Explore the complexity of Jewish identity with reflections from three teenagers about what being Jewish means to them.
In 1876, the United States celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In honor of the event, the French sent a gift: a huge copper statue that represents liberty. Emma Lazarus, a Jew whose family had lived in the nation for generations, described the statue as:
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome....
“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 tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 1
In 1903, the year Emma Lazarus’s poem was carved on the base of the Statue of Liberty, nearly one out of every ten Americans was foreign born. A few years earlier, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a Protestant whose family had also lived in the country for generations, responded to those newcomers with his own poem:
. . .
Wide open and unguarded stand our gates
And through them passes a wild motley throng— . . .
Flying the Old World’s poverty and scorn;
These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,
Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws.
In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,
Accents of menace alien to our air,
Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!
O Liberty, white Goddess! Is it well
To leave the Gates unguarded? . . . 2