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The current tenor in American national life is deeply unsettled and increasingly violent. Violent language online stokes plans for some individuals to commit acts of violence, and too often those acts of violence carry an anti-Semitic edge.
A string of attacks in late 2019 left the Jewish Community in the New York area particularly unsettled. In April 2019, a gunman opened fire at the Chabad of Poway, California. That violence followed on the heels of the October 2018 attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh shooting not only killed eleven but served as an inspiration for the gunman in Dayton, Ohio, in August 2019. Meanwhile, charges of anti-Semitism are hurled across partisan lines to tar opponents, even as some political statements do indeed carry anti-Semitic tones.
Faced with these problems, the United States needs to be building its opposition to both creeping anti-Semitism and the sidelining of religious minorities. To the nation’s credit, its first President, George Washington, has already laid down a clear marker and an antidote to anti-Semitism.
Washington made a powerful statement of welcome for all religious minorities, but he directed it to America’s early Jewish residents. His 1790 “Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island” is protected as a national treasure by the Touro Synagogue, the letter’s recipient. In the letter, Washington did two important things. First, he defined the value of full religious liberty for all groups. Second, he extended a hand of welcome by building a bridge between communities with biblical language.
Washington wrote the letter in response to an address from the synagogue’s warden, Moses Seixas, and in fact echoed several important phrases by way of endorsement. Most notably, the line Washington used to describe American governmental policy “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” came originally from Seixas’s address. Washington elaborated that the only expectation for welcome was that those who would “live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jonathan Den Hartog