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Who Are We, Anyway?
By Kate Burch

I have a son whose job has required that he and his family live in Europe for the past four years.  I recently went for a visit, and they took Grandma along for a family vacation to Israel.  This was an extremely generous gift and the fulfillment of a long-held wish to see Jerusalem. 

I was profoundly moved to learn about and experience the holy sites in Jerusalem.  However, the most compelling impression that was made on me during the Israel excursion was about the spirit and character of the Israeli people.  Without exception, Israelis greeted us and interacted with us in a friendly, warm, and hospitable manner.  What’s more, they appeared to be happy and relaxed. This experience belied the concerns expressed by some of my friends who feared it would be unsafe to be in that corner of the world. 

I was reminded of several nuggets from my reading that helped me to make sense of the experience:

Several years ago, I read a book by the former Soviet “refusenik,” Medal of Freedom winner, writer and statesman Natan Sharansky, entitled “Defending Identity.”  The book, which affected me quite powerfully, explained how a strong national/cultural/religious identity is vital to sustaining an effective and vigorous democracy. 

I recalled reading about a year ago an article, which I have since found in the May 16, 2016 Wall Street Journal, about how Israel (Jews and Arabs alike) rank very high on international ratings of happiness and life satisfaction.  This despite their being under unremitting threats to their individual and collective survival.

On the airplane traveling to Europe, I read a book by Leo Maasburg, “Mother Teresa of Calcutta.”  Mother Teresa, asked how she could bear working with people in hopeless poverty who were filthy, literally sleeping naked on the streets, explained that the worst poverty she had encountered was suffered by people in developed nations who had no sense of being loved or of belonging. 

I am convinced that the Israelis, reverencing their shared history, culture, accomplishments, and purpose have something that we Americans have squandered and are in danger of losing entirely.  Universities and media and many “leaders” revile our history, our culture, and our traditional values.  Children are indoctrinated early with false notions that ours is a rapacious, careless and destructive country, rather than a “shining city on a hill” that was the Founders’ dream and intent.  Morals and values and institutions that have been universally accepted and pursued for millennia are overturned.  People have no anchor when it is denied that objective truth exists, rather than “truth” being merely a matter of opinion.  Anchorless people are lonely, unhappy people.  People are marrying later, if at all, and birth rates are too low.  There is less participation in civil society: less community engagement; less church attendance and involvement; even less visiting and acquaintanceship with neighbors.  People who, one would think, have everything turn to drugs and pornography rather than building relationships.  Alienation feeds the sense of being aggrieved and outraged.  People protest without having even a clear notion of what they want. 

Perhaps our nation will need to suffer real adversity before people come to their senses and recognize the crisis of morals and values we are experiencing.  I hope not.  Our Founders, geniuses who were grounded in serious study and understanding of history, devised a system that, if followed, ensures human flourishing, protecting the God-given rights of every human being.  They knew that the success of self-governance requires commitment, involvement, and virtue, else we will live under tyranny.  They knew that we are prideful, envious, venal and slothful creatures, and that those who wish to govern us must be held in check and the rule of law, rather than privilege must prevail.  It’s a good system, an inspired system, the most successful system the world has known.  Let’s not lose it.  Let’s regain pride in being Americans.  Let’s be happy again!

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