“Everywhere I turn all the beauty just keeps shaking me.”
“Everywhere I turn all the beauty just keeps shaking me.”
Indigo Girls, World Falls
Being American has always been significant in my life. Probably because I am a dual citizen of Israel and the United States. No one forced me to choose but I have always had a distinct preference for one identity over the other. I lived in Israel for 5 full years out of my 45 years of life but I never felt at home there. I always feel like a cultural outsider in Israel-even though I love the land and the people as I do my own family. But the USA? I feel securely at home here-in this vast expanse of land. From sea to sea. This is my true home. I was made to be an American. To embody multitudes. To carry many within. To identify and appreciate all contained within this land.
Growing up in the Pacific North West, I felt a connection and affinity for the Native cultures surrounding me. A Native American teacher in 5th grade, Mrs. Ward, opened my heart and mind to the living native cultures of our nation. As I learned about the local cultures and history of First Nations, the past and the present, I took it all in. It became a part of me. I did not appropriate. I would never wear a headdress or take a Native name. I would never participate in Native rituals as though they were my own. Nothing like that. But as an American, the culture and legacy of the Native people of this place somehow became an important part of me. I feel deep love and respect and a sense of responsibility for my Native neighbors. The First Nations of this nation.
This is not the only “foreign” culture I took in as a Jewish American young person. The African American story and their culture and their community became a part of me too. My love and appreciation of this community continue to this day. Their full liberation is as precious to me as that of my own people. From bell hooks to Beyoncé to Barak Obama to the African American women in my own family-I feel fed, developed, deeply influenced and inspired by the legacy and living culture of African Americans.
This is the great joy of being an American. No matter where I go, I can experience cultures and communities not my own. The other. Difference. Taste, smell, colors, languages, religious and spiritual practices…there is so much difference to enjoy. And share with each other.
This trip cross country has reminded me of my love of this nation. My Israeli American cousins who live in a Chicago, Ainat and Zach, reminded me that being cosmopolitan, being educated and appreciating difference does not put me in a bubble. My reality is not the bubble. Those who live in this country who claim cultural superiority and dominance, those who refuse to learn about and appreciate the diversity of this place, THEY are the ones living in a bubble. I am free. They are trapped.
Last week I was free to visit Dearborn Michigan where we spent time in the Arab American National Museum and at the amazing Middle Eastern bakery. There we immersed ourselves in the cultures of our Arab American neighbors and dedicated a day of our lives to their American experience. What a joy!
In Centreville Virginia, we spent the afternoon at a Korean Day Spa and immersed ourselves in the healing and relaxing culture of Korean Americans. We gave ourselves over body, mind, and spirit to a culture not our own. We took in what it means to renew and refresh the Korean way. What a joy!
Today we drive to the American South. A place none of us have ever spent time. We plan to immerse ourselves in the experience and culture of African American people upon whose backs this nation was built. To expose ourselves to the pain and the beauty of those brought here by force. Those who ancestors did not choose to be American but who made America.
Native, Arab, Korean, African, Jewish…all of this is a part of me. I love my own culture and community. But I also love and appreciate and seek to honor those of my neighbors on this land.
What a coat of many colors our nation is! What a vast expanse of diversity and of thriving communities. What a true joy it is to be an American.
I would hate to ever have to leave this place. A thought that crosses my mind more and more frequently as the corrupt and disgraceful leadership of our country puts our liberties and diversity at risk. My ancestors have had to leave every place they have called home leading up to the 20th century. Poland, Morocco, Ukraine, Spain, the Land of Israel. We have wandered. My people have crossed all the seas to find a place of safety. To find a home. And this is my home. And that of my children. And I pray my great great great grandchildren too. God willing.
I pray future generations of my family will know what it means to contain a multitude within. To feel at home in an Arab bakery and a Korean spa and a Native longhouse. To cook the foods of many peoples in their homes. My great great great grandchildren to be fed the spices and old recipes of many nations. To listen to music of Americans of all backgrounds. To wear the clothing of designers who are influenced by the colors and cuts of the world over. To hold this nation in all its diversity and to maintain this place as a land for people from all over the planet.
How beautiful is this place? How grateful I am to have a home here. And I am more dedicated and inspired than ever to maintain the diversity of our nation. To affirm who and what we really are. Not the land of the white man, the land where Europeans profit off of the labor of others, where people crossed seas to rape the land and its people. No. This is not going to be our legacy. Our legacy will be children who contain many cultures and communities within. A land of global citizens. I can see it already within my own children. I can see the true possibility of this place.
This is appreciation, not appropriation. To love and appreciate the other as your own, though they are not your own. And that is just fine. To maintain that balance. Being American means that the other is always a part of you. And it feels Divine.
“We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”