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January 26, 2012 10:49 am

When America is Not Different

avatar by Srolic Barber

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Ellis Island. Photo: wiki commons.

When the previous Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneerson, arrived in New York in 1940, he declared: “America is not different.”

When Anthony Graziano, a 19 year-old teenager from New Jersey, threw a Molotov cocktail into the Rabbi’s residence next to his synagogue, we were reminded of Rabbi Schneerson’s proclamation.

Arrested on Tuesday, Graziano faces nine counts of attempted murder, one count of  bias intimidation and one count of aggravated arson. That should serve a long prison sentence, and a lot of time to think about his actions. I hope, in all that time, he gets to read this article; in fact, I hope he reads it every day.

Violence and hatred toward the Jewish people is nothing new. It has been a mainstay along our journey on this earth. It has haunted us through Biblical times, the crusades of medieval Europe, the inquisitions of not so long ago, and the pogroms, ghettoes, and camps of our recent history. But deep in our hearts we hoped it would never find its way across the ocean. In our minds, this senseless hate was something of the old world — the shtetl of eastern Europe and Russia. Surely there would be no place for this in the New World. With progressive promises of ‘Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality’ and her ‘Empire State of Mind’, America would be different.

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Graziano tore away that facade.

America is not so different. She might boast the separation of church and state and the right to freedom of religious expression, but America is still rampant with the very same seeds of anti-semitism that has plagued our history. Although we have toppled dictators, fought the war against starvation, and landed on the moon, we haven’t yet beaten the hatred against our very own; the many ethnicities that have built this wonderful country.

We have a long way to go. But, really, America is not different.

When the previous Rebbe said these words, he galvanized a movement. His words spoke of the deep heritage that he had personally fought to protect. He was arrested seven times by the Russian secret service, guilty of spreading the teachings of the Torah. Arriving in America where freedom of religion was constitutionally respected, he called on his followers to continue the mission their compatriots had served in even the harshest circumstances: to unearth the inherent good in every corner of the world, breathing spirituality into a most physical existence.

In the years since, his community has brought his message to the 50 states of the union, and beyond. But the solitary actions of Anthony Graziano remind us of the work that still needs to be done.

Thus, as we pick up the pieces from this latest attack against our faith, we must find meaning in its occurrence.

Let us acknowledge the ‘different’ America in what she strives to be: a true democracy in a fallacious world, a country where ‘Joe the Plumber’ can really find his fortune, and, most importantly, a haven for religious freedom and social cohesion.

And let us perpetuate our heritage. Let us teach the New World that our traditions are not antiquated and they have no expiration date.

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