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America, George Washington and Me

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Can you be both proud to be an American and proud to be a Jew? I am.

We recently returned from a family trip to Washington, D.C. While it was definitely hectic traveling (there were eleven of us and another family of seven so you can just imagine the logistics!), it was also fascinating, moving and inspiring.

Yes America is an imperfect country with imperfect foreign and domestic policies. But as a haven for Jews, there has never been anything like it. Nowhere have we experienced this level of kindness and, not just tolerance, but acceptance. Where else in the world is a Holocaust Memorial one of the major “attractions” in the capital city?

And the contrast is stark. The benefits and joys of freedom versus the oppression and genocide of fascism. When Hitler was elected chancellor, fireworks were set off in celebration. As we watched the July 4th fireworks over the Washington Monument, standing amongst people of all races, ethnicities and countries of origin, the difference was striking.

Can you be both proud to be an American and proud to be a Jew? I am. I love the Land of Israel – with its own imperfections – and hope to end up there one day. But in the meantime I can still take pleasure in the grandeur of this land, in the ideals upon which it was founded, in the sacrifices which many have made and continue to make to preserve its rights and freedoms.

We visited George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon (a much more interesting tour than the four rooms you are allowed to see at the White House post 9/11). And one story about him lingered. After his successful battles and victory against the British, many people wanted to crown him King. The pageantry of the monarchy and the absolute authority of the ruler still held much allure. But Washington refused. It wasn’t in the best interests of this new country. He wasn’t out for personal glory and honor. It wasn’t about him.

And it struck me that one of the great heroes of American history recognized what our greatest teacher, Moses, showed the world about leadership -- humility is the key.

This country was founded by men who believed in God trying their human best to create something new and better for the world.

Although there is always work to do, always room for improvement (as is true of all countries, and all of us as individuals), I believe they succeeded. And I’m grateful to them. I appreciate the opportunity I have to live an open and meaningful Jewish life in this vast, complex and noble land.

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