Iden­tity is a com­plex sub­ject

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - OPINION - Paul Green­berg Colum­nist

It was a big deal when I was grow­ing up in the bo­som of what was in spirit an ortho­dox Jewish con­gre­ga­tion in Shreve­port, La.: Bal­four Day.

The date was ob­served ev­ery Nov. 2, for that’s when a Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary named Arthur James Bal­four sent a letter to Baron Roth­schild that was only a cou­ple of hun­dred words long but that stirred the en­tire Jewish world: For­eign Of­fice Nov. 2, 1917 Dear Lord Roth­schild, I have much plea­sure in con­vey­ing to you, on be­half of His Majesty’s Gov­ern­ment, the fol­low­ing dec­la­ra­tion of sym­pa­thy with Jewish Zion­ist as­pi­ra­tions which has been sub­mit­ted to, and ap­proved by, the Cab­i­net.

His Majesty’s Gov­ern­ment view with favour the estab­lish­ment in Pales­tine of a na­tional home for the Jewish peo­ple, and will use their best en­deav­ors to fa­cil­i­tate the achieve­ment of this ob­ject, it be­ing clearly un­der­stood that noth­ing shall be done which may prej­u­dice the civil and re­li­gious rights of ex­ist­ing non-Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Pales­tine or the rights and po­lit­i­cal sta­tus en­joyed by Jews in any other coun­try.

I should be grate­ful if you would bring this dec­la­ra­tion to the knowl­edge of the Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion. Yours, Arthur James Bal­four The date of Nov. 2, 1917, might as well have been listed on Jewish re­li­gious cal­en­dars, it was so well ob­served through­out the Jewish world. And it was an even big­ger deal that first Bal­four Day. So big that to this day Ruth Wisse, who taught Yid­dish and lit­er­a­ture at Har­vard, re­calls how much that dec­la­ra­tion meant to her fore­bears. As she wrote in the Wall Street Jour­nal on Nov. 2:

But just as the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion was cel­e­brated by Zion­ists, it in­fu­ri­ated those who are still try­ing to de-le­git­imize the Jewish state — in­deed, de­stroy it. For it was and re­mains anath­ema to anti-Semites ev­ery­where while re­main­ing a bea­con of hope in the long and un­even his­tory of Jewish-Bri­tish re­la­tions.

We the Jews have served as ca­naries in the coal mine when it comes to test­ing Eng­land’s lib­eral sym­pa­thies and de­cent im­pulses. Driven from that realm by Oliver Cromwell’s fa­nat­i­cal fol­low­ers, Jews would not be al­lowed back in the coun­try till anti-Semitic pas­sions had cooled and Chris­tian zealotry had dis­si­pated.

Now and then in that mac­u­late his­tory, a coura­geous voice like Ge­orge Eliot’s would be heard plead­ing the Jews’ case. It was she who, in her char­ac­ter Daniel Deronda, dreamed of a time when the Jews would be rec­og­nized as the dis­tinct eth­nic and re­li­gious group we are, and granted ‘’a na­tional cen­ter, such as the English have, though they too are scat­tered over the face of the globe.’’ For there need be no con­tra­dic­tion be­tween be­ing a loyal Jewish cit­i­zen of a coun­try and an ad­vo­cate of a Jewish na­tional home­land abroad. Just as Ir­ish Amer­i­cans cher­ish their ties to Ire­land even as they take a lead­ing role in this coun­try’s pol­i­tics. See the splen­did ex­am­ple of John F. Kennedy.

Iden­tity is a com­plex sub­ject, and it is only those who would try to re­duce it to a sim­ple and bru­tal choice be­tween Us and Them who would cheapen it. For this coun­try is no melt­ing pot, but rather a rich and ever nour­ish­ing stew. God bless an Amer­ica that has room for all peo­ple of good will. We have noth­ing to fear but those who would try to di­vide us, first by over-sim­pli­fy­ing us. For this is a na­tion al­ways chang­ing and grow­ing. And when we stop do­ing both, we will no longer be bear­ers of the Amer­i­can dream, which is the uni­ver­sal dream.

Paul Green­berg is a colum­nist for the Arkansas DemocratGazette. Con­tact him at pgreen­berg@arkansason­line.com.

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