Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Monday, August 13, 2012
“Give me your tired, your poor,–”
In 1883 Emma Lazarus, a young Sephardic Jewish woman, appalled by the massacres perpetrated against Russian Jews in particular and Europeans in general, inscribed a sonnet entitled “The New Colossus” so as to trust that the United States of America, thanks to its laws and customs, had become the promised land to anyone who had faced persecuted, mistreatment or massacres in any part of the world¬– in Europe above all. Converging here: all of the cultures, creeds, customs, and languages of the globe––the ideal destiny and heaven for the oppressed. The United States of America where all were forged in a crucible swaying upon tolerance, acceptance, and respect for others and their individualities. One of the verses from said sonnet, since 1903, has graced the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty-- that eternal symbol of welcome to these shores. "Give me your tired, your poor--Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. . .” Emma Lazarus had always taken pride in her Jewishness of noble Sephardic stock, as well as being a proponent for the creation of a national homeland for Jews in Israel; even prior to the word Zionism having been placed en vogue by Hertzel and his supporters. It is the irony of fate that after her death, her sister--wary of¬ an anti-Semitic backlash--prohibited the inclusion of ‘-all things Jewish’, from the collected works edition of the poems of Emma Lazarus, which appeared in 1889. To what purpose do I highlight Emma Lazarus and her famous poem? Aside from that pride I feel of belonging to her creed, I am overcome with nostalgia and with vigilance for the country that shall be inherited by my grandchildren. It is so different to that which was conceived by the founding fathers and, to such an extent, that it approaches the opposite of their stated purpose.
From time immemorial, we are prone to reject the other. It is no wonder that the good book teaches “Do not ill-treat the stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in Egypt”- recalling how we should treat the other, who lives among us. This is the moral core of the Americans: these precepts being accorded by the progeny of Anglo-Saxons, faithful to their Judeo-Christian form. What has become of some of their progeny? From whence these men, who seeing themselves as of superior race, bestow upon themselves the right to harass their countrymen--based on their complexion, because of their mother tongues from other lands, or because they profess a religious belief that is not the same as the national majority?
It has become less out-of-the-ordinary (so much that one even becomes accustomed to it), to discover the tales of acts such as the recent attack against a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, perpetrated by a white supremacist, where six people perished and another three were injured, including a police officer who answered the call to defend the victims.
It is a certainty that September 11th was a hate crime against our nation by Muslim terrorists, just as the attacks on Madrid and London, yet these do not justify that--in the supposedly most civilized nation in the world—indiscriminate attacks are conducted against Muslims, Sikhs, and even against Arab-Americans of other religious denominations—; the vast majority of whom reached our land seeking refuge and fleeing the barbarity of which they were the victims in their places of origin.
According to the United States Department of Defense, as of September 2011, there have occurred more than 800 incidents of violence, threats, acts-of-vandalism and arson aimed towards Americans of Arab descent, Muslims, Sihks, South Americans, Asians, and other people who, when one considers their attributes, originated in the Middle East. That is intolerable.
In South Florida--where there are more than 38 spoken languages and dialects--we thrive amidst an inter-connectedness that is essentially harmonious between Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Santeria, Spiritualists, Sikhs, Agnostics or Atheists, whites, blacks, Asians, Europeans, the indigenous, Hispanic-Americans-et al-. That’s the strength of sharing that we have learned to accept by being ourselves, as citizens of this great nation. Lamentably, we can prove the lower the diversity: the wider the ignorance and more frequent the occurrence, of hate crime.
The solution lies in education. None are born hating; someone teaches them. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other institutions have educational programs that are acquirable for all schools that wish to participate, as it were. Our county school board and many private Christian schools are already including it. That is the path.