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Dear Friends,

In 1985, Charles Silberman published a book entitled, A Certain People: American Jews and Their Lives Today. It discussed the early challenges faced by our community in America and the extraordinary successes we have achieved. It discussed the many contributions the Jewish community has made to this country and celebrated the opportunities America offers that made those achievements possible. He noted that in the fifty years prior to the book’s publication, we had truly achieved the American dream. Jews were found in the highest positions in academia, in Fortune 500 companies, and in politics. (At the time, TSTI member Frank Lautenberg z”l was the Senior Senator from New Jersey.)

Yet for all his optimism, when it came to the highest offices in the land, Silberman had this to say:

“Jewishness is no longer a significant handicap in running for any office except that of President or perhaps Vice President.”

Just fifteen years after the book’s publication, however, an observant Jew ran for Vice-President. At the time I wrote the following,

“Lieberman’s candidacy is further evidence that America has been good for the Jew. It has been the land of financial, political and social opportunity. We see this reflected in our children who take freedom for granted because that is all they have ever known. Children who take opportunity for granted because there have been few if any barriers. Children who take for granted the fact that a Jew can be Senator because they have grown up with a Senator who is a member of their congregation. Children who take for granted that a Jew can be Vice President or perhaps even President because that is the world they know. Our children are definitive proof that America has been good for the Jew.”

Silberman’s book was a celebration not only of the promise of America, but also of that promise achieved.

The irony, of course, is that the title of Silberman’s book came from the words of an antisemite as he sought to convince an inept king that this “certain people” was a fifth column and a threat.

In Megillat Esther, Haman, already enraged that Mordecai the Jew had refused to bow to him, plots a plan to turn King Achashverosh against Mordecai and his people. He approaches the king and states,

“There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them.”

On the surface, Haman wasn’t wrong then. And he isn’t wrong now. Yes, we are a proud part of the fabric of this nation.  As a community, we have reaped the benefits of all this great nation has to offer, and in turn we have contributed to every aspect of American civil society. But we are also different. We observe different holidays than are marked by the dominant culture. Many of us eat, or don’t eat, different foods than the majority of Americans. Our prayers, which are offered on Friday evening and Saturday, are offered in English AND Hebrew. And we have organizations that help build and maintain our unique Jewish identities, even as we embrace all this great nation has to offer.

Haman was right. We are PART of the larger society, but also maintain our uniqueness. But while, for his own evil purposes, Haman spun that difference as a threat, we know it is a strength—and in America, it is our right.

Sadly, Haman has reared his ugly head once again and there are those who seek to use our differences to malign us. Whoever imagined, for example, that there would be public chants in Montclair, New Jersey stating, “We don’t want Zionists [read “Jews”] in our town.”

Now, more than ever, we need to remember and remind others that our being here as proud Americans AND as proud members of the Jewish community is not a threat to this nation. It is something worthy of celebration. For it speaks to one of the ways in which the promise of this country has been achieved.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen