Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy July Fourth

Today, more than any other day is a special day of thanks for me. I am grateful that all four of my grandparents decided to come to America. My Jewish grandparents would most certainly have perished had they remained. The descendants of my Croatian grandparents would have grown up in a war torn land. When I see the faces of Croatian and Bosnian refugees, many look like my own children.I feel a sense of sadness and kinship when I see and read of their suffering.
America is a nation of immigrants. It is not a national state, like Turkey or Germany that are a national home for Germans and Turks abroad. That does not make America better. America could not be anything but what it is. Spaniards, Greeks, Turks and Jews all need national homelands. Ethnic Turks in the mid 1980's who were persecuted in Bulgaria are living testimony to that. Jews who fled Arab lands are likewise grateful to have had a homeland to which they could flee. The world needs its national homelands , but it needs the lesson of America , that disparate peoples can live together in peace, under the umbrella of a common law and language.
America is far from perfect. At its founding, only white males could vote, and there were often requirements that one be a property owner. After much struggle and considerable bloodshed, the right of the franchise was extended to its citizens of colour, and citizens of other races as well. Women received the right to vote in 1920. And in this great country, we strive to keep the door of opportunity open to all who have been legally empowered.
Americans have a noble ability to feel shame for past wrongs. The internment of Japanese Americans in California during World War Two has been publicly admitted. Compensation was voted into law by our Congress. The Japanese have yet to extend similar consideration to the "comfort women" in the various countries they occupied. The art of patriotism is the ability to feel shame yet to believe in our underlying goodness as a nation.
The road our country walks is unlike that of any other nation on earth. People who would be shooting at each other overseas come to our country, become neighbours, colleagues and even friends. I want to believe that the awareness they developed in America crosses the seas by phone, by letter and by e-mail. My optimism is tarnished by the realisation that bullets fired in Ireland and Bosnia are often bought in Boston and New York.
America was founded by people seeking freedom of opportunity and freedom of religion. It is deeply touching to see the harsh poverty amidst the natural beauty of Sicily and to then see the prosperity of its descendants in Staten Island and Bensonhurst. The overwhelming majority of Americans follow Christian traditions. For this reason I would consider America a Christian country. But its founding documents mention The Creator and no prophet or physical deity. It is sad to see secular humanism being elevated as a de facto state religion. Part of our national introspection should be to reevaluate the role of faith in public life
America's message and its economic power can benefit the world to an even greater extent than is now the case. We owe it to ourselves and the world to protect our language and borders. It is hard to think of any other way to overcome the racism, chauvinism and tribalism that have destroyed other nations.
Even in war time, America held elections on schedule. Few countries can boast of such stability. On this July fourth, there is much of which to be proud. We face daunting challenges ahead, with a decent people and a good political system. May G-d guide us through the challenges ahead

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