Who/what is an American? What does America mean to you and your faith?
America is and has been unique in the experience of Jews and Judaism. For centuries in Europe, to be a Jew was to be legally defined as an alien, an underclass and part of a religion constantly told that it was in error. The synagogue by law must be a humble building; Jewish worshp must be quiet lest it offend passing Christians; Jews were often restricted by law to one part of the town; and, more than once, Jews were expelled from the land where they had lived for centuries, their possessions confiscated. The “wandering Jew” was taken often as proof of their religious inferiority.
America offered three unprecedented opportunities for Jews. First, citizenship does not depend on religion or national origin. George Washington even welcomed Jews as fellow citizens without test or distinction. In most of the world Jews were defined as aliens. Second, America offered the chance to rise based on merit and achievement, not only on birth or social class. Finally, America cherishes religious freedom, particularly the freedom to practice one’s own faith and not to be forced to practice someone else’s.
For Jews, America has truly been a great experiment. I recognize that, for some Americans, that experiment and those opportunities are still a vision. I hope that soon they will be real for every American.