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400 Years of American and Israeli/Jewish Kinship

avatar by Yoram Ettinger

Opinion

The House of Representatives Building and the East Portico of the US Capitol. Photo: Flickr.

Four hundred years ago, in November 1620, the pilgrims of the “Mayflower” landed on Plymouth Rock, which they considered the modern day Promised Land. They were inspired by the Bible in general and the Mosaic legacy in particular, which feature a civic covenant, cohesive peoplehood, a 12-tribe governance, and a shared vision. They planted the seeds of the Federalist Papers, the 1776 American revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the overall US cultural and political and justice systems. These seeds vaulted the US to the leadership of the free world, economically, technologically, scientifically, educationally, and militarily.

The pilgrims of the Mayflower viewed themselves as “modern day Biblical Israelites,” seeking freedom from the bondage of the “British Pharaoh,” King James I. They sought Biblical-driven liberty, planting the roots of the uniquely thriving, mutually-beneficial kinship between the US and the Jewish people and Israel.

The Early Pilgrims 

The Bible was the most widely read book in colonial America, inspiring the early Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, educators, the clergy, political leaders, and the public at large.

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The early Pilgrims referred to King James I as a modern pharaoh; their departure from England as the Modern Day Exodus; the sailing across the Atlantic Ocean as the Modern Day Parting of the Sea; and the New World as the New Canaan and the New Israel. They considered themselves the new people of the covenant.

Hence, the litany of Biblically-named towns, cities, mountains, deserts, rivers, national parks, and forests throughout the United States. Thus, in the US, there are 18 Jerusalems, 30 Salems (the original name of Jerusalem), 83 Shilohs (where the first tabernacle stood), 34 Bethels, 27 Hebrons, 26 Goshens, 19 Jerichos, 18 Pisgahs, and many more.

400 Years of US identification with the Jewish State

The second US President, John Adams, supported the idea of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel: “I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation.”

On March 5, 1891 — six years before the convening of the 1897 First Zionist Congress by Theodor Herzl — 431 US leaders, including a Supreme Court justice, House and Senate leaders and chairmen of Congressional committees, governors, mayors, businessmen, clergy, professors, and editors, signed the Blackstone Memorial, which called for the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

On June 30, 1922, Congress passed a Joint Resolution, introduced by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Representative Hamilton Fish III, which was signed by President Warren Harding on September 21, 1922: “favoring the establishment, in Palestine, of a national home for the Jewish people.”

On May 14, 1948, during a special broadcast upon Israel’s declaration of independence, Lowell Thomas, a US radio icon, stated: “Today, as the Jewish State is established, Americans read through the Bible as a historical reference book.”

Biblical Impact on Modern Day US Leaders 

Almost all US presidents have integrated Biblical verses into their inaugural addresses and major speeches.

On February 15, 1950, President Harry S. Truman told the Attorney General’s Conference: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we emphasize that enough these days.”

On September 10, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson told a B’nai B’rith conference: “Bible stories are woven into my childhood memories, as the gallant struggle of modern Jews to be free of persecution is also woven into our souls.”

President Ronald Reagan was known for his Biblical references such as: “Within the covers of the Bible are all the answers for all the problems men face. … Of the many influences that have shaped the United States of America into a distinctive nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible.”

President George W. Bush’s deep Biblical conviction was evident during his May 15, 2008 speech at Israel’s Knesset: “When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: ‘Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.’ The Founders [of the United States] saw a new Promised Land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And, in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.”

President Barack Obama made frequent use of Biblical quotes. For example, Psalm 46 was recited at the unveiling of the 9/11 memorial upon the 10th anniversary of that Islamic terror attack on the US: “God is our refuge and strength. … Therefore we will not fear.”

The Lasting US-Israel Kinship

While there has been a gradual erosion of the 400-year-old roots and core values of the pilgrims and the Mayflower, they created the healthy foundations of US-Israel relations.

The recent dramatic enhancement of such a unique and mutually-beneficial relationship between the US and Israel — militarily, industrially, technologically, agriculturally, and medically — has evolved in response to mutual threats and challenges.

Israel remains the top unconditional ally of the US in the Middle East and beyond, wholeheartedly reciprocating the value-driven unconditional identification by most Americans with the Jewish state. And, as suggested by The Ethics of the Fathers, a second century compilation of Jewish ethical teachings: “Conditional love is tenuous; unconditional love is eternal.”

Yoram Ettinger is a former Israeli ambassador and author.

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