Becoming and Being an American
Tovim chaya oni tchat tzal korato mimataamim arayvim banechar / It’s preferable to live a life of destitution under the shelter of one’s own roof than to imbibe delicacies as an alien. Ben Sira 29:25
B’shook samaya tzavchin laavira sagi n’hor / In a market place where men keep their eyes shut closed, the blind man has plenty of light. (Like the popular expression, In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.) Bereishit Rabah 30
The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent, and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all of our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment. George Washington, Letter to the members of the Volunteer Association and other inhabitants of the Kingdom of Ireland who have lately arrived in the City of New York, December 2, 1783
Remember the heroes
Who fight for the right to choose
Remember the heroes
Just another life to use
Remember the heroes
We’ve all got a lot to lose
“Remember the Heroes,” by Sammy Hagar from the album Three Lock Box
Every year I enjoy writing a patriotic 4th of July message. I’m sure many of you are familiar with my stories of how my father miraculously survived the horrors of the Holocaust and then later came to America, where he became an exemplar of the American dream. Regardless of lacking a formal education, my father asked for no special favors or handouts, no special programs, but instead through hard work, integrity, forbearance, and honesty made a success of himself in the land of freedom and opportunity. While immersed in my hippie, anti-war, teenage protestor days, he would often tell me, “You should kiss the ground of this country every day and thank God for being an American.” While there was much justification in my protesting the Vietnam War, my father was absolutely correct. At that point in my life, I didn’t yet appreciate the exceptional freedom and equality that I enjoy as an American Jew.
We are a nation of immigrants. As the quote from Ben Sira above illustrates, no one wants to feel like an outsider, to feel excluded, to be an alien. America has always had a very successful formula for ensuring that the immigrant would become an American. George Washington expresses this formula in his own way in the quote above. I would explain it thusly—the immigrant comes into our country and behaves in a manner that expresses that he or she accepts the American principles that our nation is based upon. The immigrant can proudly celebrate his heritage but must live his life in accordance with our constitution and American way of life. The immigrant cannot demand that America changes its (constitutional) ways to appease his religion or culture.
Jews know how to do immigrant and minority right. We celebrate the American way of life harmoniously along with our religious identity. We don’t make demands on others to conform to our religion or culture or expect to be exempted from following the law. We express flexibility and an eagerness to accommodate Americanism into our Judaism.
America faces tremendous challenges today. I write this soon after the latest Islamic terrorist attack in our country. An American-born Muslim of Afghani immigrant parents perpetrated a terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, murdering 49 innocent people and wounding many more. He declared his act to be an act of jihad on behalf of the Islamic State terrorist group. He had been investigated in the past by the FBI
for making Muslim supremacist statements and threats. The terrorist had been to Saudi Arabia and had contacts with radical Muslim preachers and a friendship with the first “American” suicide bomber. He and the other terrorist attended the same mosque together. This is just the latest in a series of “home grown” examples of Islamic terrorism in the US. The Boston Marathon bombers came to this country very young and grew up in America to become Muslim terrorists, and the perpetrator of the 2009 Fort Hood massacre was a Palestinian American who was an officer and psychiatrist in the US Army. These are only a few of the recent wave of Islamic terrorist attacks we have witnessed recently.
There are politicians who want to import millions of Muslim refugees into the United States. The CIA director and others say that it’s clear that Islamic State terrorists will infiltrate through their ranks, which is impossible to vet. Even disregarding that problem, they come from a culture where hating Christians and Jews, oppressing women, and murdering gays is common and accepted. Already we have a problem in our country, as polls demonstrate that 50% of American Muslims want to live under Sharia rather than American constitutional law. We see what has happened in Europe where enclaves exist that operate under Sharia, and the authorities fear to enter as millions more Muslims pour in and violence and mayhem ensue.
Do we want to allow that to happen here? There are Muslims who have adopted the American way of life and have rejected Sharia. They love this country and the opportunities offered to them. Those Americanized Muslims are the group most at risk from those Muslims who despise and reject the American way of life.
Our American culture is enriched by immigration. How else would we be able to enjoy pizza, sushi, pad Thai, tacos, and General Tso’s chicken? We gave America lox and bagels, corned beef on rye, knishes, and more (we don’t take credit for the indigestion though). Immigrants’ recipes have been a recipe for an America of integrated and assimilated immigrants. America has successfully embraced people of a wide variety of cultures and made them feel they were not aliens but that they were Americans. This worked because those people wanted to be Americans and adopt the American way of life (and sell their ethnic dishes to eager Americans).
Our recipe or formula for a successful America of immigrants must not be discarded. Those who wish to impose their non-constitutional way of life on others cannot be allowed into this country. Those who refuse to abide and integrate into the American way of life must be turned away or the America we love, the America that has been better to Jews than any other culture we have existed in, will cease to exist. Those who fully accept the American way of life in all of its raucous diversity must be welcomed with open arms.
We need to deal with our immigration issues with open eyes and minds. We not only face the ugliness of Islamic terrorism here at home but our troops are engaged in resisting this malevolent force overseas. We must always be thankful for the brave individuals who protect our freedoms.
Let’s not forget to appreciate them as we celebrate our unique American freedoms on the 4th of July.
So this 4th of July, fly the flag, imbibe some ethnic delicacies, show appreciation for our military, and thank God for being an American (you can kiss the ground if you like).
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Bellerose Jewish Center.