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The Elm Street Synagogue, New York.
עת לעשות ועת לדבר

Dear Sir—

In the Occident of the last month, there appeared an article purporting to emanate from several members of the Elm Street Synagogue, reflecting on my conduct in the late painful contest. I regret to state, that my fixed determination to be silent under every provocation must now be revoked. For the last twelve months have I patiently endured every insult, submitted to every degradation, suffered my name to appear in the public press in no enviable light, allowed my domestic peace to be disturbed, and my health to be impaired; all this have I borne in silence, for the peace of Israel, and in order to restore order and harmony, where discord and disunion held such fearful sway. Fully relying on the purity of my motives, and on my zeal for the public good, I continued silent whilst others spoke; but there is a solstice beyond which even forbearance ceases to be a virtue; and I cannot any longer permit my name to be used, without placing on record in our Jewish organ (for the press here requires no explanation from me) the part I have played in this tragic drama, without demonstrating to those it may concern that, placed in the most trying situation, I acted as a minister of religion, “I gave my back to the smiters,” in order to serve my God, and disregarded all my temporal affairs for the purpose of advancing spiritual good.

When first lawsuits were instituted against the corporation B’nai Jeshurun respecting the election of trustees, all my energy was employed to stem the evil at its first outbreak. I portrayed in glowing colours to both sides the unexampled religious and temporal prosperity of the congregation and its various institutions. By the present Elm Street members I was met with the hardships of the seat-holders, who required two-thirds of the meeting to elect them; and how difficult it was to pass such an ordeal. I endeavoured to reason with them, demonstrating that they enjoyed equal religious rights, and that those political rights, for the attainment of which they were risking the prosperity of the Synagogue, would best be obtained by patience and perseverance in the congregation room. But my words fell silently on the ear. I then exhorted the other side, soliciting them, as an especial personal favour, to modify their by-laws. Here, too, I was unsuccessful, that party urging that any alteration in the existing by-laws would be a hazardous experiment; that it was not the seat-holders who complained, but a portion of the electors who, desirous to obtain power for themselves, adopted every means to increase the number of voters on their side. They (the seceders) referred more especially to the conduct of those who commenced law proceedings, as it applied to myself; that they invariably left the Synagogue on my stated days of lecturing; that I had been publicly interrupted in such addresses; that they (the now Elm Street members) required at least a reduction in my exorbitant salary, now twelve hundred dollars per annum. My answer was, that if it could subserve the cause of peace, I was willing to resign my situation. They, however, assured me that my resignation would be an injury to the cause of religion, and that the general harmony would speedily be restored, as they had made overtures to the opposite party to have a friendly suit instituted, which would settle the points in dispute without any great outlay of money or sacrifice of concord. Thus assured, I determined, like a mariner in a storm, to steer clear of all the dangers that surrounded me, and if the vessel was doomed to destruction, I should have the inward satisfaction of knowing that I had done every thing to prevent a wreck.

This halcyon state was not suffered to continue any length of time. On שבת בראשית, when the Parnass elect was to commence his official career, and had just taken his seat, its late occupant also arrived, and likewise took possession. A number of police officers were in attendance to preserve that peace which the building alone should secure to every descendant of Israel. In fine, the banner of religion was removed, and a standard of war erected; threats loud and deep were employed, Judaism was endangered, and my condition rendered truly painful. The Sabbath following things threatened to be worse, when I was called on during the week (by several of the now Elm Street members) to solicit Mr. Micholl to allow my acting as Parnass in the Synagogue on Sabbath. Anxious to make every sacrifice for peace, I called on Mr. M. and begged him to make the required concession. He did, not for any definite time, but as an experiment, reserving to himself the right to act as Parnass on all other times and occasions. This course was deemed satisfactory by both parties, and concurred in by advice of counsel. Thus, unsought and unsolicited for myself, I enjoyed the anomalous position of a Cromwell, spiritual and temporal director.

Thus we went on for some time, each party imagining that I favoured their opponents, when a marriage was to be solemnized. The parties being in arrears, the Synagogue laws providing that all arrearages should on such occasions be discharged, an amicable arrangement was made by one of the parties, through me, with Mr. Micholl; the honours of the Synagogue were asked and duly given on the Sabbath previous to the wedding, as the party stated they did not intend to visit the Synagogue the Sabbath subsequent. On the Sabbath after, one of the relatives, heavily in arrears and no seat-holder, requested the honours. I could not, considering the delicate situation in which I was placed, destroy every vestige of the congregation laws. I declined complying with so unreasonable a request, although, for the sake of conciliation, I allowed him to ascend the reading desk to make offerings, though it was opposed to the laws. The next day I received a letter (from a committee of the now Elm Street members) which was degrading to its authors, charging me with insulting their party, and pouring forth threats of the worst kind. That effusion, to prevent excitement, I kept secret, locking it up in my desk, and keeping it there during the whole controversy. I would now have forwarded it for publication, did I not “love Israel for Israel’s sake.” Still I continued to steer a neutral course, until my laxity of conduct in not requiring payments, when they should have been legally demanded, and the refusal of the now Elm Street members to pay a cent, threatened a collision. At this time the treasury was exhausted, the money paid by the (now) seceders being insufficient to pay the legitimate expenses of the Synagogue. The trustees, to whom I was amenable, adopted a resolution prohibiting me from giving any honours to those who had not conformed with the congregation’s laws. In this painful exigency I could not “halt between two opinions;” I had either to resign the temporal direction, or pursue the alternate course, obey the trustees. Should I have adopted the former course, we should have had a repetition of scenes at which the heart recoils. I therefore chose the latter, although I was sacrificing myself at the shrine of duty, conscious that I was the best friend of peace by being prepared to make the greatest sacrifice in order to attain it. Several circumstances now occurred to warn me that physical means were intended by the now Elm Street members; (one of their trustees resigning because, according to his published circular, he was not prepared to take by force what the law would not give him peaceably, and other acts of a concomitant nature;) when a boy of an elector was to be בר מצוה and, as your correspondents state, they were determined that the boy should and must read. Believe me, this was no empty boast; for several days I tried every means to dissuade them from so suicidal an experiment, offering even to pay the bill of indebtedness for the father; but to no purpose. On the Sabbath ensuing we had a crowded attendance; persons unconnected with our Synagogue, and others who scarce ever darkened its doors, were there; and solemnly I asseverate that, but for the discretion of the seceders who were absent, a scene would have occurred at which the soul sickens. At the moment the law was to be taken from the ark, the sexton’s key was not required to open its portals; a key had been manufactured for the occasion. The clerk was removed, his book taken from his hands, another person substituted; the service proceeded, offerings were made; even one of that party was so callous to the feelings of humanity, and so dead to the sentiments which should characterize every man in a place of worship, as to make an offering for my safe voyage across the Atlantic! Thus things went on “well enough,” as your correspondents assert. After the service I went to the father of the boy, at his residence, congratulating him that his boy had been confirmed, and the olive-branch was the object of our conversation. On my return to my dwelling, I received a message from the Parnass, who was prevented by sickness from attending the morning service, informing me that I was not to attend Synagogue that afternoon, as, in consequence of a representation made to him by the sexton that false keys were had for the ark, and that property had been removed, he had ordered the Synagogue to be closed until he could convene a board of trustees. At four o’clock, I was informed that the building was surrounded, and that a forcible entrance had been effected. This information had scarcely reached me, when I received a summons to attend and read the service. I certainly did refuse to come. “I never heard of such an outrage an Israel.” I should have been unworthy of my sacred calling, unfit to dwell in a civilized community, if I had read the service at such a time, after the violations which they had just committed. Information then reached me, that before they commenced prayers a motion was made, and seconded then and there, that I should be suspended from my functions, the mover and seconder having but an hour before given me their hand of friendship, offering to serve me in every exigency. I was farther informed that, at the close of the evening service, the sacred laws, their robes, and all other valuables, were removed from the Synagogue to private dwellings, and so on.

Sunday was calm. On Monday morning, when I innocently supposed that the passions had subsided, I attended Synagogue as usual. I had scarce commenced the service, when two persons brought in one of the copies of the sacred laws, and placed it in the ark. I continued reading; on arriving at that portion when the law is to be taken out, I ascended the ark to receive it. On my returning to the reading desk, I found a man on it, for some purpose to me unknown. I was just unrolling the sacred law, when the person assaulted me, tearing my flesh from my hand, whilst another ascended and felled me to the earth. Your correspondents state there were no physical means used. I agree with them: it is too mild a term; it was sheer brute force. This closed the fatal scene; many who had until then been neutral, now became warm partisans, offering to serve me in person or purse. My fellow-citizens of the Christian community offered to serve me in any way to punish the evil-doers: and this I intended; but after the ebullition of feeling had subsided, I looked at the matter through all its bearings, and found that the best plan would be to act according to the wishes of those I felt to be friends, and withdraw from my late congregation, for the purpose of joining the seceders. I voluntarily surrendered my life contract with the Elm Street congregation.

I hope I have written sufficient to satisfy every rightly constituted mind of my conduct; and right cheerfully do I leave that conduct to the scrutinizing gaze of all Israelites. Respecting the flock I have left, it would to me be a source of regret to say any thing about them; those who have wronged me their conscience will be their censor. Regarding the Synagogue from which I have withdrawn, in a national and religious point of view, it is to be deplored; memory, with reverted eye, looks back at what it was destined to be. During the six years that I ministered there to the Lord, I had witnessed it increasing year after year; I had the happiness to see a number of Christians attend there to inquire of the Lord; it was there I uprooted that system which gratified the carnal appetite at the expense of the soul; it was there I spent my energies to improve the “spiritual;” I had seen its temporal condition improve in an equal ratio; in a year or two its surplus capital would have been sufficient to have afforded a permanent maintenance to its aged and decrepit members. In fine; it was my pride by day, and my dreams by night; and fondly I entertained the hope that it would be a nucleus for the achievement of every good. But man endeavoured to counteract the will of Providence, and with streaming eyes do I behold the result: “what God makes, man destroys.”

And now a word to yourself. In your introductory remarks to their letter, you state that, placed in my situation, you “would have not assumed the rights of the temporal director, deeming as you do that the minister cannot do so without running the risk of making enemies.” In that emergency I looked at the cause, without caring for the effect. Respecting the creation of enemies, I do not think I have one in addition to the former number. True, they appeared as friends; but the mask has been removed, and, supposing that I can trace amongst the list persons whom I have served in the hour of need, they have now discharged that debt. What of that? Evil cometh that good may follow. If there are some ungrateful persons, they are more than counterbalanced by those godly beings, those noble spirits, disinterested friends, to them I can speak of things divine, without tinging their countenance with a blush, and to them I can look for consolation when the spirit looks at the past. As to the encomiums you have been pleased to pass on my general conduct, believe me, at a moment like this, approval from such a quarter is truly gratifying. In return, permit me to assure you, that the few years probably yet allotted me on earth shall be devoted, amongst my friends at the Franklin Street Synagogue, or wheresoever called by duty, to the promotion of Israel’s welfare and for posterity’s weal.

Yours, sincerely,

S. M. Isaacs.
94 Elm Street, Menachem 7th, 5605.