Fall semester of my sophomore year of college I was confronted with a question. What do I put first, being an American or being a Jew? This was not directed at me but to a group of Jews all of whom including myself were unprepared for such a question and it was left unanswered. This led me to conduct a multi day introspection on where my priorities lie.
Back in 2016 I had moral principles but they came natural. It is good to be nice so I should be nice. I did not need to philosophize on who I am, who do I want to be and what do I need to do to be who I want to be. The active pursuit of self embetterment (as well and my constant study in Judaism) did not come for several more years. At the time asking myself what I prioritized, my religion or my country was very out of character.
I only remember experiencing such a conundrum once before during the 2008 Beijing summer Olympics. Who would I root for if Israel faced off against the United States? It was too difficult to decide and the question was left unanswered.
Being a Jew and being an American are two areas of my life which I cherish the most. The United States of America in my mind is the greatest country in human history. A nation build on a creed that reshaped the world, brought an end to western monarchies, spread democracy, opened the marketplace of innovation and ideas, is a symbol of freedom to the world and defeated the evils of Nazism, fascism, Communism and Islamic terrorism. No country has done more good for the world nor built on a stronger foundation that guarantees liberty and justice for all of her citizens. There is no country I would rather call home than the United States.
Judaism to me may be the single most important philosophy to ever exist. Over half the world population are part of an Abrahamic faith, thereby associating with Judaism’s morals and ethics. The concept of equality was birthed from Judeo-Christian ethos and Judaisms laws if properly lived I guarantee would make everyone a better person. Growing up I was always super proud of being a Jew. I loved being the only Jew in school because it made me feel super special and I showed it off at every opportunity. One example came in third grade. My class did presentations on the Wonders of the World and I chose to showcase the Western Wall.
America and Judaism overlap in values. America was birthed from a duo philosophy of Judeo-Christian ethics as well as enlightenment. When comparing the American Declaration of Independence to Frances Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from its revolution you see a staggering difference.
The French Revolution (also the Russian Revolution over a century later) was purely enlightenment. Reason alone can bring a utopian society. There was no need for the ancient dogmas which brought so much bloodshed. The French Declaration states, “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.” To the French thinkers, men were born equal and free via their birthright. Compare that with the promise of the American Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” To the Americans, man was not born equal, man was created equal and more importantly, all of mankind’s equality were endowed by God himself. I’d argue that’s why Americas Revolutionary creed survived and inspires until this day whereas the French (and Russian) Revolution failed.
So how do I decide which one would I put first? Being an American and being a Jew mean so much to me and there is so much overlap between them. After confronted with the question, I spent almost a week thinking it over until I came to my conclusion. This line of reasoning would be the exact same reasoning I would say today. If America was ever unsafe for me to live in, I’d leave and go to Israel. But if Israel was every faced with the threat of annihilation, I would fly to Israel and fight for it. This reasoning leads me to conclude that I put my Judaism first.
I’d much rather live in America, it’s the greatest country of all time but I would jump ship in a worst case scenario. On the other hand, if Israel was sinking and needed me, I’d crawl to the ends of the earth to save it even if it means putting my life in jeopardy. There is something about being a Jew that transcends reason, citizenship and comfort.
Though America has always been my home I know there is another home waiting for me across the globe. Israel is a promise that is if I have no other place to go, it must let me in and I would be welcomed in with love. No other people has a promise like the Jews have with Israel. I live in America but I do not own America. I do not live in Israel but in many ways it feels like I own Israel, just like all my Jewish brothers and sisters do. It is our inheritance given by God.
Being a Jew and an American are two aspect of my life which I take most pride in. I think the Jews as a nation and America as a country may have done more good for the world than all other peoples. The creeds, covenants, morals, ethics, and promises are truly inspirational. I am proud to be both, I am proud to see the good in both, I am happy I have a home in both.