America an exceptional nation, generous citizens have responsibility to take care of each other

Phil Schurrer and Phil Schurrer

Each year on Christmas Day, many Jews in the Detroit area join with the Muslim community in celebrating “Mitzvah Day.”

It’s the largest single day of volunteering by the Detroit metro Jewish community.

The purpose of Mitzvah Day is to enable their Christian neighbors to celebrate Christmas in their homes with their families.

In addition to bringing food and gifts to low-income households, Mitzvah Day volunteers walk dogs for animal rescue services, run bingo games at nursing homes and play cards with the developmentally disabled.

They substitute for the regular volunteers who want to celebrate the holidays.

The spirit of Mitzvah Day was epitomized in a recent Wall Street Journal photo. It showed a Jewish woman and a Muslim woman in the kitchen of a Detroit-area synagogue cutting celery for tuna salad to feed the homeless on Mitzvah Day.

Question: why has America been spared much of the religiously-inspired hatred and strife that seems to afflict other countries? We seem to be able to get along, by and large; why can’t they?

Is it the American tradition of giving? Possibly.

Ever since our founding, this nation has had a tradition of giving aid. After winning both world wars, we returned to Europe, fed them and enabled them to rebuild their cities and infrastructure.

Think of Herbert Hoover’s World War I food drives and the Marshall Plan after World War II.

Is it the American tradition of religious toleration? Maybe.

With some lapses, we have welcomed all types of religious traditions in this nation. Unlike other countries with deep sectarian roots, our government at all levels is forbidden to either endorse or to proscribe religious beliefs.

With that neutrality, religious toleration has been allowed to grow and blossom.

Is it an American cultural characteristic? Could be.

In spite of the rancor in some quarters, Americans seem to have a built-in sympathy for the less fortunate. Political parties, labor unions and charitable institutions have been founded out of concern for the poor.

It’s very probably all the above.

A good case can be made for American exceptionalism — we are a special country.

To some, this sounds elitist and filled with bravado, but stop and conduct a thought experiment: if the United States relaxed all immigration controls and allowed anyone to migrate and gain citizenship, would there be a net inflow of immigrants or would many Americans want to return to the “old country”? The answer is obvious.

Being an “exceptional” nation brings with it exceptional responsibilities.

No, we can’t police the world [a concept we seem to have to be repeatedly reminded of], but we do have responsibilities — to ourselves and to others.

Consider what Mitzvah Day demonstrates: the ongoing desire to help one another. Volunteerism seems to be one of the necessary ingredients in the American DNA.

A former president who jumps out of aircraft on his birthday and wears red socks once used the phrase “a thousand points of light.” At the time, he was ridiculed for being naive and lacking sophistication, but he’s been proven right.

Concern for each other is what binds us together. We need to help each other, even if it means cutting celery for tuna salad.

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