Sold out for Israel: America the Beautiful

Then came America, carefully designed by courageous founders as a land for the free and haven for the oppressed.

Elwood McQuaid 224-88 (photo credit: )
Elwood McQuaid 224-88
(photo credit: )
Few who know the sonnet of the eminent Jewish poet Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) immortalized on the base of the  Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor know much about her or why she was so dramatically inspired.  Emma was born to a wealthy Jewish family in New York City who descended from the first Jewish settlers in the New World. Highly motivated by the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Russia, she wrote with conviction about the necessity of a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people. In 1883 she wrote the poem The New Colosus, from which her compassionate words beckoning immigrants to these shores were taken: "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" In her poem 1492, lamenting the expulsion of the Jewish people from Spain, her words could be linked to the invitation inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:   . . . when Spain  cast forth with flaming sword, The children of the prophets of the Lord, Prince,priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate. Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state, The West refused them, and the East abhorred. Close-locked was every port, barred every gate. Then smiling, thou  unviel'dst, O two-faced year, A virgin world where doors of sunset part, Saying, "Ho, all who weary, enter here! There falls each ancient barrier that the art Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear . . . All but forgotten in the current American age of too much is the suppression and anguish of the tattered  masses-despondent, deprived, desperate, and "yearning to breathe free" and escape their grinding existence in  the Old World. Then came America, carefully designed by courageous founders as a land for the free and haven for the oppressed. And despite derision from America loathers, the "Four Freedoms" articulated by the late President Franklin Roosevelt are no laughing matter. President Roosevelt spelled them out to the 77th Congress on January 6, 1941: freedom of speech and expression, "freedom of every person to worship God in his own way," freedom from want, and freedom from fear. When the "golden door" to the colonies and then the gates of Ellis Island were flung open, we came. With grimy faces, ragged clothes, and  suitcases hardly worthy of the name, waves of immigrants arrived on these  shores. Among them were the forebears of practically every person reading this article. In my case, my mother's family escaped from the Germany of the Kaiser and the looming great wars. In 1743 my family patriarch arrived in the colonies from Ireland, eventually landing a spot in the Continental Army. Later a hoard of McQuaids were starved out of Ireland by the Great Potato Famine of the mid-1800s. If they came looking for a place to plant potatoes, they found plenty of room in America. A fellow of Italian descent I once worked with shared the jubilation of his family as their steamship entered New York Harbor and caught sight of the Statue of Liberty. "We yelled so loud," he said, "that we couldn't hear the noise of the cattle on the boat!" They came here looking for a hand up, not a handout. A shovel, hammer, or seat at a sewing machine in a  garment factory became the start of a new life.  One might ask what held together such a diverse aggregation without common heritage; language; or, in many cases, worship forms. Basically, I think it was a great pride in their adopted home, a passion to become American citizens, and a sense that they were on their way to something better.  And as the history of this republic has borne out, their passion was well founded. The words land of opportunity were more than a slogan. They represented hope-real hope. And there was change here, not the strident cries for change promised today that might better be called social revolution. Immigrants who revered the flag and  country that had become theirs set out with simple tools and limited advantages. But from their simplicity and determination arose something profound beyond  comprehension: It's called America.  And when families can walk in tranquility to their chosen houses of worship on a Saturday or Sunday morning without fear of bombs, clubs, or political-religious enforcers, that's progress worth defending with every fiber of our collective being. The big question now is, How long will this progress last? That's up to you and me. What we do will become  the legacy we leave behind. And it will not be much of a legacy unless we remember where the foundation rests: Blessed is the nation whose  God is the Lord (Ps.33:12). Elwood McQuaid is Executive Editor for The Friends of Israel. His most recent book, For the Love of Zion, is now available online and in bookstores. Previous entries: God Bless America