Cantor’s Column – July 2021

Jewish American or American Jew

Cantor Ilan Davidson

As we celebrate our nation’s Day of Independence, I always find myself feeling great patriotism, pride, and emotion, that I have the honor of living in and raising my family in this free republic. I have always been a proud American. My father was a naturalized citizen, an immigrant from Israel, who taught us that we had two homes and we should be equally proud of the accomplishments of both. He took pride in flying the flag on Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day, each and every year, and he would gather us together as he posted the flag and have all of us say the pledge of allegiance.

It was not until I was teaching, many years later, that I first contemplated the grammatical question, “Are you a Jewish American or an American Jew?” I still remember it very clearly. As we were studying the Holocaust in my class, one of my more adversarial students challenged me with the statement, “I don’t understand why this ancient history is so important, after all, I’m an American, and that would never happen here… my passport says US Citizen, not Jew!” As the conversation continued, the students began to realize that this was exactly the way that German Jewish war veterans and respectable members of society felt when they were warned about the growing threat. Of course, we never want to imagine a USA where this could happen, but as the conversation continued, we took it in a more positive direction and began talking about our own identity. To this day, I ask my students to identify themselves as Jewish Americans or American Jews. What’s the difference, you may ask? They always do! So, we have a short English grammar lesson about nouns and adjectives, or who you are and the supporting descriptors of you, in identity. Ultimately, the discussion makes the students begin to think about how they identify. Do you identify as a Jew or an American? Either way, you identify yourself as both, but what is your core identity, what is your noun?

As we celebrate this 4th of July, I am blessed to be free to be me, in this country that I love so much. I am an American Jew, and darn proud of it. May we all celebrate, with joy, the independence and freedom that our nation provides for us, and may it be God’s will to have all Jews safe within our borders, forever and ever.