandry, and the wilderness might again be made to blossom like a rose; but under the present misrule of the Turkish governors little or nothing can be done. We should be agreeably disappointed to see our apprehensions falsified by the event; and then we should be able to hail Sir Moses as the true <<344>>benefactor of his brothers; as the one who, under God, had been permitted to break their chains, and endow them with the means of self-dependence, so that they might be able to do without others’ aid.

Still, whilst the sufferings of the Palestinian Jews last, shall nothing be done to relieve their distress? No one expects that we in this country can do all that is required, or that we shall do so much as to disable us from relieving the distress we have now or may hereafter have among us. But we can surely aid in the matter; and it would be well, if each congregation were to set apart an annual sum, devoted to the support of the poor of Palestine, at least while they are unable to help themselves. Should Providence hereafter favour the land of our fathers, and give enlargement to its inhabitants, the grant may stop, or be devoted to some local charity; but in the mean time we know of no time­honoured custom more deserving of attention, than the ancient relief given to the distressed of the land of Israel.

Since our last number, in which we announced the act of the Portuguese congregation of New York, we had the pleasure of becoming personally acquainted with Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, a native of Floss, in Bavaria, but for near twenty years a resident of Jerusalem. He has been sent hither in company with Rabbi Zadok Levy, to make an appeal to the Israelites of this country, to do something active for those who still linger in the land of their fathers; and to obviate, by a regular contribution, the necessity of sending out in future messengers, the expense of, which procedure is, as we have already stated, onerous in the extreme. Besides, communication by steam-packets has made every country easily accessible, and commercial connexions have now been formed all over the world, so that remittance can be made promptly from here to Palestine, in a manner formerly impossible. We lay before our readers the circular which has been addressed to the various American congregations, by the two Rabbis already mentioned, and we trust that the appeal will not be in vain. There are more than forty organized congregations in the country, and if each gives only from ten to twenty­five dollars per annum, it would form a relief fund much larger than ever has been devoted from America hitherto, except on some special occasion and urgent necessity.

Now we believe <<345>>that there is hardly a single community that could not easily give the lowest sum mentioned, that of ten dollars; and we hope that the will may not be wanting to protect the poor of Palestine, and to snatch them from the necessity of receiving aid from the missionaries, those inveterate foes of our religion. As regards the messengers from Palestine whom we have hitherto met with, we have but one opinion,—that they are men every way trustworthy, and that the congregations must be respectable and worthy of all aid when they can find such men among them to plead abroad in their behalf. The gentlemen in question require not our praise; but we cannot in justice to them help expressing our full conviction of their trustworthiness; and we hope that their appeal will be maturely reflected on, and that they will receive an answer from all to whom the circular has been sent.

This is about the time of the annual meetings of the congregations, and we hope that the respective officers will not fail to call the attention of their congregations to this subject. The circular speaks for itself, and if anything has been omitted, every one can easily supply the defect. It tells, however, a plain tale of sufferings; and let those who are more favoured not forsake the poor in their distress; and let them, whilst they invoke the aid of Heaven, and ask of God the forgiveness of their sins, aid those who so severely suffer whilst they persevere to practise and teach the religion of their fathers.