— by Hannah Lee
On Shabbat, my Rabbi challenged our kehillah (congregation) to do more to observe Independence Day than march in a parade. I love the Fourth of July, my second favorite American holiday after Thanksgiving. My family invites our friends and neighbors to watch the neighborhood parade that passes in front of our home with us, but how else to celebrate? Well, before writing this piece, I wrote a letter of thanks to President Obama and inserted it into the mailbox set up at the special exhibit on To Bigotry No Sanction, now at the National Museum of American Jewish History.
More after the jump.
The most thrilling part of the exhibit was seeing that the famous phrase, “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” was first coined by a Jew — Moses Seixas, in a letter on behalf of the Congregation Kahal Kadosh Yeshuat Israel, also known as the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. (The Hebrew name sounds like a contemporary merge.)
George Washington, newly appointed as the first Chief Magistrate (the title was later changed to President) of the United States of America, echoed back the phrase in his reply, but with a more elegant turn from “to bigotry give no sanction.” Seeing the original letters side by side as well as other letters that had been penned to Washington made me cognizant of how elegant and scholarly were Washington’s letters. His reply to Seixas’s letter, which was full of blessings and also freely quoted from the Bible, was the most eloquent letter on display.
On Sunday, Professor Jacob Needleman was interviewed on NPR, and he spoke of our Founding Fathers who had a deeper, fuller meaning for “the pursuit of happiness,” than merely shopping to stimulate the economy. Professor Needleman said that happiness meant to them a life of virtue. My Rabbi would concur and say that true happiness means living in accordance with God’s will. Then, Professor Needleman spoke about an “inner freedom,” one that allows us to maintain strength against popular but misguided ideas and trends, including shop-till-you-drop consumerism. May we all find an inner freedom of integrity for ourselves and our family. Happy Independence Day!
The To Bigotry No Sanction, exhibit will be on view at the National Museum of American Jewish History until September 30. The museum, located at 101 South Independence Mall East, is closed on most Mondays.