WASHINGTON, December 9, 2013 – Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas,” the most popular Christmas song of all time. Berlin came from Russia. His original name was Israel Beilin.
Emma Lazarus wrote the sonnet “The New Colossus” that welcomes refugees seeking shelter: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This is now enshrined in the Statue of Liberty, and remains a beacon to the world. Emma Lazarus was the daughter of Moses and Esther Lazarus.
Biblical Moses, in marble, stands throughout Washington’s government buildings as the model of justice, righteousness and freedom. From Moses in the flesh we have the call from Leviticus that tolls forth from our Liberty Bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout the LAND unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
The Jewish influence upon America is indelible. Upon this good American earth Jews and Christians live in harmony as in few other places. Throughout the generations, Jews overseas packed their bags as swiftly as did Christians to escape prejudice, intolerance and persecution. In so many places outside America it is best to keep silent lest you be overheard and denounced.
This place, America, is the House of Refuge.
The Puritans fled discrimination to embark upon an Exodus of their own. They viewed the Israelites as ancestors. King James I was their Pharaoh. The Atlantic Ocean was their Red Sea. They landed upon this, their New Canaan. Washington was their Moses. John Adams was their Joshua.
Millions followed, Christians who’d been oppressed for attending the wrong church and Jews for being Jewish.
A miracle happened on reaching these shores. All that had been so wrong in Europe turned out to be so right in America.
How else to explain the transformation?
Europe gave the world Robespierre.
We gave the world Abraham Lincoln.
Europe gave the world Torquemada.
We gave the world Thomas Jefferson.
Europe gave the world the Inquisition and the Nuremberg Laws.
America gave the world The Declaration of Independence followed by The Constitution.
Europe gave the world Auschwitz.
America gave the world Ellis Island.
In settling scores between Christians and Christians and between Christians and Jews, rivers of blood flowed in the streets and in the battlefields of Europe.
In America we settle our feuds in sandlots and ballparks.
Refugees like Einstein were welcomed here rather than put to death over there.
Perhaps there never would have been a vaccine for polio had Jonas Salk found himself in Europe rather than in America.
We have our bigots and racists and anti-Semites but they do not define us and they have no place in our culture.
Correcting a slur from Mark Twain, the Jewish War Veterans of America set down the facts that Jewish Americans shared the trenches with their Christian brothers in arms from war to war. During the Civil War, upwards of 8,400 Jews fought for the Union and over 3,000 fought for the Confederacy.
Of a population of less than 150,000, some eight percent served, in comparison to four percent of the general population. Nine generals, 664 other officers served in the Union Army. Seven Jewish soldiers personally received the Medal of Honor from President Lincoln.
In the Old Country, people emerging from church were to be feared for their pogroms. In this country churches and synagogues share their pulpits.
Woody Guthrie summed it up well: “This land is your land. This land is my land. This land was made for you and me.”
Jewish Americans embrace Christmas and share the joy because it is Christmas in America.
Micah the prophet foresaw this place where “each man shall sit under his vine and fig tree, and none shall make him afraid.”
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Jack Engelhard is a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist is Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, bring his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior, and reaches around the globe.
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