Edna Ferber: Fanny Herself

13. CHAPTER THIRTEEN (continued)

She had entered a Jewish house of worship only once in this year. It was the stately, white-columned edifice on Grand Boulevard that housed the congregation presided over by the famous Kirsch. She had heard of him, naturally. She was there out of curiosity, like any other newcomer to Chicago. The beauty of the auditorium enchanted her--a magnificently proportioned room, and restful without being in the least gloomy. Then she had been interested in the congregation as it rustled in. She thought she had never seen so many modishly gowned women in one room in all her life. The men were sleekly broadclothed, but they lacked the well-dressed air, somehow. The women were slimly elegant in tailor suits and furs. They all looked as if they had been turned out by the same tailor. An artist, in his line, but of limited imagination. Dr. Kirsch, sociologist and savant, aquiline, semi-bald, grimly satiric, sat in his splendid, high-backed chair, surveying his silken flock through half-closed lids. He looked tired, and rather ill, Fanny thought, but distinctly a personage. She wondered if he held them or they him. That recalled to her the little Winnebago Temple and Rabbi Thalmann. She remembered the frequent rudeness and open inattention of that congregation. No doubt Mrs. Nathan Pereles had her counterpart here, and the hypocritical Bella Weinberg, too, and the giggling Aarons girls, and old Ben Reitman. Here Dr. Kirsch had risen, and, coming forward, had paused to lean over his desk and, with an awful geniality, had looked down upon two rustling, exquisitely gowned late-comers. They sank into their seats, cowed. Fanny grinned. He began his lecture something about modern politics. Fanny was fascinated and resentful by turns. His brilliant satire probed, cut, jabbed like a surgeon's scalpel; or he railed, scolded, snarled, like a dyspeptic schoolmaster. Often he was in wretched taste. He mimicked, postured, sneered. But he had this millionaire congregation of his in hand. Fanny found herself smiling up at him, delightedly. Perhaps this wasn't religion, as she had been taught to look upon it, but it certainly was tonic. She told herself that she would have come to the same conclusion if Kirsch had occupied a Methodist pulpit.

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