Editor: The adoption of the motto E pluribus unum — Latin for one from many — for our new country in 1782 was a breakthrough.
Though I don’t totally buy into the idea of American exceptionalism, I know that many among us are the children and grandchildren of immigrants who came here — specifically here — not to find gold-lined streets but to enjoy the freedom to choose their own destinies. As a Jew, I take comfort in George Washington’s vow to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790 that they could live in the United States “without fear.”
Fast forward to 2015 and witness the recurrence of aggressive anti-Semitism in France and indeed, in much of Europe. After the recent two-pronged terrorist assault in Paris — against free speech and against Jews — France found it necessary to send troops to guard every Jewish school in the country. The French Revolution was meant to accommodate Jews, too, but pluralism unfortunately was not embedded in the French identity and many Jews live in fear and leave France for Israel in alarming numbers.
We Americans are not immune to the disease of prejudice — starting with race. It flies in the face of our belief that we, with all our ethnic, religious and cultural differences, can live together in harmony. Unfortunately incidents of unequal justice flood our media regularly, reminding us that E pluribus unum is an ideal and not a reality.
Still, ideals count. Our commitment to pluralism is as important to our nation as its commitment to democracy. It prepares us for the increasingly interdependent world in which we live. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants — enriched by the diversity of our population. We are in the habit of accepting “others” into our national identity— into the very definition of who we are. Let’s remember that with pride — and humility.