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by [?]

‘English, all English, that’s my dream.’


Even in his provincial days at Sudminster Solomon Cohen had distinguished himself by his Anglican mispronunciation of Hebrew and his insistence on a minister who spoke English and looked like a Christian clergyman; and he had set a precedent in the congregation by docking the ‘e’ of his patronymic. There are many ways of concealing from the Briton your shame in being related through a pedigree of three thousand years to Aaron, the High Priest of Israel, and Cohn is one of the simplest and most effective. Once, taken to task by a pietist, Solomon defended himself by the quibble that Hebrew has no vowels. But even this would not account for the whittling away of his ‘Solomon.’ ‘S. Cohn’ was the insignium over his clothing establishment. Not that he was anxious to deny his Jewishness–was not the shop closed on Saturdays?–he was merely anxious not to obtrude it. ‘When we are in England, we are in England,’ he would say, with his Talmudic sing-song.

S. Cohn was indeed a personage in the seaport of Sudminster, and his name had been printed on voting papers, and, what is more, he had at last become a Town Councillor. Really the citizens liked his stanch adherence to his ancient faith, evidenced so tangibly by his Sabbath shutters: even the Christian clothiers bore him goodwill, not suspecting that S. Cohn’s Saturday losses were more than counterbalanced by the general impression that a man who sacrificed business to religion would deal more fairly by you than his fellows. And his person, too, had the rotundity which the ratepayer demands.

But twin with his Town Councillor’s pride was his pride in being Gabbai (treasurer) of the little synagogue tucked away in a back street: in which for four generations prayer had ebbed and flowed as regularly as the tides of the sea, with whose careless rovers the worshippers did such lucrative business. The synagogue, not the sea, was the poetry of these eager traffickers: here they wore phylacteries and waved palm-branches and did other picturesque things, which in their utter ignorance of Catholic or other ritual they deemed unintelligible to the heathen and a barrier from mankind. Very imposing was Solomon Cohn in his official pew under the reading platform, for there is nothing which so enhances a man’s dignity in the synagogue as the consideration of his Christian townsmen. That is one of the earliest stages of Anglicization.


Mrs. Cohn was a pale image of Mr. Cohn, seeing things through his gold spectacles, and walking humbly in the shadow of his greatness. She had dutifully borne him many children, and sat on the ground for such as died. Her figure refused the Jewess’s tradition of opulency, and remained slender as though repressed. Her work was manifold and unceasing, for besides her domestic and shop-womanly duties she was necessarily a philanthropist, fettered with Jewish charities as the Gabbai’s wife, tangled with Christian charities as the consort of the Town Councillor. In speech she was literally his echo, catching up his mistakes, indeed, admonished by him of her slips in speaking the Councillor’s English. He had had the start of her by five years, for she had been brought from Poland to marry him, through the good offices of a friend of hers who saw in her little dowry the nucleus of a thriving shop in a thriving port.

And from this initial inferiority she never recovered–five milestones behind on the road of Anglicization! It was enough to keep down a more assertive personality than poor Hannah’s. The mere danger of slipping back unconsciously to the banned Yiddish put a curb upon her tongue. Her large, dark eyes had a dog-like look, and they were set pathetically in a sallow face that suggested ill-health, yet immense staying power.

That S. Cohn was a bit of a bully can scarcely be denied. It is difficult to combine the offices of Gabbai and Town Councillor without a self-satisfaction that may easily degenerate into dissatisfaction with others. Least endurable was S. Cohn in his religious rigidity, and he could never understand that pietistic exercises in which he found pleasure did not inevitably produce ecstasy in his son and heir. And when Simon was discovered reading ‘The Pirates of Pechili,’ dexterously concealed in his prayer-book, the boy received a strapping that made his mother wince. Simon’s breakfast lay only at the end of a long volume of prayers; and, having ascertained by careful experiment the minimum of time his father would accept for the gabbling of these empty Oriental sounds, he had fallen back on penny numbers to while away the hungry minutes. The quartering and burning of these tales in an avenging fireplace was not the least of the reasons why the whipped youth wept, and it needed several pieces of cake, maternally smuggled into his maw while the father’s back was turned, to choke his sobs.