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Sir Isidore Spielmann, 1854-1925

Rev. Ephraim Levine

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Sir Isidore Spielmann, C.M.G., F.S.A. Facing p. 2331</page><page sequence="2">sir isidore spielmann. 233 Sir Isidore Spielmann, 1854-1925. By the Rev. Ephraim Levine, M.A. In the Report of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition, which was held in London in 1887, appears the following passage : " The idea of such an exhibition originated with Mr. I. Spielmann, who, from its inception to its end, was the leading spirit of the undertaking, at which he worked with indefatigable energy." At the time this was written he was a young man of 33 who had already evinced a deep interest in things Jewish. The years that followed were to prove how deep and abiding this interest was. His life was prolonged till his 71st year, and when he passed away in 1925 he left a void within his community which can never be quite filled. Not that there was any definite scheme of com? munal work which has had to be thrown aside in consequence of his death ; but the place he filled and the influence he wielded were such, that only a man gifted with the manifold qualities of mind and heart which he possessed can be visualised if we seek to describe such place and such influence. The space allowed for this tribute precludes anything in the form of a biography. The most we can attempt to do is to set forth in brief outline some facts which will reveal Sir Isidore Spielmann as an English Jew. These two terms encompassed his whole career. No man could have more fully realised his Jewish obligations, and no man could have gloried more in his English nationality. Life to him meant the interpretation of this double allegiance and all it involved. The conditions under which he grew up to manhood were very different from those with which we are familiar to-day. The glories and joys of emancipation were still recent enough to thrill the new? born generation of young Jews. Not yet had the terror of Russian persecution stalked before the eyes of English Jews, nor were they yet threatened with the problems of immigration which were to loom so largely in subsequent days. The sixties and seventies were a period of</page><page sequence="3">234 SIR ISIDORE SPIELMANN. communal construction to which we owe the inception of many a movement which has extended to our time. To take one example. The United Synagogue, starting in 1870 with a few synagogues, has to? day spread its tentacles all over the Metropolis from east to west and from north to south, with an ever increasing number of constituents. We refer to this movement because it represents the first, and the only successful, attempt to knit together the units of the community in religious, social, and charitable endeavour. It marked a distinct stage in the evolution of an Anglo-Jewish community. With the removal of Jewish disabilities, with the admission of Jews to Parliament, to offices in the State, and to the Universities with full privileges, the time had arrived for the organisation of British Jews into a body of citizens conscious of their State obligations and determined in their allegiance to their traditions. There were giants in those days among the leaders, and the readiness with which communal responsibility was undertaken, both in synagogaj. and extra-synagogal affairs, is sufficient indication of the spirit that animated them. When we come to the late eighties, the name and fame of Anglo-Jewry stand so high that England is regarded as the Paradise of the Jew, and to its shores the eyes of oppressed Jews look wistfully as to the Promised Land. Before many years had passed, the local community was to be strengthened by the influx of a large population of exiles fleeing from Bussian and Polish persecution. New conditions arose and new problems were created. Only a well organised community could have risen to meet them. This is what we mean when we say'that Isidore Spielmann recognised his double allegiance. No man was more completely identified with England and all that English culture connoted. This identification widened his outlook. It broadened his sympathies. Ear from breeding in him that sense of insular narrowness which is the mark of smaller natures, it fostered in him an intense longing to give to others less happily placed the joys of what he possessed. If England stood for toleration and freedom for all her subjects, if English Jews enjoyed total immunity from persecution and disability, it behoved English Jews to strive that such conditions should obtain in other countries ; or failing that, to work to the end that those who came here to settle should speedily assimilate to the conditions they found. Thus his work, viewed from two aspects, can be said to have centred round the problem</page><page sequence="4">SIR ISIDORE SPIELMANN. 235 of anglicising the foreign Jew in this country and in protecting him in other countries. To take the latter problem first. In the nineties the tide of Russian persecution beat with tremendous force against these shores. England became the haven of rest for oppressed Jewry. It was in no small degree owing to the efforts of Isidore Spielmann that the public conscience in this country was aroused to the story of all the misery that was being endured. For some time he was one of the editors and prime movers in the publication of a paper called Darkest Russia, whose object was " to bring to the knowledge of the civilised world authentic facts relating to the Russian persecution of her Jewish and other Nonconformist subjects." This paper (at first published as a supplement to the Jewish Chronicle) revealed from time to time the horrors that were being perpetrated in that country. His work in this direction was not confined to the production of this paper. Largely through his efforts (assisted, of course, by other like-minded communal leaders) protest meetings were organised in London in 1882, and again in 1891, and again in 1905, when the voice of educated Britain rang out in tones of denunciation against the crime of persecution. The present writer has often heard from his lips how great was the work involved in the arrangement of these meetings, and how indignation had to be tempered with diplomacy and right combined with expedi? ency. Throughout his life he never heard or read of any indignity imposed upon a brother without being roused to anger. It was a great sorrow to him that the illness which for the last years of his life rendered him an invalid, compelled him to be a spectator of the struggle for Jewish freedom which went on. Yet his pen was not idle, and the influence he had wielded in former days by active participation was not diminished, even if he could only make himself heard from the confines of his library. It was natural that his love for England should have inspired him to further the process of anglicisation. His ready sympathy was always on the side of the man who was struggling to make his way in the world. He was never a rich man, as that term is understood to-day, but he was more than generous when his help could contribute to raising an individual or a family striving to gain a place in the battle of life. He believed in the power for good of the Anglo-Jewish com</page><page sequence="5">236 SIR ISIDORE SPIELMANN. munity, and it was almost an article of his creed that everyone who enjoyed British citizenship should contribute something to the uplifting of British Jewry. In times of peace he was a protagonist in every educational and religious movement. During the war his pen was active in upholding the cause of Britain and in protesting against the infringement of international justice. He stressed the value of Jewish duty and urged the necessity of Jewish contribution to the fighting forces. Many years previously he hr d been instrumental in the creation of the memorial to the Jews who had fallen in the South African War, and he gloried in the fact that due recognition had been accorded his people for the part they played in that comparatively small struggle. Like many another parent he had to mingle tears with joy at the progress of the war ; happy that Jews were doing so much, sorrowful that so many precious lives, including that of his younger son, should be sacrificed. The greatest pain of all was the thought that Jewish loyalty should be assailed. He could never quite understand that all other people were not as truthful and honourable as himself. To a man of such ideals the work of the Jewish Historical Society must have made a strong appeal. To his efforts to promote the exhibition of 1887 we have already referred. It was not till six years afterwards, in 1893, that he had the joy of seeing the Society actually founded. The first President was Lucien Wolf, who had been closely associated with him in much of the work of which we have spoken above. With the whole band of pioneers who created the Society he was not only a co-worker but an intimate friend. Israel Abrahams, Joseph Jacobs, Israel Zangwill, to name only three of those who have gone, remained life-long friends. Isidore Spielmann himself was President from 1902 to 1904. Apart from the services which he rendered in other directions, he will always be gratefully remembered for his work in connection with the Mocatta Library and Museum. This memorial to that great philanthropist, Frederick Mocatta, consists of his books and objects of Jewish art which are housed at University College, London. The story of the creation of this Library and Museum is familiar to the members of the Society. Isidore Spielmann played a large part, and he had the great joy of presenting it in the name of the community to University College. We have dealt with only a small part of the busy life of this many</page><page sequence="6">SIR ISIDORE SPIELMANN. 237 sided man. It is not, perhaps, germane to this brief tribute to touch that large part of his working life which was devoted to Art. From 1897 almost to the last month of his life he was engaged in organising Art Exhibitions in the various capitals of Europe. For many years he was the trusted consultant of the Board of Trade on matters of Art, and it is common knowledge that the honour which King Edward con? ferred on him was in recognition of the value of these services. For years he acted as one of the Honorary Secretaries of the National Art Collections Fund. Most of the artists of the day were his friends, who delighted to visit him and to receive him in their homes. But this is outside our purview. Only one fact in connection with these exhibitions should be stated. When he was invited to undertake the organisation of one in St. Petersburg in the time of the Czarist regime, he declined, on the plea that he was unwilling to enter Russia under special patronage when his brethren in faith were refused admission. It was an act that would have been expected from one of his strong Jewish opinions, but it stamped him as a man who placed at all times principle above personal honour or distinction. Perhaps we are justified in dwelling for a little upon his love for the Synagogue, and his efforts to beautify it. For the actual building in St. Petersburg Place wherein he worshipped he was continually zealous, ever anxious to promote the beauty of its decoration and to preserve its choice appurtenances. The dignity of its services was a constant source of pride to him, who loved to worship God in the beauty of holiness. He was a man of intense religious conviction, conservative and liberal at the same time, tolerant in the highest degree, and at all times ready to credit his neighbour with the same sincerity as he possessed. His long association with the United Synagogue and his own personal satisfaction in its ritual and practice did not deter him from espousing the cause of the Religious Union in 1902. He was anxious to stimulate religion wherever it was possible, and he viewed the movement of 1902 with hope. He showed, however, little sympathy with the progress of the Liberal Movement as it developed after the year 1909. This brief account of some aspects of the life and character of Sir Isidore Spielmann, while it is inadequate, will help to portray a man of singular qualities of heart and mind, who devoted them to the cause</page><page sequence="7">238 SIR ISIDORE SPIELMANN. of his people and his country. Strong in determination, resolute in purpose, firm in conviction, he was kind, gentle, loving and considerate. He was distrustful of his own powers, modest almost to a fault, and we doubt if he was ever conscious of the influence he was able to exert and of the part he played in so many lives. We said that the void caused by his death has not been filled. It is because there was something in the man himself, something so lovable and something so inspiring that we miss his personality and the radiance which he shed all around. To those who knew him, this picture will recall the man he was and the friend they have lost; to those who knew him not, it may serve to indicate something of the greatness and nobility of a Jewish personality, whose presence continually abides with his intimate friends, to whom he will always remain as the ideal type of English Jew.</page></plain_text>