Monday was quite a day, wasn’t it? I am sure if I could speak with each of you, there would be a spectrum of responses to the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs. For those of us who live in MetroWest and who were here or in New York City on September 11, 2001, I am even more certain that there would be a mixture of pride in our armed forces and intelligence corps’ determination and bravery and a reopened wound for the hurt we all suffered that day.
Although we can take satisfaction that a face of true evil has been removed from this planet, his death cannot bring back the lives of those lost as a result of the heinous attacks he fomented. And, while bin Laden is gone, we are not yet secure, our freedom of movement hasn’t been restored and freedom from fear is not yet at an end.
On Monday afternoon, I found myself in the cradle of American liberty and freedom, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the new National Museum of American Jewish History. I was there in my capacity as co-chair of Major Gifts for the UJA MetroWest Annual Campaign. I accompanied 22 members of the national King David Society, a group composed of donors of $25,000 or more to the annual campaign. Sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America, it was a more than fortuitous day to be in Philadelphia, both because the museum celebrates freedom of all religions through the story of Jewish Americans, and also because the keynote speaker was David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet the Press.
I had fallen asleep with David Gregory on NBC talking about the developments in Pakistan on Sunday night, and woke up on Monday morning to find him on the Today show, still talking about the death of bin Laden. I didn’t hold out much hope that Gregory would actually make it to Philadelphia, since it was clear that he would be needed by NBC and was operating on little or no sleep. But sure enough, there he was, articulate, compelling, and ready to put what he knew in context for us.
For me, the most important part of that context is what this event meant for our children. Gregory spoke about the fine line between feeling joy that evil had been erased and gloating inappropriately. I had been somewhat dismayed by the sight of the crowd outside the White House, waving flags and chanting “USA” but Gregory helped me to understand. These were mostly college kids (indeed, it turns out that there were kids I know there!) who were nine or 10 or 11 in September 2001, and for whom Osama bin Laden represented the bogeyman under the bed, the personification of terror who changed their world forever at a very vulnerable age. They weren’t gloating. They were taking pride at being a part of a country that can still accomplish great things. That I could fully understand.
Our tour through the museum truly highlighted the story of American Jewish freedom. The difficulties and imperfections of life as Jews in America, from Peter Stuyvesant’s chilly reception through immigration quotas that kept millions in what would become the charnel house of the Holocaust, to “No Jews allowed” hotels, are all on display. But so are the contributions that American Jews have made to this wonderful country of ours, and the ways in which the freedoms of the American experience have enhanced our lives as Jews.
I urge you to get to Philadelphia (and Women’s Philanthropy is going on July 7, details to follow) and see this museum. And I ask you to take a moment during this historic week to appreciate our freedom as Jews and as Americans, much of which we owe to the brave men and women who work to safeguard this country. Whether our President and Congress are Democrats or Republicans, we are, as President Obama concluded so movingly on Sunday night, “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”