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Assimilation is Un-American

Thursday, 22 June, 2017 - 1:10 pm

As we are approaching Tammuz 3, a day on which we reflect upon the Rebbe’s leadership, teachings and influence, and with July 4 just around the corner, I would like to share a teaching of the Rebbe regarding one of America’s mottos, “E Pluribus Unum.” (Some of this is taken from In G-d We Trust, a Handbook of Values for Americans based on the works of the Rebbe – www.chabadneworleans.com/2313137.)

The Latin phrase means, “out of many, one.” It was adopted as a motto on the Great Seal of the USA in 1782. This phrase is featured on US currency and was, for many years, the de facto motto of the USA. Its original intent was that “out of many” - 13 colonies, one nation comes forth. It has come to also mean that the USA is a nation that is home to people from a diverse range of origins – be they ethnic, racial, religious etc. A review of the early designs of the seal also show symbols of six nations from which most of the colonists originated. This indicates to us that this intent was there from the outset.

The founders did not seek to establish a homogeneous populace; freedom of personal expression was one of their guiding principles. Although they wanted to build a unified nation, they realized that differences do not necessarily lead to division. Rather than throw everyone into a melting pot, they sought to show how each individual can retain their unique traditions and yet, join together and forge a unified society. In short, they felt that the capacity for an individual to retain his or her unique flavor and develop his or her unique ability, is beneficial to the collective society.

The Rebbe compared this to the Mitzvah of Lulav and Etrog on Sukkot, where we bring together the four different species, representing diverse types of Jews. This Mitzvah teaches us that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

During the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, New York’s mayor, David Dinkins visited the Rebbe and asked for a blessing for peace between the two peoples, Jews and African-Americans. The Rebbe’s reply: “Don’t say two peoples. One people, under one government and under one G‑d.”

A unity that permits no diversity is a limited concept. Unity is only surface-deep. By contrast, a unity that recognizes diversity can thrive. This “unity in diversity” implies a shared acceptance of an inner truth. Common principles and ideals have the power to bring together people with different abilities. Obviously in order to make this work each group needs to tolerate and appreciate the contributions of the other. Of course, when an issue arises that affects the nation as a whole, it is decided in a democratic fashion (or representative republic). A democracy requires sacrifices by both the majority and the minority. The minority must make the sacrifice of accepting the will of the majority, and the majority must learn to understand and cooperate with the minority.

Based on the above, the internal and external call for Jews (or others) to assimilate into the melting pot by giving up everything that made them (look and think) differently than those around them, is entirely un-American. Obviously each group must conform to laws of the USA and not seek to make one culture or religion dominant over any other. But to say that a yarmulke or a sari or a hijab should not be publically worn in our country, is antithetical to the motto “E Pluribus Unum.” The same holds true for any other religious practice, principal or symbol (as long as it does not persecute the rights of any other).

There are some dangerous sentiments coming from both fringes of our society, that seek to encroach on the right and the value, of religious or cultural expression and practice, which is perceived to be different from the way “America thinks or acts.”

I am proud to live in the USA, a country that was founded on principles that allow me to visibly live and worship as a Jew, without the feeling of being “less than,” or the need to fit in with everyone and everything around me. For that I say, G-d bless America!

Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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