10 Things You Need to Know About… Israel Zangwill

British writer and humorist

220px-Israel_Zangwill_by_Walter_Sickert_Vanity_Fair_25_February_1897 1. He was born in London in 1864 to Jewish immigrants from Russia. After attending a school for immigrant Jews, he went to the University of London, where he was awarded a BA with triple honors. He married a gentile feminist, Edith Ayrton.

2. He championed the cause of the oppressed. He was an advocate for women’s suffrage and Jewish emancipation. He was both an assimilationist and a Zionist, an odd combination.

3. At the start of the 20th century, he was arguably the best-known Jew in the English-speaking world. His novel Children of the Ghetto: A Study in a Peculiar People (1892) was a runaway best-seller. With pathos, humor and great insight, it described the life of immigrant Jews in London’s East End, as well as of wealthier, assimilated Jews in the West End. Of course, it’s a tale of thwarted young lovers. Zangwill made it a play with the same title in 1899.

4. His play The Melting Pot advocated for the end of religious and racial differences, an end which he foresaw coming in the USA. The play was a hit when it opened in New York in 1909. That same year, it went to Washington, DC. Theodore Roosevelt, watching from his presidential box, leaned forward and shouted, “That’s a great play, Mr. Zangwill, that’s a great play.” Later, in a letter dated 1912, Roosevelt wrote to Zangwill that The Melting Pot would always be “among the very strong and real influences upon my thought and my life.” It was last produced in New York in 2006. Other plays by Zangwill included Merely Mary Ann, made into a movie in 1931 starring Janet Gaynor; Nurse Marjorie and The Serio-Comic Governess.220px-TheMeltingpot1

5. His The Big Bow Mystery was the first locked-room murder mystery ever and has been continuously in print since 1891. His fiction about Jewish life included Ghetto Tragedies, Ghetto Comedies and The King of Schnorrers, a picaresque novel of social satire. In addition, he wrote Dreamers of the Ghetto, evoking famous Jews, including Spinoza, Heine, and Ferdinand Lassalle. (Why I like doing this blog: who knew Lassalle was Jewish? Evidently, this German-Jewish socialist changed his name from Lassal to hide his ethnicity. Sure worked with me!) Far from hiding his Jewishness, Zangwill sometimes used Yiddish sentence structure in his writing.

6. He participated in a translation of the Mahzor into English and published a translation of the poetry of Ibn Gabriol (see my blog post about Ibn Gabriol, dated January 23.

7. Though he loved the idea of a melting pot, Zangwill was a Zionist. In December 1901, he wrote, “Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country.” (For the long history of this expression, and the interesting meaning of “without a people,” see Wikipedia)

8. In 1905, after the defeat of the Uganda Scheme, he broke with Zionism and founded the Jewish Territorialist Organization, with the aim of creating a Jewish homeland anywhere in the world–considering territories in Canada, Australia, Mexico, Mesopotamia and Cyrenaica. Ultimately, he worked with financier Jacob Schiff on the Galveston Plan, which brought 10,000 Jewish immigrants to the US between 1907 and 1914. At the end of his life, Zangwill believed Zionism would not work, both because the Arab presence in Palestine was an insuperable obstacle and because the British mandate gave the Jews no autonomy.

9. He died of pneumonia in 1926.

250px-Israel_Zangwill10. Some quotes from Zangwill:

Everything changes but change.

No Jew was ever fool enough to turn Christian unless he was a clever man.

No, the real American has not yet arrived. He is only in the Crucible, I tell you – he will be the fusion of all races, perhaps the coming superman.

Fish was indeed the staple of the meal. Fried fish, and such fried fish! With the audacity of true culinary genius, Jewish fried fish is always served cold. The skin is a beautiful brown, the substance firm and succulent. Other delicious things there are in Jewish cookery – Lockshen, which are the apotheosis of vermicelli; Ferfel, which are lockshen in an atomic state; and Creplich , which are triangular meat pasties; and there is even gefullte Fisch, which is stuffed fish without bones – but fried fish reigns above all in cold, unquestioned superiority.


3 thoughts on “10 Things You Need to Know About… Israel Zangwill

  1. Pingback: Culture: the myth of the melting pot | Episyllogism

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