Welcome to a special July 4th week edition of Jane Looking Forward. If you wish to continue reading this weekly newsletter, please subscribe here. And spread the word!
Greetings from Chautauqua, where I am spending a few glorious days as a guest speaker at the Everett Jewish Life Center. This is my first visit to this idyllic town nestled on a lake in western New York State, where for nearly a century and a half, thousands have gathered during the summer to learn about religion and its role in American life.
Just about every faith denomination has a house here, a place for many to gather and a few people to stay overnight – charming Victorians with front porches and fragrant gardens, built close to each other on narrow streets where pedestrians and cyclists far outnumber cars. And now, for the last decade, alongside the Baptists and the Lutherans, is a Jewish center, thanks to the foresight and generosity of philanthropist Edith Everett.
The purpose here is not to speak only to ourselves but to learn from one another. So last night I wandered over to the open-air amphitheater to attend a Sacred Song Service, conducted every Sunday evening by Gene Robinson, senior pastor of the Chautauqua Institution, accompanied by majestic organ music that swelled through the huge space.
The hymns, readings and prayers surprised and moved me. Chautauqua has a very white bread, Midwestern feel; it wears its patriotism proudly, especially this July 4th week. Yet as opposed to the ugly way that white, patriotic fervor too often is displayed in political rallies and on social media, this service emphasized pluralism and an embrace of the “other” that would have easily fit into a number of progressive synagogues.
Saint Augustine was quoted, and so was Martin Luther King Jr. A third century Greek text was sung, followed by a South African freedom song.
“So hear my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine,” read another hymn.
And then, for me, the emotional high point, when the choir sang “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” from Emma Lazarus’ iconic 1883 sonnet. I have known that melody since I was a child, but never realized that Irving Berlin wrote the music in 1949.
“Now this is what we are about!” Robinson exclaimed at the song’s stirring conclusion.
I needed to hear that, because after the events of last week, I’m not so sure.
One of the most perceptive stories I read was the Washington Post’s Eli Saslow’s portrait of Alex Galvez, a 12-year-old from Mexico whose mother was caught in an ICE raid in Ohio and detained indefinitely, leaving Alex in the care of an older sister, after his father and other relatives had already been deported.
“One of the things that had confused him during the past few weeks was the shock he sometimes saw reflected back at him in strangers’ faces — the volunteers who toured the trailer park in utter disbelief, or the TV anchors who broke down in the middle of their live broadcasts from the U.S. border. They said separating a parent from a child was cruel and un-American,” Saslow wrote. “They said these were the actions of a country they no longer recognized. But, to Alex, the act of family separation seemed quintessentially American. It was the cornerstone of his American experience.”
What America will prevail, the one that Alex knows, or the America that opens a golden door?
‘We Are Journalists.’ The murders in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis left me simply heartbroken. As journalists, we are all one degree of separation from that horror. I knew people who knew the victims quite well. I have worked in small town newspapers, in Connecticut and Virginia, and appreciate the essential role they play in a community.
Heartbroken, and a little fearful. The next morning at the Forward, we reviewed our security procedures, already enhanced since the 2016 election because my staff, too, has been subject to hateful threats.
But I take great inspiration from those who suffered on Thursday and lived to put out a newspaper on Friday. On Sunday, the Capital Gazette staff published an editorial of thanks for the sympathy, cards, letters, food, flowers and overwhelming public support they have received, which they said they would never forget.
And: “We won’t forget being call an enemy of the people.
No, we won’t forget that. Because exposing evil, shining light on wrongs and fighting injustice is what we do.”
What else I’ve been writing. The Jewish Agency for Israel, the largest Jewish nonprofit in the world, has a new chief, Isaac Herzog. In my exclusive interview, the former opposition leader in the Knesset explained his controversial comments on intermarriage and proclaimed his liberal values. Will he be able to vitalize the Jewish Agency? That’s the challenge.
And if you missed my letter to an imaginary Israeli friend, here’s another chance to see if you agree!
Looking forward. Our first ever Forward guide to synagogues is just about ready to be shared. Look for it later this month.
Wishing you a happy and meaningful July 4th.
Remember to email me at JaneEisnerEIC@forward.com. with your questions and concerns.
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Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, became editor-in-chief of the Forward in 2008, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward readership has grown significantly and has won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.