Jewish American Heritage Month Prayer
America, a blessing for the Jewish people; the Jewish people, a blessing for America.
And yet, even as we celebrate our heritage, our synagogues, schools, and institutions are on heightened alert against those who might harm us, as they already have in Pittsburgh and beyond.
23 souls fleeing the Inquisition in Recife, Brazil began their 1654 journey to freedom in New Amsterdam. Over the objection of Peter Stuyvesant, they made it work, creating the first
American Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel, today’s Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.
As the nation was founded, we heralded our first American Jewish legend, Haym Salomon, a financier of the Revolutionary War.
America’s sacred founding texts told a new story built on biblical precepts.
“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” cried out the Liberty Bell, quoting the Torah.
“All men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
“Happily, the government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” President George Washington wrote to the Newport synagogue.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
We came to these shores by the millions, many as refugees from persecution, others looking for economic opportunity in the Goldene Medina, this nation of immigrants.
Many entered New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty, which inspired and ultimately bore American Jewish poet Emma Lazarus’ immortal words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
And yet, all was not golden as we endured the lynching of Leo Frank and the antisemitic rants of Henry Ford, Charles Coughlin, and Charles Lindbergh.
The doors were not opened to save enough during the Holocaust, the tracks to Auschwitz were not bombed, the St. Louis could not find a port.
Despite the barriers, many survivors found their way to America and contributed mightily to their new country and its Jewish community.
A great moment in American Jewish history followed: President Harry Truman made the United States the first country to recognize the newborn State of Israel, inaugurating a relationship that has only strengthened over 75 years.
We celebrate Jewish American giants: Louis Brandeis, Irving Berlin, Jonas Salk, Albert Einstein, Elie Wiesel, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Betty Friedan, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Judith Resnik, and many more.
And the daily efforts of those in government and military service, in education and medicine, in commerce and the arts.
The best place ever in the long history of the Jewish Diaspora. And yet, the story is not over. The challenges are real, the hate can be deadly, but the opportunities for a better future remain plentiful, and the beacon of hope continues to shine brightly.
God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her . . . my home sweet home.
By Rabbi Noam Marans
American Jewish Committee (AJC) Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations