At a Jewish community event over the summer, just before the presentation began, one of the organizers grabbed the mic. His voice rattling with emotion, he asked everyone to stand up and join him in the Pledge of Allegiance. The attendees rose, placed their hands on their hearts, and the words we recited every morning as children returned to us, rising up to the synagogue ceiling in unison.
The one thing we Jews can agree on is that America has been good to us. Our liturgy includes a prayer for the government, and our arks are flanked by American and Israeli flags. Lately though, as our country wrestles with its demons, we’ve found ourselves caught up in the national identity crisis. Can we stand proudly for the Pledge and the national anthem while sympathizing with the Americans who have been exploited in the name of this flag? Did we inherit white privilege, or are we still “the Other”? Have we made it, or are we about to lose it all? We’ve existed for some 5,000 years, and we’re still asking the same questions: Who are we? And who gets to decide?
In this issue, we spend a lot of time addressing what it means to be Jewish in America. That wasn’t our intention, but when the pages came together it became clear. I had the pleasure over the past two months to spend hours interviewing local families for our family portraits feature, each of which provided uniquely deep reflections on Jewish life. Interestingly, every family said some variation of the same thing: Judaism is a vehicle for goodness. The level to which our Jewish community members give — not just in dollars to charity, but by opening their homes, providing meals for the sick, praying for the well-being of the world, participating in society, and helping everyone around them succeed — should be a huge source of pride.
America’s identity crisis is still working itself out, and as Americans, we’re in it, like it or not. Rather than let our disagreements pull us down, let’s use our strengths to help make 5777 a year of peace, unity, liberty, and justice for all.
Shana tova u’metuka, tizku l’shanim rabbot!
Emily K. Alhadeff