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Why so solemn, Universe?
Why such millenniums of ages of laughterless struggle?
Did you care only to increase life and to raise it?
To push up fiercely from sun into earth, from earth into animals,
From ape into man?
Your stars shine, your waters roar, your earthquakes quake, and the noses of your cats
Not that there is not sportiveness and joy.
Surely cubs play, and the love-season sounds with the joy of the birds;
The young colts bound in the meadow,
The rooster crows,
The whisper of new green leaves has gladness in it.
But joy is not laughter, and the deepest joy is sad.
Old Universe, you are one great flood, and the animals are all under your waters.
For joy is sacred, and laughter is wicked.
Joy is inside life; laughter is outside.
Joy is half conscious only; laughter stands off and proceeds from the intellect.
Man laughs because he is free.
Why does the porpoise jump out of the water, and splash?
A part of his solemn business.
But the human beings crowded around his circular tank shook the dome with shouting laughter.
The porpoise obeyed you, old Universe;
But man disobeys you!
Consider us, Creation!
Though you bore us, though you took patient eras beyond counting to create us,
To look back and laugh.
Worse than that!
Consider how your bad children circumvent you.
We put our fingers to our noses and wiggle them at you, Creation!
We make mating sterile;
We drink alcohol;
We live in places of stone and steel;
We tear our earth up and disembowel her;
We float where we were meant to sink;
You think to darken us with the night, so we light lamps;
You think to freeze us with the cold, so we start fires;
And our ha-ha shakes our theaters to the amazement of dumb heaven.
Are we not cynical, uproarious, obscene, and impudent?
Do we not proclaim ourselves the top-notch of the world?
And therein are we not godly?
Behold, though you are terrible,
Though you shadow us over with a mysterious vastness,
Though your smallest toe is as huge as the Milky Way,
And we stand just below it,
We laugh back and are unafraid, and treat you at best as a jolly comrade.
But, dear old Universe, it's the wickedest child that is the darling.
We are your darlings, are we not?
Truly now fine impudent young gods have risen to companion you,
Yes, to transcend you, and by transcending you, bring you to new fulfilments.
For your sublimity has bungled.
It simply spewed out life, chaotic, haphazard,
Till by divine accidents, and out of the deadliest purposes,
Laughter saves us;
Still more than half of us is buried in the quicksands of the tragic universe. Still we suffer, slay, and are tortured;
Still we doubt and are damned.
But comes the moment when we look round about at ourselves,
And, seeing how absurd our own antics are, laugh and are healed.
And so at the last the laughing animal shall save creation.
Already the wizened stars must be pricking up their ears, dumfoundered,
That noise of relatives eating ham sandwiches after the funeral is over,
That wheezing gay cough of the dying consumptive over the doctor's joke.
Come, old Universe, follow the laughters!
They are sane; they see; they shall know; they are ripe for adventures;
Their daring shall bear no limit;
Their courage is wickedly great.
Nerved with your purpose, they rise from chaos, creating;
They are out to conquer, they are out to work,
They shall sow the skies with laughter.
And now I think that your very purpose was in this:
That your great face struggled for ages on ages to break in a smile.
So I say yes
Yes to the dance of feet in the spring,
Yes to the shouts of children,
Yes to laughter.
Laughter, last of the gods,
And of them the greatest,
Yes, say I, and salute you.
By E. R. LIPSETT
HE Jew has as many war-cries as there are tongues in Europe, for he fights with them all; and then he has his own war-cry, that eternal tearful cry of his that in these days is rending the heavens over Russian and Galician Polands.
And still there is another and a newer cry coming, the war-cry of the neutral Jew. "To arms! to arms, O Israel!" has arisen, the sudden thundering cry throughout the length and the breadth of the New York Ghetto, and all the other Ghettos in the larger cities of America.
We know, of course, what are the arms of the Ghetto Jew: they are tongue and pen. By means of these it is intended to raise the Jew from the depths of his ashes and make him a live nation again. A congress of American Jews is to be called, and it is to demand, at the conclusion of the war, or before it, the return of Palestine to its ancient owners. For the Jews are a nation, and they must have a land, and Palestine is theirs.
That is to say, in brief, that while nearly three quarters of a million Jews on the European battle-fields are at one another's throats, in vindication each of a different nationality, the Jews far away from the bursting shells and glittering bayonets are calling out to them: "No, you 're all in the wrong. For you are all one."
It is not for us to determine whether the Jews are a nation. It is not for one man to tell another what he should be. One is what one feels. If the Jews feel themselves a nation, that is sufficient.
And there again we are brought back to that grim anomaly, that there should. be three hundred and fifty thousand bayonets in the hands of Russian Jews ready to bore their way through the hearts of some two hundred thousand Jews in Austrian uniform, and fifty thousand more in the ranks of the Germans. And in turn there are twenty thousand Jews with
Great Britain, and as many again with France, ready to die by bullet and shell sent to them by the hands of their German and Austrian brothers. In the Dardanelles we have seen two Jewish legions pitted against each other, the one gathered from Alexandria, under the Allies, the other, under the Turks, hailing from the Jewish colonies in Palestine, and each fighting round and inspired by the same flag, the shield of David.
Still, there is nothing unique in that. It is not the first time in the history of the world that races and nations have had their house divided against themselves. America, above all others, perhaps, has cause to remember that sad truth, with the scars of her own wounds from the Civil War scarcely yet faded. Moreover, in the case of the Jew at present, there is in addition to political sentiment the fundamental incentive of defending one's fatherland against an alien foe. The Jew is a man precisely like all other men in elemental passions. And a man has to be born somewhere, and the soil on which that occurs is dear to him; and grows dearer than life, dearer than wife and child, the moment another man threatens to violate it. Assuredly there is nothing new or strange in that.
But what has truly astonished the world is that the Jew should fight with such valor and devotion for Russia, on whose soil proper he may not at all be born. It has astonished even the Jews themselves, and the Russians, too. It was not the trumpeted promises at the outbreak of the war that Jews were to get their full citizen rights that drew thousands of Jewish volunteers, lawfully freed from conscription, round the Russian standards. It was not materialistic prospects that could call forth such bravery and such loyalty from the Russian Jews in arms. Let emperors and kings make war upon one another for gain and for
worldly ambition; soldiers fight for something holier and loftier. There is something in the composition of the Jew, perhaps unknown to himself, that makes him abnormally loyal to the land where he happens to pitch his tent, if only for a day and a half. And it makes no difference to him how little he is wanted, how grudgingly the permission to stay is given. At the beginning of the war a handful of Russian Jewish youths in Paris volunteered their services to the republic. They were assigned to the Legion Etrangère, a body composed of the refugees of all nationalities and exiles from Morocco and Algiers. After a time these Jews found themselves ill used by their comrades, and refused to work any longer with them in the trenches. They insisted upon being sent to some line regiment. But of course war is war and discipline must be discipline, and so a number of them were taken out to be shot. They scorned the bandage over the eyes, and as they fell they cried, "Vive la France et la Russie!"
And that was one more war-cry of the Jew. And it could have been no other's.
There would have been no such little story to tell if there had not been any Jews in the world. For the Jew is the only man of whom this could be told— the man of intense temperament, of romantic imagination, and of unyielding, undying faith in the cause he has made his.
Russia duly appreciated her war Jews. Russian generals embraced Jewish heroes, and wept tears of gratitude on their shoulders, and decorated their breasts with medals and crosses. And then they turned round and gave orders to hang from the nearest lamp-post or telegraph-pole the fathers and uncles of these heroes for being suspected of spying for the Germans. The czar himself, on his visits to the hospitals, paused before the cots of distinguished Jewish wounded, and his lovely daughters comforted them with their own hands; but the wives and the sisters of the sufferers were not permitted to come within leagues of them. For the hospitals were outside the pale, where no Jewish foot may step.
Russia had no use for Jews past the service age except for hanging; had no use for Jewish women except to pass them on to her lustful Cossacks.
It is a repetition of the story told of Peter the Great, only the edifying point is missing. The story goes: they were to chop off the hand of an ex-soldier for thieving when Peter happened to pass the place of execution. The victim appealed to the monarch, reminding him how that same hand had once in battle saved the standard from the enemy. "True," answered Peter, "and that should n't go without recognition." He took the doomed hand and kissed it. "And now," he added to the executioner, "go ahead with your work."
Toward last spring there was yet another war-cry of the Jew heard throughout the Ghettos of Kovno and Vilna and Warsaw. Fasting and praying have ever been the weapons of the Ghettos of Russia, and to these the people were called. The rabbis called a day of fast and prayer, after the fashion of Queen Esther, in supplication to Jehovah for the success of the Russian arms. Jews put their faith in the fast not merely as atonement, but for its direct efficacy. For the empty stomach maketh the heart penitent, and that is the time to pray. Penitence and prayer may avert the evil decree. And so millions of Jews and Jewesses, and children from the age of thirteen, tasted no food or drink from sunrise to sunset, and prayed throughout these long gnawing hours that Russia might crush her foe and shine gloriously.
The final answer to that prayer has not yet come from above. It may be a year or two more in coming, and no man knows what it may be. But Russia in the meantime has met that outburst of loyalty to her in a way that only Russia knows how to follow.
An order of the day was issued by the grand duke that all the Jews in Kovno and Courland must leave at once. Not a soul must remain. Somewhere, somehow, some Russian secrets had leaked out to the Germans. That was sufficient to place it
on the Jews. Perhaps it really was some Jew. Jews must have their black sheep, though Jews themselves are too sensitive ever to admit that. At any rate, because it was thought some Jew somewhere had played false to his country, that was sufficient for all the Jews. All had to go. Go where? It made no difference. Go they must, and right away. In some cases they were given only from six to eight hours to get ready for their unknown destination. And in that short period two hundred thousand men and women, rooted to the soil for generations and generations, had to flee at the point of the bayonet. They came away with the skin of their teeth; for no time was given them to pack, and they were going into blank, cold space. Railroad trains by the dozen were made up for them, each consisting of sixty or seventy freighters and cattle-trucks, and into these they were jammed, the lame and the blind and the cripples and the dying and the insane, the sound and the infected, all together, mendicants and merchants, babies and graybeards, young women momentarily expecting to become mothers, and women torn out of child-bed. And also there were among them soldiers recuperating from wounds and waiting to go back to the front, and other soldiers too badly maimed ever to go anywhere. For days and days, in some cases for nine days and nights, these trains kept slowly moving on their long course, with that tightly packed mixture of living freight securely locked in the cars. One's brain reels at the task of grasping the misery and the bestiality of it; but on and on the trains. moved, and all had to be endured. Some had the good luck to succumb on the way, and they were envied. From others their intellect took flight, and left them raving or staring maniacs. The rest were carted on and on till they reached the dumpingground, hundreds and hundreds of miles away from their homes, places where their fathers had never set foot, towns and cities whose names they had never heard. And there they had to dispose of themselves in cellars and ruins of all sorts, with no
where at all to look to for sustenance. Nobody knew where they were or what was going to happen. Mothers lost their children, and husbands their wives, and they did not know where to look for them.
That was how the devil enjoyed himself in Russia, where he, and he alone, is permitted to go and come without passport.
It was the devil's comedy. He had his laugh in his sleeve when he saw the Jews fasting and praying for a victorious Russia. He made the Russians give the Jews this reward for it. And when that was done, the devil had his laugh aloud, till it echoed from one end of the world to the other, and the world's very foundations shook and shivered.
Still, the devil was not allowed to have
it all his own way. His fine play was
marred for him; for over and above the ring of his laughter sounded a note of the purest and loftiest tragedy that ever was recorded in human history.
Deputations of less unhappy Jews had hastened to make representation to the ministry at Petrograd to call off that murderous order of evacuation. The decision came late, after the trains were already on the move. Still, it was not too late. The grand duke's order was overruled, and the exiles could return to their homes. There was only one condition made, that they should give hostages from among their rabbis and other of their most important men for their future good behavior. If ever again any traitorous acts were found chargeable to the Jews, these hostages would be summarily hanged. It took them some days to make up their minds about it, for the offer to let them go back to their homes was a sore temptation to them; but it could not be. Finally they made this magnificent answer:
"We reject the Government's offer. The condition is an impossible one. It would not be consistent with the dignity of Judaism."
One does not need to be of the blood or of the faith to be thrilled with pride at that sublime stand made by men and wo