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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 232were 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 233and 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 234impose 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 235life 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 236when 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, 237all 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. 238His 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 239and 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. 240But 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?”

241There 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.

242They 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.


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