4: The Zionists and Ben Israel
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Paris, January (undated)
On Tuesday the Zionist delegates appeared before the Council of Ten. They had their day
in court and each spoke his piece. The Paris press, certainly not unfavorable to the
Jewish claims, is not enthusiastic over the showing that was made and Débats,
the great journal which is reputed to be owned by international Jewish bankers, is
particularly severe in its criticism of the delegates and of the tentative plans they
presented. It is pointed out by the critical editors that the spokesmen held divergent
views as if that did not happen whenever a delegation comes to the court of the Great
Three delegates appeared and I could not see that they were far apart, although in
matters of detail they were certainly not of one mind. Mr. Weizmann appeared for the
Anglo-Saxon Jewish communities, M. Sokolof for those of Eastern Europe, and M. Sylvain
Levi represented the Jews of Western Europe. Each and every one of them demanded a Jewish
national home in Palestine, but they differed as to ways and means to secure it and as to
the form the new state, if it is to be a state, should take. The real problem is one that
no one faces squarely, it seems to me. How can a national home for the eleven million Jews
who are scattered throughout the world be launched in Palestine, a poor country,
supporting with difficulty its present population of less than a million, the great
majority of whom are not Jews?
M. Levi of the French Zionists, speaking for himself and for many French Zionists, said
he was not asking for an independent Zionist state. He called attention to the undoubted
fact, so generally ignored, that even Mr. Balfour in his declaration says that the
present. non-Jewish inhabitants are not to be removed or even m a political sense
"crowded." What he and his organization want, he asserted, was the right to
settle Jewish communities in Palestine with the same privileges and the same
responsibilities as the neighboring communities of Moslems and Christians. Sokolof and
Weizmann listened to this moderate statement with evident displeasure. They too were not
in complete agreement, but they both envisaged an independent state to occupy not only
Palestine but all of southern Syria from Haifa to Akaba. At first, they admit, they would
not object to leading strings for the new-born state. They would accept a provisional and
short-termed mandate to be exercised by a nation selected by the Council of the League of
Nations as soon as it is constituted.
If the views of the advanced Zionists prevail there is trouble ahead. Many, very many,
intelligent and informed Jews admit this. It is conceded that the present inhabitants of
Palestine have occupied their lands for centuries; indeed, some of the Syrian communities
claim descent from the Hittites who were in possession at the dawn of history.
Be this as it may, all who know the situation from actual contact and not merely from
propaganda leaflets admit that these people have dwelt in their present homes for two
thousand years, that the occupancy of the Jews does not go back to immemorial times, and
that their sojourn before the Dispersion was brief. Why should these "old
settlers" be expelled, they ask, to make room for newcomers who are ill informed as
to the way of life that would be imposed upon them in the promised land of dreams, which
in actual experience would prove a great disappointment?
Auguste Gauvin of Débats has constituted himself the spokesman for this group
of moderate Zionists and has expressed his views to the Colonel at least twice; and he
hopes to see the President before he is committed to what Gauvin calls "an impossible
project." He insists that no one, least of all Mr. Balfour, had in mind a national
state such as seems to be contemplated in the new demands, or rather interpretations of
it, now being made. He quotes the original declaration of Balfour under date of November
2, 1917, which reads:
"The British government would regard favorably the establishment in Palestine of
the Jewish people and will do what it can to facilitate it, under the reserve, however,
that none of the civil or religious rights of the non-Jewish communities already settled
in the country should be impaired."
"Not a word in that justifies the demand for a national home in a political
sense," adds Gauvin.
The French attitude was expressed by M. Pichon in these words: "There is complete
understanding between the French and the British governments in regard to a Jewish
establishment in Palestine." That certainly would not seem to contemplate the
erection of a national political state. Indeed, he adds, there are only the indiscreet
words of Sir Robert Cecil which justify the demand, and they were spoken informally at a
Zionist meeting and are not contained in any official document. Sir Robert, then Under
Secretary of Foreign Affairs, did say at a meeting in London s Exeter Hall: "We want
the Arabs to have the Arab lands; we want the Armenians to have Armenia and the Jews,
"But they are all scrambled together," maintains Gauvin. "Can the
Conference unscramble them? I doubt it."
Naturally I have talked to Emir Faisal and to Lawrence on the subject. They admit that
the Arabs are involved in the situation, but for the present they wish to keep out of the
discussions. They hope that the Big Four will not further complicate a situation that is
already most difficult.
"Room could be made for perhaps a million Jews in Palestine," said Faisal,
"if the same number of Christians and of Moslems were deported. That is what the
Turks did in Armenia and elsewhere under the stress of war. Will Christendom follow their
example in time of peace? I trust not."
Gauvin sees at least one silver lining in the dark clouds overhanging Palestine.
"Very few Jews want to go to their Holy Land and ours, and also unfortunately the
sanctuary of the Arabs, except as tourists or to make a religious pilgrimage. Perhaps the
whole question could be solved if it was placed in the hands of a competent tourist
I fear Gauvin is mistaken; the situation is more serious than he thinks. Many Jews,
seeing the complete overthrow of the predatory and Jew-baiting powers, are inclined to
believe that the moment is opportune for the Conference to settle their age-old problem
along with all the others that are coming before it.
In addition to the racial and religious antagonism between the contestants for this
long-coveted territory there is also an economic conflict which should not be overlooked.
Speaking in terms familiar to Americans, the Arabs are sheepmen and the Jews for the most
part are small fruitgrowers. Most of us know what happened in many of our western states
when these economies clashed at a time when some of our territories were as undeveloped as
is Palestine today.
A few hours after the formal hearing Dr. Weizmann called on the Colonel and asked for
an opportunity to restate his views. I was called in and I drew up the following memo,
which the Doctor read and pronounced correct. It seems, at least to me, to differ quite
radically from his formal statement. It reads:
I and many others think it would be unjust, indeed most unjust, for us to ask of
the Conference the founding at this moment of an immediate Jewish state (in Palestine). It
is for us, we think, to ask in the first place for recognition by the Great Powers of the
fact that Palestine was the land of the Jews in the past and should in the future become
the home of the Jews. Our first pressing need, and this we ask insistently, is for
opportunities and favoring conditions to enable us to bring the Jews back to Palestine. If
these requests are granted obstacles now in our path would be cleared away and it would
then depend on the Jews themselves to build up the Jewish commonwealth. To begin our new
status we would need a trustee and we are united in the belief that Great Britain should
be nominated for this post. We admit that the land problem should not be ignored at the
same time the vision of the delegates should not be obscured by the misleading information
which here abounds. There is we claim ample elbow room for all; there are only seventy
inhabitants today to the square mile of territory which could comfortably carry from three
hundred and fifty to four hundred and without in the least encroaching on the rights of
the Arab peasants.
How the Colonel and all the other delegates wish that this were true! Faisal and all
the Arabs deny it in toto. In fact they are in agreement that the present meager Jewish
population (small indeed in proportion to the colonists the Zionists wish to bring in)
would starve to death, certainly could not become self-supporting, but for the subsidies
that come for them from various philanthropic committees in Paris, London, and above all
New York. Mr. Balfour with the best intentions has launched an ugly problem.
Two days later Lawrence came in with a rough tentative sketch of the memorandum which
the Emir is determined to file with the delegates. I urged him not to be precipitate,
above all not to let the Emir assume a position which might be regarded as final and
irrevocable. Lawrence agreed with me but asked me to submit the views, which he says the
Arabs without exception hold, to Colonel House with a request for advice and above all
guidance. This I have done, but down to the present the only reaction from the Colonel was
a low whistle and the remark that "Balfour with the best intentions in the world has
certainly rocked the boat that was already sailing on anything but an even keel."
Briefly, the sketch of the memorandum which Faisal is soon to file with us, unless
happily he should be dissuaded, is about as follows:
If the views of the radical Zionists, as presented to the Ten, should prevail, the
result will be ferment, chronic unrest, and sooner or later civil war in Palestine. But I
hope I will not be misunderstood. I assert that we Arabs have none of the racial or
religious animosity against the Jews which unfortunately prevail in many other regions of
the world. I assert that with the Jews who have been seated for some generations in
Palestine our relations are excellent. But the new arrivals exhibit very different
qualities from those "old settlers," as we call them, with whom we have been
able to live and even co-operate on friendly terms. For want of a better word I must say
that the new colonists almost without exception have come in an imperialistic spirit. They
say that too long we have been in control of their homeland taken from them by brute force
in the dark ages, but that now under the new world order we must clear out; and if we are
wise we should do so peaceably without making any resistance to what is the fiat of the
This was bad but by no means unexpected news. I was not prepared, though, for the new
factor which Lawrence now injected into the problem of what is to be done with the
"much-promised land." He went on to say: "The Zionists, and also Mr.
Balfour, have overlooked the fact that in Syria and in Palestine there are about one
hundred and twenty thousand Christian Arabs who, unlike the Moslem Arabs, have anything
but friendly feelings for the Jews, whether they be new or old settlers. They claim to
descend from the hard-hitting Hittites of whom we read in the Old Testament, and they
claim to be the original inhabitants or at least the earliest settlers in thc disputed
land. Certainly these people have claims based on the undoubted fact that they were
occupants" before the Arabs came or
even the Jews put in their appearance. What is the Conference going to do about this
new angle of the thorny situation?
I told Lawrence I had not the remotest idea, but I hoped it would be something
intelligent. Hopefully I suggested, "It will be turned. over to the League like so
many of these problems that cannot be adjusted while the war psychosis prevails. Only then
will solutions be found for these innumerable racial and religious conflicts."
Time and again Lawrence repeated, "These new Jews are coming in a very militant
spirit. Of course I admit that in view of the way in which they have been treated in many
regions of the Western World this is natural enough; but still most regrettable." I
agreed. The outlook for peace in Palestine is anything but bright.
March 10, 1919
Knowing as I do only too well the close watch that the delegates keep on the visitors
to other delegations and the extreme vigilance with which what might be called our
"frequentations" are observed, I was not, and certainly had no reason to be,
surprised when my good friend Nouri al Said, Emir Faisal's closest adviser, came in this
morning to introduce to me a learned Fuki or talib, one of the doctors of the famous
university mosque of Al Azhar in Cairo, undoubtedly the most influential institution of
learning in the Moslem world. Curiously enough this center of religious and racial
propaganda operates under the eyes and apparently with the tacit approval of the British
After presenting him, Nouri said as he withdrew, "This learned man wishes to
enlighten the American delegation as to the dangers and the great difficulties which the
ill-considered words of Mr. Balfour have created in Palestine, indeed throughout the
Middle East." Fortunately the learned man spoke English not only well but with much
distinction, and so for once at least my desk was not a diminutive Tower of Babel.
"Our land is not empty," he began after compliments, "and it is not
waste land. Despite anything that Mr. Balfour may say to the contrary, we have developed
it to the very fullest extent of its capacity and we have developed it as our national
home for thirteen hundred years. From it we Arabs have drawn our sustenance and prospered
as it has been God's will that we should. Our people do not receive pensions or draw
remittances from rich co-religionists in other lands as do the wandering Jews who the
international bankers wish to remove from their flourishing cities. Even our less
fortunate brethren receive blessings from on high, and the One God gives his approval to
their laborious days. We shift for ourselves and not a piastre comes to our communities
from Mecca. Indeed we the faithful in all lands tighten our belts and yearly send our
contributions to the keepers of the shrines and to the guardians of the Thrice Blessed
"And Jerusalem that these wanderers falsely claim is ours. She is one of the four
cities of Paradise. Supreme she stands with her sister shrines, with Mecca, with Medina,
and with Damascus. These are the earthly reward that Allah bestowed upon the faithful. In
these consecrated places we are nearest to Heaven, indeed, there we are neighbors of God.
And yet, incredible as it would seem, there are those who in defiance of the will of God
would take them away from us.
"These Jewish intruders are being brought to our land by men who for the most part
do not know the evil thing they are doing, although of course it is clear that the motive
of some of them is to get rid of these drones who sap the vitality of their communities.
And there are a few who have the effrontery to say that our dear land is destined to be by
the will of God their national home from which, they lament, they were driven centuries
ago when might was right, but that today when right prevails over might it must be
returned to them. They are careful not to say that by ruthless violence the Jews
established themselves in our land but could only maintain themselves there for a short
period, that they were the first to draw the sword the sharp edge of which they were to
feel later, and indeed may again if the nations permit them to continue their absurd
"The Jews are strangers in the land they seek to annex and from which they would
expel us; they belong in Chaldea, and their place of origin is on the banks of the
Euphrates. If men would only listen, the falsity of their claims would be convincing. Even
Abraham to whom they often appeal in support of their faulty title deeds recognized
formally and officially that he and his people were intruders in the land of Canaan."
"When was that?" I ventured to inquire, and so revealed my lack of knowledge
of the Scriptures.
"Do you not recall that he did not want his son, his beloved Isaac, to marry a
stranger woman and that he sent an envoy into the Chaldean lands to secure a suitable
woman of his own tribe to perpetuate his line?"
I here interpolated the statement, as so often before, that the American delegation had
decided in our attempts to right ancient wrongs to go no farther back than the Treaty of
Westphalia, but the learned Fuki now with something like fire in his eyes brushed this
statute of limitations aside.
"In your Bible, which you revere and which we respect, is the story of the
cruelties practiced by these covetous people in their conquest of Canaan. Fortunately
their ruthless arrogance carried with it its cure; the little tribal kinglets got to
fighting among themselves, and so it was not difficult for us to expel them from the lands
they had stolen. They held it but for a very few unhappy years, but we reconquered it and
have held it, until now unchallenged, for centuries. Our right of conquest was as valid as
theirs, and we have maintained it until now unchallenged for thirteen hundred years.
"These wanderers with forged documents and lying chronicles are seeking to expel
us from the shrine which to us has always been the most august sanctuary. It was from the
Dome of the Rock that our Prophet ascended into Heaven on his famous god-given steed.
After the turmoil of the Herodian and the Roman wars it was on the unshakeable foundation
of the Rock that the Emir Omar, the Sherifian Conqueror began to build the great Mosque
which these homeless faithless men seek to pollute. The Emir Omar had spent his energies
in holy works, and so it happened that long life was not vouchsafed him, and so it was
that the magnificent shrine was completed by his noble successor, the Emir Abdul Malek. To
build this splendid offering to the One God, he collected monies throughout the Moslem
world, and you can read in the Arab chronicles that 'seven times the revenues of Egypt
were expended in furnishing our shrine.'
"Until now our right to the holy places has never been contested. Even when the
misguided Crusaders came in their might from all over Christendom and seized the Holy City
and held it for a few years after 1229, they recognized our rights and by the treaty
between warriors, which was always religiously observed, the Haram and all the sacred area
remained in our hands, and so it has been by uncontested right until the present day.
"But do not mistake me. We Arabs are nor an imperialistic people; unlike these
vagrants and troublemakers we have no wish to start another world war which we fear, and
not without reason, would destroy what of civilization now remains. Look, we do not claim
the return of Andalusia, although there we developed a brilliant civilization and founded
seats of learning to which all Christendom came seeking instruction and light. On the
other hand we admit frankly that what we hold today, even if it was won by the sword, by
the grace of the sword we shall continue to hold it. We are a virile people and the Jews
are not. What Jews have bled to reconquer the land they claim? Where are their martyrs?
Nowhere! But we, during the great war to save civilization, we have fought shoulder to
shoulder and boot to boot with our British and our French allies, and they have most
solemnly promised that for us the prize of victory would be a great Arab state, that all
the tribes, even those who have been long submerged, would be freed. And now, at least so
the Jews maintain, they have pledged themselves to dispossess us and give our lands to
aliens. We do not believe such infamy is possible; but if it comes, we will again place
our trust in our swords and in the justice of the One God. We shall remain the masters of
our ancient home even if it becomes a graveyard. Of course we should prefer to live in
peace with all the world; but if there is no other defense, we shall declare a Holy War
against the Unbelievers."
It too was a good lighting speech. I found it impressive. These words are being heard
by millions throughout the Moslem lands. I am sorry for all the world and its children who
yearn for peace. Wise old Bacon said the most baleful vicissitude of mankind is that of
sect. What a pity that after years of pitiless warfare, with undoubtedly the best and the
noblest motives in the world, Mr. Balfour should have opened wide this Pandora box of
racial and religious hatreds!
April 18, 1919
Mr. Balfour is growing increasingly sensitive at the criticism of the declaration he
made to the House of Commons on November 2, 1917, which at least the Zionists have
interpreted as the promise of a Jewish state, a national home for the long homeless
people. It is undoubtedly unfortunate, and certainly BaIfour failed to appreciate the
fact, that Jerusalem is esteemed holy not only by the Jews but by the Christians and the
Mohammedans as well.
To House yesterday Balfour voiced this complaint and with it his explanation "My
declaration was not inspired by sentiment, although I am free to admit I think we owe the
Jews something substantial for the way, in all quarters of the world and on many battle
fronts, they have rallied to the support of the Allies. Not the least of my grievances is
the fact that neither my critics nor my friends have really read my declaration, which I
can assure you had been carefully weighed and long pondered over. Indeed, even the
Zionists who are most vitally concerned seem quite unfamiliar with its contents. I came
out for a Jewish homeland in Palestine in so far as it could be established without
infringing on the rights of the Arab communities, nomad as well as sedentary. Indeed I
thought that in the terms of my declaration the rights of the Arabs were safeguarded as
Then Balfour's pale face grew flushed. Evidently he was angry all through. "I
should think any person would see that my pronouncement was not dictated by sentiment but
was a war measure. I thought that our war aim was to give equal rights and even-handed
justice to all the oppressed. May I not say that was our rallying cry and that it
reverberated throughout the world? In a word it was what you call in the States our
'slogan.' It was, I thought, merely a happy coincidence that this belated act of justice
to the Jews would establish their national home at the Eurasian crossroads and would prove
a protection to the wasp waist of our empire, Suez."
House assured Balfour that even his critics appreciated the noble purpose of his
proposal, but he admitted he saw difficulties ahead if the project were ever to be
[1924. The fighting in Jerusalem and in Jaffa in 1920 and 1921, some of which I
witnessed, and the resulting ferment among the Arabs, showed only too clearly that these
misgivings were well founded. Indeed, in the last-mentioned year, well-meaning Mr.
Balfour, while visiting in Palestine, only escaped from the hands of the rioters by the
most opportune arrival of a British war vessel which carried him speedily out of harm's
way. The problem that the declaration raised still defies solution. On the other hand, it
has proved of great help to the German propaganda among the Arabs who, justly displeased
with their treatment at Versailles, are inclined to think that their claims in Asia, as
well as in Africa, would receive more intelligent and generous treatment in Berlin.]
In the foregoing paragraphs I tell the official story of how it fared with the Zionists
at the Conference. They are fragmentary, but at least they reveal all I know officially
about the subject which was one of the most hush-hush of the problems that were discussed
and so often sidetracked at the Conference. Certainly the problem remains unsolved and the
Balfour Declaration, in my judgment at least, does not rate high as a peace panacea. It
has alarmed fifty million Arabs in or living adjacent to the areas where the religious
clashes have occurred for centuries and also at least two hundred million of their
co-religionists who, scattered throughout the world, are adjusting their tribal
differences and seeking to form a Moslem bloc which all agree would not be helpful to
world peace. I say nothing about the conflicting views which are advanced every Sabbath as
to the disposition of this much promised land of Palestine, from the pulpits of the
discordant Christian churches.
There was, however, one man who came to the Conference who was confident that the
problem, nearly as old as time, had been finally adjusted and that now the peace that was
once in Jerusalem would spread all over the troubled, war-racked areas. He was an
octogenarian Jew from Cracow, the duly accredited agent of his synagogue in what was
before the war Austrian Poland. Through his forbears he had been a refugee in many lands,
a stranger in all of them, ever since the Dispersion. Part of his name, all that I could
well remember, was Ben Israel. He came to see me frequently, mainly, I fear, because no
one else would see him. I told the yeomen of our guard that I was always at home to Ben
Israel and that if I was in conference he was to be asked to wait.
The fact of the matter is that I enjoyed his company because he was the only man within
a radius of a thousand miles of the Hotel Crillon who was convinced that the Conference
had settled any of its problems; to him the fiat of Mr. Balfour was stronger than the Holy
Writ that had been ignored by men of all sects for hundreds of years. Ben Israel was
presenting us with a res adjudicata, the only one in sight of the squabbling
delegates. Who was I, a mere subordinate, that I should scrutinize the matter more
closely? To this waif, this refugee on the seas of intolerance and persecution, I could
not bring myself to play the role of a kill-joy. Perhaps the old man may die before the
hour of rude awakening strikes, I thought. Whatever my purpose may have been, I never by
word or gesture revealed the doubts that assailed me when he said (it was his word of
greeting as well as his parting salutation), "Next year in Jerusalem we shall meet.
Oh, happy, happy day when the dog-brothers no longer shall swagger about the Holy
Ben Israel was a charming talker in all the many languages which he commanded, and he
had a persuasive way with him which I found impossible to resist. Indeed, in our second
talk, without the slightest effort, with but a few well-chosen words, he swept into the
discard all my defenses against reopening any problem that antedated the Westphalian
treaties, and soon I found myself listening with rapt attention to his versions of ancient
wars in Judea and the campaigns of the Crusaders. While he admitted with a certain pride
that he had been born in a windowless room and had often slept on the doorsteps of his
more fortunate brethren, he was scrupulously neat in his long-worn clothes. The little
curlywigs of hair that clustered about his ears were not greasy, as is so often the case
with the East Jews, and his long-drawn parchment features would have delighted any
He had many novel ideas, and one at least was rather disconcerting to one who views, as
we all are beginning to do, the discord and the bickerings that are developing in the
councils of the so recently victorious Allies. "With us," he asserted,
"discord has only come with defeat. Alas, in the days since the Dispersion we have
become divided into sects and we have lost the strength that comes with unity, battling
over absurd trifles. We might well have been redeemed from the political slavery that has
been ours for centuries throughout the world had we remained united, but despite the
Injunctions of the prophets, that was not to be. Today we wail at the Wailing Wall, but we
do not wail together; even in sackcloth and ashes we stand apart.
"So today a son of the Akénazim, however versed in Talmudic lore, will not marry
into a Sephardim family or take a wife from among my people who, though proscribed and
banished by Isabella, still speak her language in all the lands of their exile. Twenty
years ago a Jewish lord who had prospered mightily in banking sought to put an end to this
unhappy schism by offering a bonus of ten pounds to each of those who, by marrying outside
of their narrow sect, would rise superior to this ancient and most unworthy prejudice. The
result? There have not taken place any of these mixed marriages. The dowry money is still
rusting in the great man's coffers."
Ben Israel was so distressed over this tribal exclusiveness that I thought to cheer him
by admitting that we Christians too were kept apart by very trivial differences.
"Behold the Czechs and the Slovaks," I said. "They are blood brothers;
doubtless both are West Slavs. They have been held apart, but now they are free to unite
and enjoy their freedom and independence together. But they can't get together. The new
state would be fine, they admit, but the Czechs want to write it Czechoslovakia, while the
Slovaks insist upon having their distinct nationality capitalized as is here written,
My revelation brought little comfort to the envoy from Cracow. "With us it has
been worse, much worse than that," he insisted. "Our people will not pray
together. They will not live together. They will not eat together, and many a man and
woman has died of starvation rather that accept a crust from a member of the antagonistic
sect. Millions of people have been involved in this uncharitableness and do you know how
it came about? It sounds incredible, but is nevertheless as true as the Old Testament. The
elders of that far-distant day disagreed as to the way chickens should be dressed for the
kitchen. For centuries millions have suffered because of this most trivial difference of
April 22, 1919
When I returned ten days ago from my foray into Southeastern Europe, under the auspices
of General Smuts, one of my first inquiries was of Ben Israel. The bosun said he had not
been around for some time; that when last he called he had a hacking cough, "and I
gave him some lozenges." I felt I ought to look him up. In fact, only my sudden
departure for Vienna had prevented me from making the call upon which he seemed to set
great store and which indeed I had promised to make at the first opportunity. Although the
decision had been reached (of that he was confident), Ben Israel wished to show me certain
documents in Hebrew which would remove any doubt as to the validity of the Zionist claim
to the Holy, the much promised, City. I now looked up his address and started to make good
on my promise - and more, to refresh my soul with contact with the only man I had met in
Paris who believed that his problem had been solved.
I came at last after many wanderings to the large tenement in a dark narrow canyon
street which ran out from the rue Pigalle. It was indeed a human hive as I stood at the
entrance, wondering where I should begin my inquiries; men black and white and yellow
emerged from the dingy portal. I could not locate the loge for a time, but
finally a little child with one shoe on and one shoe off kindly led me to it by a back
stair. The door on which we knocked was evidently barricaded against complaining tenants,
but when I mentioned Ben Israel, the stern face of the guardian of the gate relaxed. Here
was a tenant who had left a pleasant farewell. "He is gone, the poor gentleman,"
explained Madame Ia Concierge with a sigh. "He died two weeks ago."
"I had not seen him for days," she went on, "and unlike so many others
he had always been punctual with his rent. I banged on his door, and when there came no
answer I called in the passing sergot and he broke in. We found the kind old man,
who never made a complaint about anything, lying on the floor with his head pillowed on a
pile of manuscripts. I thought he was asleep, but when the police doctor came he
pronounced him dead; said indeed he had been dead for several days.
"Another Jew tenant told us what to do and in a few hours a number of his
co-religionists appeared, in long black gabardine coats just like the one he always wore
and had died in, and they prepared him for burial. I must tell you the Alliance, I think
they called it, gave the old man a very chic funeral the very next day. They
carried him down from his dark room with a black-bearded cantor leading the way with a
voice that shook the building but pretty it was not. When they brought him out on the
street, I followed, of course, to show my respect to a good tenant who always paid his
rent while there was life in his body, and I could not believe my eyes. There, awaiting
the poor man who had never ridden even in a sap-in in his lifetime, was un magnifique
corbillard, a splendid hearse, all covered with a cloth encrusted with silver and
"But one thing they had cheapened on," now admitted the concierge, although
she evidently hated to point out the sun spots in this picture of unexpected splendor,
"and that was his coffin. In fact, it wasn't a real coffin at all; they had bundled
him into four rough planks, unpainted, unplaned, and knotted, held together not by nails
but by rough wooden skillets."
When I explained that this was the proper ritual according to the law and the prophets,
the concierge was greatly relieved. "They were good people," she admitted,
"those black-bearded men of the Alliance. They paid me the rent for four more weeks
the time they thought it would take them to assort those parchment papers he studied day
and night by candlelight, for his was a windowless room all he said he could pay for. And
that was chic, don t you think so?" I agreed.
I did not grieve unduly for Ben Israel, although I shall miss him.
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