I have complained about Presidential Inaugurals for years, and I have finally decided to write the letter–my own, as it were, “Inaugural Address”. I love watching the inauguration of our presidents; I’m awed by the pageantry and inspired by words that invariably invoke the best of what this country is, was and strives to become. Through speeches and poetry and song, I am reminded of the enduring nature of our founding documents, which contain lofty notions that transcend even the humanity and wisdom of the authors themselves–notions of inclusion, community and freedom that have served us for more than two hundred years.
It is therefore all the more disappointing and confusing when an Inaugural invocation ends with the words “we ask this in the name of Christ, Our Lord” or some variation on that theme. What?! I thought this was for ALL of us…as Americans—not as members of ANY specific religion or group. While I have nothing against Jesus or his teachings, this only makes non Christians feel excluded from what we previously thought we were included in—that in truth, we are strangers who will be suffered to stay—but not really a part of the whole.
I am, in fact, a first generation American born child of Holocaust survivors—and my life is the American Dream. I love this country as does my son, and as my father did before me. Why then, must I explain to my son about this “tag line” that so often accompanies national prayers for our leaders and country? The idea of America is not that we allow others who are different to join our Christian Nation, it is that we are bound together by a common constitution and a bill of rights, NOT a religion or group—as was correctly pointed out by President Obama in his speech. To infer differently is to misunderstand the true greatness of our unique experiment in democracy. While we may be informed individually by our respective spiritual traditions, we are bound together as Americans by something entirely separate and distinct. The soldiers buried at Arlington, and in unknown tombs around the globe, are Moslems and Jews and Athiests and Hindus and Christians—ALL Amercians. How could a person giving an invocation—or those who asked them to do so, be so insensitive to what we are truly about?
Some will undoubtedly take my remarks as politically correct speech, but this goes much deeper—this goes to the very essence of who we are as a nation. And clearly, many invocations get it—they remain guided by spirit, but do not invoke any specific deity– or at the very least incorporate some device that allows for a “fill in the blank” notion of the universal.
When my wife and I were married, we took great pains to translate the seven traditional Jewish wedding prayers into English, with each one translating “God” in a different way; from “the great spirit”, “love” to “the universal energy”, so that each of our guests could know that the “God” we invoke covers all in attendance—no matter your personal beliefs. Our national Inauguration should do no less to include all Americans. I encourage spirituality of all types, in all people—AND I also look forward to a Presidential Inaugural that truly and exclusively binds us together as Americans, first, foremost, and exclusively.
Authors note: This is NOT a political statement—both parties unfortunately suffer from this affliction.
Jake Ehrenreich is an author, playwright and musician, and has spent the last few years telling his family’s story in the hit show “A Jew Grows In Brooklyn.”