Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
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; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your stories 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 the, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
(The New Colossus - Emma Lazarus)
These words, which are engraved on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, greeted hundreds of thousands of newcomers to our shore as they arrived at Ellis Island. These words express welcome to those who would seek refuge in our country, often escaping from prejudice and poverty. My father and his parents were among those who made this journey (from Germany in the 1930s).
The New Colossus was originally written as part of a fundraising auction for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. Although the words of the poem itself do not seem explictly Jewish, I cannot help but believe that Emma Lazarus’ Jewish roots, particularly her work with the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society, strongly influenced her commitment to welcoming those who arrived at our shores often escaping persecution. They certainly reflect the Jewish value of hachnasat orchim, welcoming the stranger. Because of the opportunities which Jews who entered the United States enjoyed through most of American history, the Jewish community in turn has strongly supported immigration and offered significant support to those who arrived at our shores to help them settle in America.
As we celebrate our nation’s birthday, may we take these lessons to heart.