Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
The Bread of Affliction (From Children of the Ghetto)
By Israel Zangwill
(English poet and novelist, born 1864; has written with tenderness and charm of the struggles of Judaism in contact with modern commercialism)
AT half-past five the stable-doors were thrown open, and the crowd pressed through a long, narrow white-washed stone corridor into a barn-like compartment, with a white-washed ceiling traversed by wooden beams. Within this compartment, and leaving but a narrow circumscribing border, was a sort of cattle-pen, into which the paupers crushed, awaiting amid discomfort and universal jabber the divine moment. The single jet of gas-light depending from the ceiling flared upon the strange simian faces, and touched them into a grotesque picturesqueness that would have delighted Doré.
They felt hungry, these picturesque people; their near and dear ones were hungering at home. Voluptuously savoring in imagination the operation of the soup, they forgot its operation as a dole in aid of wages; were unconscious of the grave economical possibilities of pauperization and the rest, and quite willing to swallow their independence with the soup. Even Esther, who had read much, and was sensitive, accepted unquestioningly the theory of the universe that was held by most people about her, that human beings were distinguished from animals in having to toil terribly for a meagre crust, but that their lot was lightened by the existence of a small and semi-divine class called Takeefim, or rich people, who gave away what they didnt want. How these rich people came to be, Esther did not inquire; they were as much a part of the constitution of things as clouds and horses. The semi-celestial variety was rarely to be met with. It lived far away from the Ghetto, and a small family of it was said to occupy a whole house. Representatives of it, clad in rustling silks or impressive broad-cloth, and radiating an indefinable aroma of super-humanity, sometimes came to the school, preceded by the beaming Head Mistress; and then all the little girls rose and curtseyed, and the best of them, passing as average members of the class, astonished the semi-divine persons by their intimate acquaintance with the topography of the Pyrenees and the disagreements of Saul and David, the intercourse of the two species ending in effusive smiles and general satisfaction. But the dullest of the girls was alive to the comedy, and had a good-humored contempt for the unworldliness of the semi-divine persons, who spoke to them as if they were not going to recommence squabbling, and pulling one anothers hair, and copying one anothers sums, and stealing one anothers needles, the moment the semi-celestial backs were turned.