Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


The Convention

Anxious to subserve the cause of a general meeting, by all the means within my humble power, I am determined, even at the risk of being considered obtrusive, to offer once more a few remarks on the subject in question, in the ardent and earnest hope that my words, written with a “pen of iron,” may, by divine aid, be instrumental in arousing Israel from their lethargic position, and elevate them to that proud altitude once observed of them by other nations: “Surely this nation is a wise and discreet people.”

I know that, in writing on this subject, my pen touches tender ground. I am aware that the very idea “to convene,” conveys a feeling of terror to the hearts of those who can see “no perverseness in Israel.” I am perfectly cognizant of the fact, that many zealous champions of Israel, have, been startled at the very mention of the word “convention,” from the fear that some covert act lies concealed beneath a fair motive. Yet with all these disadvantages, I would still place the theme in its various phases before the Jews of the united States, in the full assurance that ultimately the cloud which now hangs over our moral horizon will disperse, find give place to a clear and serene sky, beneath which we shall be enabled to sit in session, and in council assembled, devise means to teach salvation to Israel and happiness to the world.

This assertion may sound like rhapsody in the ears of those who, in an increase of Synagogues, behold an abundance of evidence to the contrary; but this very evidence, which satisfies them that no general meeting can ever take place, assures us, that these increasing holy shrines will ultimately have to unite in this very scheme, to protect them against innovation, to furnish them with ministers of religion, to supply them with spiritual food, and to aid them in disseminating those principles for which our forefathers fought and bled.

I have read with interest every article written on the subject, from the well-written essays of the late A. A. Lindo, Esq., who sacrificed both health and wealth in its favour, to those of Dr. Wise, and the editor of the Occident, whose gigantic minds are <<18>>towers of strength, to the cause they so ably advocate. I have also perused with intense attention, all that has been written in opposition to the plan; and after maturely considering the matter in its various forms, I have arrived at the conclusion, that there is no safety for Israel except in unity; no union to be obtained, unless we hold a convention.

What, I ask, do the opponents urge to cause us to suspend our proceedings? what have they asserted to lead us to halt on our route? I must candidly and solemnly state that, so far as my individuality is concerned, I have not read a single paragraph that has in any way altered my opinion; but contrariwise, my original intention of supporting the plan, has been strengthened by the weakness of its opponents, not personally, for I respect them for their merits, and praise them for their virtues; but I allude to the weakness of their arguments. What, I ask, have they advanced to alarm us from our position? They have not uttered a single word against the principle; no, if is conceded on all hands that something must be done to sustain even the building firmly bound in the rock of ages but their fear is, and I give them credit when they indulge that fear, honestly to do it—their fear is that some of the surveyors may measure the fabric by the plummet and line of their philosophy, and thus modernize that mental structure which looks best in its ancient form; they argue that the axe is to be laid to the root of the tree which has stood the storms of thousands of years, and a new tree is to be planted in American soil, to be called the tree of reform; that its “first fruits,” instead of being brought as an offering to the Lord, will be an oblation to suit the taste of the Deist. To speak plain, they state that the object of the movement is, to fell at one blow the tree planted by the Divinity (as if such a thing were possible), and to plant in its stead an ideality.

Is it really conceivable that such an assertion should receive the least credence? Is it to be believed that so grave a charge against a body whose lives have manifested their integrity, should vet obtain some credit ? Yet, it is even so. The war cry has been raised, although there is no Rehoboam in the battle-field, “To your tents, O Israel! Guard your courts, protect your altars!”

But this is the very object we have in view, we desire to guard <<19>>their courts by instructing those who enter its portals; we claim permission to protect their altars by our efforts to obtain an enlightened and efficient ministry; the very thing they fear, we court—the course they dread, we wish to pursue. In the name of all that is sacred, what is the cause that produces so remarkable an effect?

Let us briefly detail the main points, and we shall come to a safe conclusion. A few men (some reformers), endowed with a spirit of love to the God of Israel, and animated by a desire to benefit the “Trustees of Posterity,” deem it serviceable to the cause they hold in such high estimation, that the congregations established in America should unite for the purpose of devising plans to unite the Jews scattered throughout these wide domains, in all matters appertaining to their religious polity, so that by such co-operation the greatest good might be effected for the collective body, who, as Israelites, should have but one interest, as they have but one destiny, and that destiny is, as we understand it, to unfold the banner to the world, that they believe in one God, and by virtue of such belief they, as a consequence, have responsibilities, comprised in two sentences, duty to God, duty to man.

Now to carry out this soul-composing doctrine in its various ramifications, would legitimately become the province of the proposed convention; the persons comprising it would exchange opinions on the all-important theme, how to unite the scattered forces to the bonds of brotherhood; and when this and kindred good acts have been matured, the fruits of their conclusions would be forwarded to the various congregations for them to accept or reject. Now this I conceive to be the mission of Israel, destined to do that which, if not accomplished at an early date, the cry will come “it is too late.”

To this wholesome plan objections are mooted; one states it to be his opinion that the orthodox alone should be invited, and reformers left to pursue the tenor of their ways. Without here stopping to inquire what the writer means by “Orthodox,” we should indeed deplore the carrying into effect so ostracising a proposition; our object being union, it would be an anomaly in our object in order to obtain unity, to sow discord. But then again it is observed, in answer to one of my former articles, that <<20>>“our object would be to let the Synagogue alone”—but “suppose the reformers will not let the Synagogue alone?” I answer, in such an exigency, should it unfortunately occur, which is barely within the line of probability, seeing that the avowed purpose of all that have written on the subject is not to touch matters divine,—but if, in defiance of all declarations to the contrary, there should still exist a wish on the part of some of the convened to enter the Synagogue for the purpose of touching the ritual; we would first warn them of the consequences; and if that should not effect anything, they determining not to let the Synagogue alone, then we, and those with and for whom we act, would let them alone, we would secede from the convention, return our credentials to our constituents, and be satisfied with the reward spoken of by our sages, “he who goeth to do good and cannot succeed, is rewarded for his going.”

Thus far I believe that I have gone over the whole ground in order to show that instead of the road recommended being dangerous to the commonweal, it is the best way to lead us to realms of everlasting bliss. As yet we Jews have done but little on these happy shores to show to the world that we cherish freedom for the benefits it confers on those who breathe its refreshing air. We have built a great number of Synagogues it is true; but how are they endowed? I leave the answer to the reader; lest I be accused of traducing them before others. Oh, fellow Israelites! is it not too bad that truth should blush at its own sound? We laud these United States; and from our hearts we unite in those tones of joy; we have abundant reason to be grateful that our lot has been cast in such pleasant places; but as yet we have not evinced any substantial tokens of gratitude. Our brethren in down-trodden Europe have left visible marks of their inherent genius in every town where they have chanced to reside, alas! too often with the foreknowledge that the fruits of their enterprise would be rudely snatched from their lips, even before they tasted its sweets. And still they do not permit the field of their genius to lie fallow, “but they sow in tears to reap in joy” hereafter; whilst we, with no drawback on our activity, excepting that worst of all clogs, our own indifference, have really done nothing to satisfy those that come after us “that we have been <<21>>here.”

Let then the foundation of our reproach be removed; let us actively co-operate in laying the corner-stone of a mental fabric, on which the sons of humanity shall gaze with delight and contemplate it with pleasure; and our own offspring, grazing on a rich pasturage of spiritual food sown by their fathers, shall “be fat and flourishing, and show to their posterity,” that the Lord He is upright, He is our Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

S.M. Isaacs.
New York, 15th of Shebat, 5610.