Opinion | Think America is a ‘Christian nation’? George Washington didn’t.


At the White House Hanukkah celebration Monday night, President Biden affirmed the “eternity” of the Jewish people in the United States. Like previous presidents, he welcomed the celebration, which aims to “recreate the miracle of the Maccabees and oil with a blessing reminiscent of miracles both ancient and modern.”

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But he ignored the cloud of anti-Semitism hanging over the joyous celebration.

“I recognize your fear, your sadness, your concern that this disgusting and toxic thing is becoming normalized,” Biden said. “Silence is complicity,” he added. We must not be silent. … Today we must all say loud and clear: Anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred and violence in this country have no safe haven in America. Period”.

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Biden’s remarks raise an interesting inquiry: How much of a “permanent” home do we Jews have in the United States? How connected are we to the American story? Here history illuminates.

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The Jewish community in the United States is as old as its democracy. In August 1790, George Washington sent a letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport (RIA) thanking them for their good wishes.

He wrote: “The citizens of the United States have a right to congratulate themselves on having set forth examples of a liberal and liberal policy toward humanity—a policy worthy of emulation. Everyone has the same freedom of conscience and civil immunity.” He added, “Toleration is now out of the question, as a second class of men enjoy the exercise of their natural rights, for the happy government of the United States, fanaticism, demands only no sanction, no aid to persecution, under whose protection it lives.” people demean themselves as good citizens and require effective support in all cases”.

Washington was explaining something quite revolutionary to the disenfranchised people of the Old World, kept as a nation separate from their Christian neighbors: The United States does not simply reject the Jews; Jews are part of the United States. Touro Synagogue in Newport explains on its website: “The letter reassured those fleeing religious tyranny that life in the new nation would be different, that religious ‘tolerance’ would lead to religious freedom and that the government would not interfere. with individuals in matters of conscience and faith’.

From the beginning, the protection of religious freedom and the rejection of state-sanctioned religion were two sides of the same coin. Together, they allowed not only an end to sectarian strife, but also a relationship between all Americans. Without religion as the defining marker of citizenship, pluralism and harmony would be possible.

Those who believe that the United States is a “White Christian Nation” would do well to reflect on Washington’s letter. His concluding passage, couched in terms familiar to the people of the Torah, strongly rebukes this notion: “Let the children of the seed of Abraham who live here be worthy and have the good will of others. Everyone will sit safely under his own vine and fig tree, and there will be no one to make him afraid.’

Washington was fully aware of the ancient prejudice against the Jews, but here he declared that the United States was different. Every American has his own vine and fig tree—his own faith and path to happiness. He concluded: “May the Father of all mercies send light, not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all useful in our several occupations here on earth, and in His own time and in His own way, eternally happy.”

The Founding Fathers are often criticized (or vindicated) on issues of race and gender because they are men stuck in the blinding gaze of the past. But in this case, the most respected American of his time saw clearly the common prejudices of his time. That is why he had a special place in the hearts of American Jews.

Joining an American family under the rule of law is no small feat. Jews remain as central to the American experiment as any other group of Americans. This is not a Hanukkah miracle; it is the result of Washington’s wisdom, the First Amendment, and Americans’ steadfast belief that “we the people.” We Jews will continue to be a part of the American experience, whether Americans of any faith or not will heed Washington’s preaching.


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