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Dear America: Thank you for having us

Dear America: Thank You for Having Us

Growing up, one of the central messages I absorbed from both my home and school was the importance of gratitude.

Although my friends, parents, and grandparents were American, legally, culturally, and linguistically, there was always this discomfiting awareness that, as Jews, on some level, we were regarded as guests in this “golden land of opportunity.” I can’t speak for anyone else, but this was my perception, and I’ve learned that it wasn’t and isn’t unique.

My parents and teachers taught us the value of education, the privilege of voting, the novelty of freedom, and the obligation to work hard and contribute. We all knew older people with numbers branded on their arms who reminded us that living as a Jew among gentiles with equal rights and possibility was never something to take for granted.

We had Torah teachers from other countries in our Jewish schools, some who’d escaped religious persecution, and would warn us:

“It looks good now, but don’t get too comfortable here, in pre-Holocaust America; Jews were doing well in Eastern Europe, too, until they weren’t. Sooner or later, the host countries usually turn on us.” Not all these adults were European; some were from Middle Eastern countries where Jews had been expelled or ethnically cleansed. But the ominous message was a running theme, historically and experientially.

It wasn’t all doomsday foreshadowing. Our proudly Zionistic institutions shared the heroic narrative of a battered people rising from the ashes, revitalizing our indigenous homeland, for which we’d yearned and prayed for millennia. Idealistic, scrappy survivors, draining swamps, innovating agriculture, transforming arid desert and rocky terrain into thriving farms, lush orchards, vibrant beach towns, and high tech metropolises. They taught us not only Biblical “lashon hakodesh” (holy language) but also conversational “ivrit” (modern Hebrew) in the hopes of preparing us to “make aliya,” to fulfill the 2000 year old prayer of joining our Israeli sisters and brothers in our ancestral homeland, where we would finally, permanently belong. We were urged to do so “before, they turn on us here, before it’s too late.”

Most of the kids didn’t take these warnings too seriously, and mostly chalked it up to the generation gap; or their cultural trauma. Of course that’s what these older folks believed; that had been their experience, so they learned not to trust, to fear. But this was different- this was the USA. We knew Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, the huddled masses, the melting pot, and the American dream of prosperity, which some of our parents were realizing. Yet, at the same time, we couldn’t deny the reality of our history. Could this be the first time we Jews would be welcome and thriving in a society without a catastrophic ending?

For a while, it seemed that way. And so some of our leaders began to caution us about a different kind of loss: assimilation. Young people raised with strong Jewish identity, heritage, values, and culture, who wanted to be more secularly American, casting off the shackles of tradition, marrying out of the faith, editing their names, narratives, and noses, diluting their Jewishness in the name of fitting in. Now the worry wasn’t that we weren’t welcome here, but maybe that we were too at home, that we were sacrificing our Jewishness on the altars of our Americanness.

As it turns out, it seems there’s some truth to both concerns. And none of it is new.

As the tidal wave of contempt for religion in the west crests, communities of all faiths are marginalized, traditional ideologies ridiculed, (with the bizarrely counter-intuitive exception of radical Islam). As such, the younger generation is indoctrinated to an increasingly G-dless and angry weltanschauung, replacing spiritual consciousness, collective responsibility, resiliency, and moral imperative with academic hubris, ego fragility, and a pseudo-intellectual deconstruction of reality. One of the luxuries of this post-modern, nihilistic framework is the permission to rewrite truth in the font of one’s biases. This contrarian iteration of “critical thinking” is in fact just another hackneyed brand of groupthink, influenced by the academic elite, manipulated by foreign funding, marketed by the media and trend-enslaved celebrities, with often nefarious hidden agendas. (I’m looking at you TikTok, for example.)

Pre 9/11, the threat of radical Islamism seemed to be primarily terrorism. And while that’s still excruciatingly prevalent, an almost equally menacing variant of an aspiring Sharia Caliphate is the cultlike takeover over enfeebled western minds. This violent anti-Israel, antisemitic, anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-west, anti-freedom movement has been slithering its venomous tentacles everywhere: universities, public schools, the mainstream media, social media, Hollywood, culture, AI, and even within government. And it’s changing the face of America the beautiful, land of the free, into America the brainwashed, land of the duped.

Post 10/07, all of this has exploded into a tsunami of unmasked hatred and vitriol. This is not the country in which I grew up, which was imperfect, but improving. I miss her. The horseshoe, hyper-politicized, polarized extremism has fomented the sort of toxic divisiveness which has rendered us a global laughingstock.

I don’t know the future of America, or the future of the Jews or of Israel. I’m incredibly grateful for what both countries have gifted the world so far.

But I know that Israel is forever- as a nation, and in the long term, as a homeland. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be safe and/ or welcome in America; it's not looking great, but I’ve always known that regardless of where my body resides, Israel is home to my soul.

America, thank you for having us. Truly.

Thank you for giving us opportunities, freedoms, and civil rights like no one has before.

Thank you for being a bastion of moral values, a haven for the underdogs, from sea to shining sea.

Thank you for modeling what it means to constantly reexamine what goodness means, how to better embody and keep refining it, to create more liberty and justice for all.

Praying for you, for us, for freedom, for healthy change, for general stability, for moral, peace-loving humans everywhere.


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