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My American Thanksgiving – The Atlantic

My American Thanksgiving – The Atlantic


This Thanksgiving, three generations of my household will drink a champagne toast, eat the hors d’oeuvres that my mom used to make and my grandchildren now assist produce, sort out the turkey that can succumb to my inexpert slicing, after which transfer on to the pecan and pumpkin pies.

However first, as now we have for many years now, we are going to learn George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. The letter consists of his declaration that the U.S. authorities affords “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no help.” It’s typically quoted, most lately by Deborah Lipstadt, the federal government’s particular envoy to watch and counter anti-Semitism, on the massive pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C., on November 14.

We additionally learn the preliminary letter of greeting to Washington from Moses Seixas, the warden of Newport’s Touro Synagogue (which we attended after I taught on the Naval Warfare Faculty). The event was the primary president’s stately tour of the brand new nation in the summertime of 1790, when native dignitaries like Seixas would prolong salutations and he would graciously reply.

Every time we learn the letters, a number of qualities of this trade stand out.

For one factor, it was Seixas who first used the well-known phrase. It bears repeating in full:

Disadvantaged as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Residents, we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all occasions) behold a Authorities, erected by the Majesty of the Individuals—a Authorities, which to bigotry provides no sanction, to persecution no help—however generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship.

“To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no help,” in different phrases, mirrored the Jews of Newport’s enjoyment of a brand new actuality, not an announcement of a brand new or authentic coverage by the president. They acknowledged that the bedrock of the brand new nation lay in a basic equality of citizenship beneath liberty.

Washington favored the phrase a lot, nonetheless, that he repeated it again in his response:

It’s now no extra that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of 1 class of individuals, that one other loved the train of their inherent pure rights. For fortunately the Authorities of america, which provides to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no help requires solely that they who stay beneath its safety ought to demean themselves pretty much as good residents, in giving it on all events their effectual assist.

That’s the level: not non secular toleration, however pure proper. Eight years earlier, the enlightened Emperor Joseph II of Austria had issued his deservedly applauded Toleranzpatent, later expanded by a Toleranzedikt, that gave Jews all types of rights that they had heretofore lacked. However the phrase was tolerance, and it was a present from the federal government.

If one needs to grasp the fierce patriotism that has so typically animated American Jews, look up to now of origin. On this nation, we didn’t should earn our rights, or meekly obtain them; they’re, and at all times have been, ours by proper. Jews have recognized, as Washington mentioned, that rights suggest obligations as residents, which maybe helps clarify their pervasive and long-standing engagement in public affairs.

So long as america stays america, so it will likely be. It’s not like our historical past in some other state. Look intently and you will discover within the Jewish historical past of different international locations phrases like toleration and emancipation, permission and encouragement, not inherent pure rights. It’s the large factor for which my household, at the least, is profoundly grateful throughout this season.

However Washington’s heat response to Seixas incorporates one other sentiment that will probably be extra troubling this yr.

Could the Kids of the Inventory of Abraham, who dwell on this land, proceed to advantage and benefit from the good will of the opposite Inhabitants; whereas each one shall sit in security beneath his personal vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

That quote, from the prophet Micah 4:4, rings hole this yr. The FBI director lately declared that totally 60 p.c of religiously motivated hate crimes are directed at Jews, who quantity barely 2 p.c of the inhabitants. On college campuses, Jewish college students have been harassed, humiliated, and assaulted. And in response, too many college leaders have simpered and mumbled, or taken refuge in denouncing the anti-Semitism of a century passed by reasonably than settle for accountability for assaults that have been carried out on their watch at the moment.

These occasions have generally occurred beneath the excusing banner of anti-Zionism. In some instances, the masks slips, and the deeper hatred exhibits itself. However even those that sincerely insist that they’re merely “anti-Zionist” should observe that the Zionist venture was the creation of a Jewish state. To be anti-Zionist is presumably to imagine that the venture ought to be undone. In that case, you must understand how such a dissolution would occur and what it will entail. Take a look at the movies and photos from the pogrom of October 7, and observe that the epithet that was shouted exultantly by the murderers was not “Israeli,” however “Jew.” And that is additionally why at the moment, American Jews know worry.

Worse than the truth that my synagogue has to have an armed police officer on guard throughout providers, worse even than the hate spewed on the extremes of proper and left—together with by swaggering billionaires and outstanding politicians—is the silence from these of whom many Jews anticipated higher. It’s the silence of feminists concerning the rape of girls; it’s the silence of civil-rights activists concerning the homicide of infants; it’s the silence of human-rights advocates about torture and burning individuals alive.

And so, that hope—not a promise, to make certain—provided by George Washington appears removed from actuality. That’s what we must work by this Thanksgiving.

The way in which to take action begins with the phrases of a up to date of Seixas and Washington, from a world away. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav was a Hasidic grasp, a mystic, a troubled and tormented soul, who died of tuberculosis whereas but a younger man in Uman, Ukraine, the place tens of 1000’s of Hasidic Jews nonetheless make a pilgrimage to his grave yearly. One among his sayings, abbreviated and edited into a well-liked non secular track, is related: “Know that Man has to cross a really, very slim bridge, and that the guideline and the important factor is to not make oneself afraid.”

It’s a delicate level: Worry is pure and can come, however that doesn’t imply now we have to yield to it. Jewish historical past and Jewish thriving are about crossing that slim bridge, typically to the amazement of pals in addition to foes. Certainly, typically to our personal astonishment.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited Newport in 1852 and brooded concerning the Jewish cemetery there. He noticed a synagogue that was closed and, admiring although he was of Jewish civilization, noticed in these graves a finality about their which means:

However ah! what as soon as has been shall be no extra!

      The groaning earth in travail and in ache

Brings forth its races, however doesn’t restore,

      And the lifeless nations by no means rise once more.

However one such nation did rise once more. It survived much more horrible issues than the poet may ever have imagined. Moses Seixas’s Touro Synagogue—the oldest in america, predating the American founding by greater than a century—continues to conduct providers to this present day. After we named our youngest daughter there, the sanctuary was full. For the resilience and braveness that historical past and that data provides on this Thanksgiving, we ought to be, and we will probably be, deeply grateful.



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