Taking a Jewish Approach to U.S. History

(Los Angeles Jewish Journal) Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy - Jews are preprogrammed to navigate history, not negate it. The Bible's colorful lineup of flawed heroes challenges us to replicate their virtues and avoid their sins. That prepares us for modern life. Western civilization is riddled with anti-Semitism, along with racism, sexism and imperialism. But Western civilization also has produced some of the most effective tools reformers have against these scourges. Democratic political structures that emerged from the European Enlightenment incorporated biblically-rooted ideals of equality and liberty. History is like a LEGO tower. You cannot keep building more elaborate structures by removing all the bricks at the bottom. Here is the great liberal democratic leap: Rather than lying about some oversimplified past by constantly updating it, you learn about the imperfect real past to keep improving the future. True progress cannot be made by imposing new orthodoxies or betraying the valuable ideas that caused whatever progress we have made. Teaching America's sins exclusively risks draining the idealism that fueled the greatest leaps forward minorities have made in U.S. history. In St. Louis, we wouldn't tear down the statue of St. Louis or change the city's name. Yes, Louis IX was a notorious anti-Semite, but he also helped institutionalize the notion that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty - among other building blocks of Western civilization at its best. Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder - which is unconscionable - but as his magical phrase "all men are created equal" grew to include all people, it helped end slavery. Woodrow Wilson was a racist, but his Fourteen Points undermined imperialism and launched many national liberation movements seeking self-determination. Natan Sharansky, a human rights activist and former political prisoner of the Soviet Union, served in four Israeli cabinets. Today he is chairman of ISGAP, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy. Gil Troy is a distinguished scholar of North American History at McGill University.

2020-08-03 00:00:00

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