God Bless America
This is a great country. The United States of America provides everyone with an unbelievable amount of freedom, protection and space to be whoever it is we are. A country built on the backs of immigrants and made stronger in every generation by new blood from an old world. My paternal grandfather fought against and my maternal grandfather escaped Hitler. Both of these men were proud Americans.
I am both a proud Jew and a proud American. But living in this country makes it possible to have both. In other free countries around the world, especially in Western Europe, religion isn’t as widely embraced (for better and for worse) as it is in this country. Being an American isn’t about hot dogs, fireworks and marching band standards (but those are pretty awesome perks). It is about embracing the freedoms that are protected by our agreement upon our founding principles. These values inform our action and should make all American citizens proud to welcome our newest and not so new, naturalized citizens as 100% American.
Jewish tradition gives us clear guidance on this topic in that we are commanded to welcome the stranger, not to stand idly by when our neighbor’s blood is spilled and a number of other explicit rules based on people coming into our communities. But the United States also has some clear rules. With the exception of serving as the President, once you are a citizen, you are equal to anyone who was born in this country. In many cases, our naturalized citizens have a better understanding of our history than those who were educated in our schools (which is a whole different problem). But we should welcome these folks and be proud of their accomplishments as a part of our citizenry. Our country was built on the backs of immigrants. And as a beacon of hope and freedom, immigrants are going to continue to flock to our country to make a better life for themselves and their families.
This is all a long way of saying I am disgusted, as an American and as a Jew, by the way the American running super-star, Mebrahtom Keflezighi, known the world over as Meb, has been treated after winning the New York City marathon last year and reclaiming the title for the United States after decades of being shut out. Meb came to this country with his family as a child fleeing persecution and war in his native Eritrea. He grew up in California, went to UCLA on a scholarship, runs for the US Track Team and is a citizen of the United States. He is as American as I am. This Wall Street Journal article documents the ridiculous and down-right xenophobic accusations made toward Meb after he won.
I am running the New York City marathon this year and I am proud to do so for the Union Settlement Association, a settlement house and much more based in East Harlem. This organization has been helping the immigrant population of East Harlem empower themselves to take ownership of their community and their lives for over 100 years. In short, they have helped countless new Americans take their small part of the American Dream.
So from one American runner to another American runner: Meb I hope you win it again and take your part of the American Dream. I am honored to follow in your footsteps as you honor this great country on November 7th. I for one can’t think of a more deserving American to win this great race! Also, if you are interested, I would love to have you over for some pasta the night before and we can share our immigrant stories and you can explain to me how it is humanly possible to run as fast as you do.