- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 4 Dec 1958, p. 128-141
- Eisendrath, Rabbi Maurice N., Speaker
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- Item Type
- Ways in which this is a wide, wide world: geographically, religiously, culturally, racially, with many examples. The speed with which Communism influence is spreading throughout the Far East. Reasons for the success of the Communist influence, and for the failure of Christianity and other Western ideals to influence the Far East. The speaker's regard of his recent world-wide trek as "a high and holy mission; a kind of personal reconnaissance … of the … spiritual resources, the moral reserves, the religious reservoirs of faith that might be mobilized against man's direst scourge, the scourge of injustice and war, whether hot or cold." Some observations and conclusions from that reconnaissance.
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- 4 Dec 1958
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- Full Text
- "WIDE, WIDE WORLD"
An Address by RABBI MAURICE N. EISENDRATH President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Thursday, December 4, 1958
CHAIRMAN: The President, Lt.-Col. Bruce Legge.
LT.-COL. LEGGE: Today we welcome as our speaker Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, D.D., LL.D., an orator with a sparkling reputation for wit and learning, courage and service. Dr. Eisendrath was born in Chicago, attended the University of Cincinnati and became a Rabbi at the Hebrew Union College in 1926. Following his ordination he served in such vividly contrasting cities as Charleston, West Virginia, Toronto and New York. In Canada he was one of the founders of the Conference of Christians and Jews and of the long-lived radio program 'Forum of the Air'. In New York he is the renowned President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations; and as a prominent spokesman for Reform Judaism he is active in many spheres of American and Jewish life. In addition, Dr. Eisendrath is a famous religious writer and the well-known author of 'The Never-Failing Stream'. Because of his leadership in public affairs he has been a representative to some of the great councils of the world, the Paris Peace Conference, and the Charter Conference of the United Nations at San Francisco.
It is, therefore, not surprising that on the twenty-third of February 1956, the members of The Empire Club of Canada heard one of the most literate, most logical, most articulate and most moving speeches of its long history. That address was given by Dr. Eisendrath as a special plea for the brotherhood of nation with nation, race with race, creed with creed, and man with his brother-man. In an uncommonly remarkable way that discourse was indicative of Rabbi Eisendrath himself, because he is a great religious leader who has made joint cause with other religious leaders. He is an American who lived for many years in Canada and has travelled widely over the face of the world. He is a humanitarian who is as distressed by the problem of racial intolerance in his own country as by apartheid in the Union of South Africa. He is an internationalist who is troubled by the agonizing fact that most humans on earth are hungry 'most of the time', and helplessly and hopelessly sink in the quagmire of destitution, suffering and premature death, while in North America billions of dollars are squandered with the nonchalance of pennies in an arcade.
Such was the essence our speaker's judgment made in all humility in 1956. Now that he has completed another world tour we await with eagerness Dr. Eisendrath's second address to The Empire Club of Canada on the expansive subject, the 'Wide, Wide World'.
RABBI EISENDRATH: Although great numbers of us, who have been speeding "Around the World in Eighty Days", with David Niven and Cantinflas, are getting the idea that this is too compact a world for comfort; that its boundaries have been so shrivelled to nothingness by the swift-flying aeroplane's rape of time and annihilation of space; that there is so little elbow room left that we must go rocketing off to the moon, despite all this cutting of our universe down to size, my own recent flight round the globe, fast-fleeting though it was, convinced me that this is indeed a wide, wide world. Though I am well aware of the scientific fact that ours is but one, mayhap the smallest of the billions of stars and suns and satellites that spin so dizzily through space; yet when one flies in a single direction, speeding some several hundred miles an hour, hour after hour after hour, as one traverses, for example, the vast spaceless seas from San Francisco to Honolulu to Wake Island to Tokyo, to Auckland, New land, to Calcutta, India, one knows assuredly that, geographically at least, this is still a wide, wide world indeed.
That's the first fact that it is good for us Americans, inhabitants of the United States and Canada, sometimes so provincial in our outlook, to recognize. I know people living not too far from my home in New York City who believe that this world is so narrow that it ends at the Hudson River. When I lived here in Toronto there were so many who felt that they had come to the end of all civilization when they reached the borders of Ontario. There are others who are convinced that nothing of any worth whatsoever can possibly exist beyond the Rockies and, surely, not a single centimetre further than the Pacific. "From sea to shining sea" is their world, and a good world admittedly it is, this new world of ours; no one realizes the reality of that chant, "America the Beautiful," no one breathes the prayer "God Bless America" with more sincerity and conviction than one who returns, as I recently did, from a long absence from these cherished shores. But beautiful, precious though this North American continent of ours indubitably is, it is not the world, it is not the whole of this wide, wide world which lies beyond: a world of natural beauty which matches even our majestic mountains, our deep shadowed forests, our lovely streams. No sight is more thrilling than to zoom past the stately, perfect cone of Fujiyama, its snow-capped summit scratching the skies as one skids to a sudden stop at Tokyo airport; or to be piloted so skilfully through that narrow pass between Hong Kong's towering hills; to breathe in the sweet fragrance of the almond blossoms of Kashmir in the spring; to weep over the perfect symmetry of the Taj Mahal.
This is a wide, wide world not alone in space; not alone in beauty and awesome wonder. It is likewise so in time. How proudly we in the United States looked back just a week ago today, on our Thanksgiving Day, to the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620; just a bit over three centuries ago. And most of you gathered here today will soon be celebrating a great event which traces your spiritual ancestry back 1900 years to the birth of Jesus, while my own people begin a festival on Sunday next which marks the victory of the Macabees over Syrian tyranny some two centuries earlier. We do have an ancient lineage, indeed.
Yet, as we wandered through those mud villages of India, we were somewhat squeamishly stunned by the sight and stench of their dung-covered huts, as we saw their inhabitants still laboriously scraping the stubborn soil with their crude wooden plows, drawing their water by means of oxen or by men pulling tediously at their heavy ropes beneath the blistering sun, winnowing their grain in the breeze as Ruth and Naomi did in Biblical times. Still, primitive and benighted though all this seemed, we could not escape the memory that someplace around there, ten thousand years before the day that we were walking through that very village with those eager-eyed men who, under the community development plan, are awakening India to twentieth century progress; ten thousand years ago, before India was stunned into its long slumber by our own Western plunder and pillage, somewhere in this same area, some ten thousand years ago, certain of these same kinds of villagers built famous cities, the remnants and ruins of which yet remain as vivid reminders of their erstwhile beauty and grandeur; they invented algebra, learned astronomy, wrote poetry, discovered how to smelt metals including iron. They evolved the Sanskrit language, still one of the richest known to man. They came to the very verge of knowing calculus and they got spiders to spinning silk, envied even today by men who can convert lime and air and coal into the sheerest of synthetic fabrics.
Yes, in India, in Malaya, in Thailand, in Vietnam, in Burma, we were reminded of and humbled again and again by this antiquity of so much of the world's wisdom and culture which demonstrated that the world is much wider than our alleged Western monopoly on all scientific progress. Just a little over a year ago all of us were shocked, or have we already forgotten that event, by sputnik which the Soviets beat us in putting into space. How superior in mind, in scientific advance we had presumptuously believed ourselves to be! 'Twas a narrow world, this world of Western intellectual supremacy. But when one wanders through some Eastern village and finds little children poring over their books, sometimes, ofttimes, sweeping out from Communist China in floods of periodicals and paperbacks, poring over these volumes by the flickering light of their oil tapers (while so many of our own youngsters are glued to their television screens); as one contrasted some of our own all-too-poorly prepared representatives with the oriental scholars despatched from other lands, one was not too surprised by the speed with which Communist influence is spreading throughout the Far East, an influence which will not be stayed by guns or bombs but only by recognizing that this is indeed a wide, wide world, not alone geographically and chronologically, but culturally as well; and that the challenge of such a world cannot be met by religious or intellectual imperialism any more than it can any longer be held by military conquest.
'Tis a wide, wide world geographically, religiously, culturally. And racially, too. Now I hope that when I mention that so-called dirty word "race," certain persons in certain parts of this continent will not be subject to rapidly rising blood pressure or that some 'listening in' on the radio will not twist the dial and tune me out. For even if they do, they cannot tune out the truth that this is indeed a much wider world than our circumscribed, bigoted, white supremacists would like to make it. Only one who has spent the good part of six months traversing tens of thousands of miles of the earth's surface, and who has seen in the swarming streets of Japan and Formosa and Hong Kong and throughout the countryside of land after land, vast multitudes of men and women and children of darker hue; who has walked the streets of Nepal into which fewer white men had entered up until a few years ago than have been to the South Pole; who has experienced the strange sensation of having one's lighter skin gaped at as a curiosity; only such a one realizes, as never before, that one is not really the lord and master of creation but is rather part of a comparatively infinitesimal minority of the peoples of the earth; that this is a wide, wide world racially, in very truth.
One learns also that the fact that these colored multitudes have a bit more of that substance known as melanin running through their veins is no reason to believe that they constitute inferior breeds, heathen beyond the law. When standing on the rusting ruins of the once proud battleship Arizona in Pearl Harbour, beneath the deck of which some eleven hundred bodies still lie buried; one realizes there that a people supposedly so inferior, a people who but half a century earlier were in the thrall of darkest feudalism were yet able to execute that sneak attack which all but wiped out the United States Navy just seventeen years ago this coming Sunday. A "Day of Infamy" yes, but a day that ought to have shattered forever our 'simon pure' white arrogance and when one travels from Pearl Harbour to Singapore and along the Burma road, one comes swiftly to the conclusion that, even at our own game of technical skill and military might, which converted the innocent fire crackers of the Chinese into the ultimate weapon of the atomic bomb; even at this game the world is much wider than the so-called scientifically superior white race. When will we grow up and become mature enough, or dare I say, religiously sincere enough to acknowledge that there are no superior or inferior races, intellectually, scientifically or spiritually either. Yes, 'tis a wide, wide world "in spirit and in truth" likewise.
Near Benares in India I strolled through the quiet gardens at Sarnath. There I rummaged through the ruins of an age when most of our ancestors in the Western world were just beginning to crawl out of the mud and the muck and were still bashing each other with clubs. Way out there in the so-called pagan and backward East, Buddha was then preaching this gospel: "Not by hatred is hatred quenched. This is an eternal law. Let us overcome hatred by love, deceit by truth, evil by good, greed by liberality. Go unto all lands," Buddha urged upon his disciples, "and preach this gospel: That the poor and the lowly, the rich and the high are all one, and that all castes unite in this religion as do the rivers in the sea." Like a fresh wind the teachings of Buddha spread throughout India and most of the lands of the Orient. And, as with Christianity, with Judaism, with the teaching of most great faiths, the pure and lofty ethical preachment of
Buddha became lost amid a multitude of temple rites, rowing and scraping and burning of incense, banging of gongs and clapping of hands to awaken the slumbering gods in golden temples festooned with costly embellishments while at their gates lepers with rotting limbs and ulcerous skins, children with burning, consumptive eyes begged piteously for a crust, nay even a crumb of bread. Nevertheless, as H. G. Wells once wrote of one of Buddha's most dedicated followers, Asoka, "More living men cherish his memory today than have ever heard the names of Constantine or Charlemagne" or Moses or Jesus, we might add, as meandering through this wide, wide world makes us realize that even our Judeo-Christian civilization is comparatively unknown among the billions of peoples who inhabit the far places of the earth.
While missionaries of Christendom have spent millions of dollars and expended myriads of men, and women too, to convert "the heathen," they have won, as I was told in Japan, fewer adherents than there are prostitutes in Tokyo, while in forty brief years the Communists have won more comrades to Marx than there are followers of Jesus in all of Christendom. And for good reasons too, for first of all, these so-called heathen are appalled and perplexed by the variety of vying denominations and dogmas and sects, and more serious still, they are repelled by the patent disparity between our preachment and practice. For what kind of faith is this which some of us in the West would bear to the East? The kind of faith which preaches brotherhood and practices exclusion? The kind of faith which proclaims the fatherhood of God and the all-inclusive brotherhood of all the children of men and then, as in my country at least, calls out the militia, closes the schools, or has the police on twenty-four hour guard around some 'lily-white' neighbourhood of the North in order to prevent someone whom God's good sun has fashioned of darker hue from living beside or being seated next to some of us or our paler faced children? The kind of faith which finds some, even in high places, if not fiddling while Rome burns then at least disporting themselves in a host of extraneous pursuits and piously pontificating upon the need to move, not "with all deliberate speed", but with snail-like caution toward the fulfillment of that gospel in which supposedly there were to be neither black nor white, Christian or Jew, slave nor free. And lest some Canadians feel smugly free of such taint, remember that not many years ago when the United Nations was considering a resolution to explore the heinous sin of apartheid in South Africa, though the Soviet Union voted in favour, your government, together with the United Kingdom, voted no. The United States with similar lack of courage and consistency abstained. Imagine Moses, lolling in the garden of Pharoah and beholding the bestial Egyptian taskmaster brutally beating a Hebrew slave and saying: "You're wrong, O God, in urging me to free these serfs. Emancipation must come slowly, oh so very slowly." Christians, too, as they approach their Christmas season, imagine Jesus, standing beside some grief-stricken Negro mother as she tries to console her little child who has just been stoned or spat upon, saying to her: "Never mind; such things take time to overcome, even though you and your sensitive child may never in all your lives taste the exhilirating joy of full freedom and equality."
We are failing to convert the so-called "heathen without the law" also because, though we lustily and unctuously chant, "come all ye faithful" or inscribe over the portals of synagogues "my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples", we bolt and bar and barricade our borders against our brethren from afar. Canada, like the United States has become great because the multitudes of huddled masses did swarm here, each 'bearing a prayer and a gift', the gift of their brains; a Steinmetz and an Einstein; a Banting and a Laurier; the gift of their brawn as myriads of immigrant labourers tunneled beneath our mountains to bring forth its precious ores, as they bridged its rivers to conquer the prairies, as they plowed its fields to harvest its abundance of grains, as they felled its forests to rear great and flourishing cities. But now that these gift-bearers from afar have helped so indispensably to make America great, we have posted our "no entry" signs upon the gateways to our lands; yours as well as my own. We have barred and bolted and barricaded our doors against all but the slightest trickle of those who are still tempest-torn and yearning to be free. Likewise, we once poured forth of our abundance in selfless sharing with the destitute of the world, obedient to the behest of God to "love one another" and to demonstrate our love by generously giving of our superabundance to those who are bereft of all substance. Today, while there are still those who courageously insist, in the Halls of Congress and in the Houses of Parliament, that we must continue to help allay the gnawing hunger of others, still, there are too many who challenge all this "foreign-aid" and who would vigilantly guard the rotting crops in our granaries regardless of the needs of others. "Such sharing boosts our taxes," they complain. If only I could take them with me, in imagination at least, as I but recently did in reality, through the stinking streets of Hong Kong, the fetid slums of Calcutta, which Prime Minister Nehru himself confessed personally to me are a 'horror', as a horror they indubitably are. If I could take each one of you to the back alleys and narrow lanes of Benares and Bombay and there behold the multitudes living, or rather, barely existing, in their miserable hovels and huts, their pathetic lean-tos, their tepees of trash, constructed of discarded CARE canned milk cartons; of rusting, abandoned car license plates and gasoline tins; their women and children scavenging amid the garbage heaps for a few crumbs of mouldy bread or scraps of decomposed vegetables to keep themselves and their loved ones from grisly, gruesome death upon the streets and sidewalks which they inhabit by day and by night. Perhaps if all of us could experience such desperate naked tragedy we would ourselves march to those bursting granaries and storage plants of ours where millions of tons of wheat and pounds of butter accumulate while multitudes of our fellow men starve, just because some of us regard this continent and all it contains as our own to have and to hold for ourselves alone, just because, though we profess the Jewish or the Christian faith, we are not prepared consistently to carry out the consequence of its fundamental preachment that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness there-of." We ought to march to such places of superfluous accumulation and plead that they be opened up, as our Bible further enjoins, for the needy and the poor wherever they may chance to abide. I assure you that, if this we did and even if our taxes were increased, we would still, most of us, be enjoying the luxury of our selfsame motor cars, television and radio sets our three, or in some instances, more meals a day while others, the majority of the peoples of the earth, subsist on at most two or three meals a week, while some even keep themselves from starvation by consuming but a lentil or two a day.
Most of all we are failing to persuade the East of our moral and spiritual supremacy because of our stubborn, persistent faith in "IT." When I was in Japan but a few months ago, almost daily I would read of the death, now almost a decade and a half after we had dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, of one or another of its innocent victims who had lingered on in agony throughout the anguished days and nights that have intervened. One day, it would be a middle aged mother who leaped in front of a speeding subway train in the underground tunnels of Tokyo, a mother who had bravely battled what had at first been diagnosed as a minor stomach ailment, but who lost her courage to carry on any longer when she learned that she had been hopelessly poisoned by the lingering radiation from the bomb and was destined to a harrowing, pain-wracked end. Another day, it was a humble fisherman whose passing the Japanese Press noted was likewise due to the consequences of "IT," and thus, during almost my entire stay of more than two weeks in Japan, I read virtually each day of one after another of these men and women and boys and girls who were suffering and dying as a result of "IT," the first atomic bomb dropped in all history.
No wonder, then, that the vast hordes of Southeast Asia and Africa and elsewhere, who know of the devastating peril of atomic explosion and radiation, are eager that we and Russia and other more "advanced" countries stop nuclear testing forever. There are no secrets in this inextricably intertwined world of ours and so the Japanese and the uncommitted Chinese and Indians, the people whom we are seeking to win by our appeal to moral values, in contradistinction to the pagan and heathen and godless Reds in Russia or China, read of the reaction of some of our Western leaders to the truly damning report recently rendered by the United Nations, revealing the undisputed contamination resulting from nuclear tests. Quite blandly and, in my judgment, and the judgment of those multitudes of uncommitted men and women throughout the non-white world, quite unconscionably some of our leaders opined that "after all, that's life, one always has to pay for certain advantages with certain disadvantages." What advantages? The advantage of blowing our universe to splinters? What disadvantages? The petty, superficial disadvantages of sterilizing and paralyzing and deforming countless generations of the as yet unborn? Or shall we, with the seeming equanimity of some of our official commissions and commissioners, dismiss all this agitation against "the bomb" by insisting, as they did, that any damage from strontium 90 fallout will be "extremely small and might at worst shorten certain lives by a few days." Where does any human agency, even when wrapped in the red star or the Star Spangled Banner, or the Maple Leaf or the Union Jack, get the right thus to play God and abbreviate the life of any single soul, whether it be a few days stolen from the humble life of some fisherman of Japan, a junk-driver in Hong Kong, or of yourself or myself who might covet those precious days or even hours with our loved ones? Who gives us the right even under our present, antiquated international law, which scrupulously observes the three or four mile limit, or has it now become the twelve mile limit? with regard to fishing rights, with regard to the precise millimetre beyond which one dare not catch a single wiggling fish, but which presumably allows us, archaically and satanically to pollute the waters in which those selfsame fish swim for hundreds of miles beyond those limits? Who gave us this supreme power of life or death not only over our contemporaries but over our children's children for generations yet to be? And when we do react in protest; when our leaders do finally resolve to sit down and confer, as within the past weeks they have done, it is usually because someone else has challenged or shamed us into doing so, or out of quavering fear of death-dealing retaliation, not out of moral revulsion. What's happened to our ethical antennae these days, to our moral sensitivity? Once upon a time we prayed, "Create in us a clean heart, oh God." Today we pray and plod and rationalize our failure promptly to end our tests, because we are seeking a "clean" bomb! Thus do we transvaluate all values, translating the common speech of men into the vocabulary of madmen, calling "clean" a mechanism which, in a split second, can incinerate millions and transform God's handiwork, "all created equal," into cinders all cremated equal.
Thus, while I found men everywhere fixing their gaze hopefully on the summit at Geneva; while the hope for finding some solution there was voiced in conversations and conferences I had throughout the Far East with men great and small: with Prince Mikasa, brother of the Emperor of Japan, with Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, with the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Menzies, and the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Nehru, as well as with myriads of the humble people of the many lands I visited; a speed-crazed taxi driver in Tokyo, a Confucian student in Formosa, a brilliant Swami Hindu in New Delhi, a Maori Indian guide in Rotorua, New Zealand, a houseboat owner in Kashmir, a village chief in one of those tiny mud villages of Malaya, while all of them longed for such a summit conference of the statesmen such as is even now in progress, all of them likewise shared my contention, the conviction which carried me on this long trek throughout the world, that ultimately there must be a summit conference of the spiritual seers of mankind where those who share the belief in God's fatherhood; and man's brotherhood shall mobilize their millions, even billions of followers to proceed to practice what they preach. For it seems to me that no one really believing that every man is made in God's image; black and yellow and red and brown as well as white, will fail to love enough and labour enough, serve and sacrifice enough, to make it possible for every man to "dwell 'neath his own vine and fig tree, there being none to make him afraid."
That's why I regarded my recent world-wide trek not merely as a pleasure jaunt or a tourist junket but as a high and holy mission; a kind of personal reconnaissance flight; a reconnaissance flight, however, not to reconnoitre the ammunition dumps or atomic stockpiles of the world, but the spiritual resources, the moral reserves, the religious reservoirs of faith that might be mobilized against man's direst scourge, the scourge of injustice and war, whether hot or cold. For it struck me as nothing short of ironic, even blasphemous, that while men of as widely variant view and vision as Eisenhower and Krushchev do nevertheless, meet from time to time at the summit; while merchants and men of finance, sometimes engaged in the most cut-throat competition, nonetheless do gather in annual or biennial conventions to plan for their common good; while scientists sometimes engaged in devising death-dealing weapons nevertheless convene to pool their brains for the peaceful uses of atomic energy; while athletes from countries virtually at war with one another compete in not too unfriendly manner in the Olympic games, yet the heads of religions have not met on a worldwide scale since the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago at the end of the nineteenth century. And I am gratified to report that wherever I went, among saffron-robed Buddhist monks and purple-garbed Shinto priests, among Confucian and Parsee seers, as well as among Christian and Jewish leaders, I found an eager response to this pressing need. The East would welcome such a summit spiritual conference. Will the West extend its hand and heart in time? Someone, it was Kipling wasn't it?, dourly opined that "East is East and West is West and Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet." Well, East meets West and West meets East when the prophets of Israel and Jesus of Nazareth bid their followers to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul" and "thy neighbour as thyself" and when the seers and sages of India, from Buddha to Gandhi and the present-day walking saint, Vinobha Bhave, as well as Laotse and Confucius, gently counsel those who would walk in their footsteps, likewise, to love one another.
No, indeed, we have no monopoly, either in the United States or Canada, either in Judaism or Christianity, on the aspirations of the human heart and soul. It was at Darjeeling in India when at dawn one morning we ascended Tiger Hill and gazed out at snow-clad Mount Everest, as the rose-fingered sun dispelled the sable pall of darkness and spread its shafts upon the pure white crest of that highest mountain in the world. It was there and then I recalled that, although everyone in that little village of Darjeeling knows the role which the Indian guide Tenzing played in Hilary's conquest of Everest, it was only the white man who was knighted, while the coloured man received but a civilian medal; an external symbol, no doubt, of the former's alleged supremacy. It was, however, in no wise an accurate appraisal of the respective inner resources of white or coloured, East or West. For when the Westerner from New Zealand was asked how he felt when he reached the summit he characteristically replied: "Darn good." But the Indian Tenzing responded to the same query with the words: "I thought of God and the greatness of his work. I have feeling for climbing to top and making worship more close to Buddha God. Not same feeling like English Sahibs who say they want 'conquer' mountain. I feel more like making pilgrimage." Let us all strive to "make pilgrimage," if not to the topmost mountain peak then at least to the summit of the spirit where, in proper perspective, we may perceive the whole vast, wide, wide world with all its wondrous variety and colour, where we may behold the glory of God and the greatness of His work who "made of one flesh and one blood all the children of earth" and commanded us "to love one another."
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. J. Palmer Kent, O.C.