What My German, Jewish Father Learned About Patriotism

This Memorial Day, I’d like to share a personal story. Both of my Jewish parents are European born. Both had the misfortune of being born during Hitler’s rising (my father in Germany, my mother in Belgium).

We will save my mother’s story for another day. But if you’re curious, you can view it here: https://vimeo.com/90691222

Back to my father: when his parents were able to escape Breslau in 1938 (a town close to Berlin, now occupied by Poland) it was via a ship that docked in NYC where his small family, who spoke not a word of English, made their home. In his new school in 1938 NYC, teachers, other parents and kids did not understand that HE was not the enemy, just BECAUSE he was German born.

After enduring untold atrocities in Germany, my dad was taunted, bullied, and the subject of great ridicule at his new NYC school BECAUSE he was German. At that time, being German equaled being an enemy of the US, circumstances be damned. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? And yet that dynamic is played out over and over with different groups who have been forced to come to our country due to desperate situations in their own lands.

When the American people around my dad began to realize they were viewing him as “guilty by association,” the bullying stopped.

That’s Patriotism.

Today’s post is in honor of Memorial Day in the USA. We honor all soldiers and civilians who have sacrificed for our country, with life, limb, heart and mind.

As important as it is to remember those we’ve lost, it needs to be a day in which we continue to carry the torch of freedom. Today is a day to remember the importance of patriotism in our own hearts.

Patriotism is unity with a collective goal: to protect, serve and honor the country that hosts us, and most importantly, its people.

True patriotism is dignity and compassion for our fellow humans and other living species. It means recognizing that atrocities, wars, and terrorism, whether justified or not, cannot be responded to with reactive, impulsive, destructive means. Nor should we react with a fear-based frenzy and the stoking of rabid rage at innocent people whose guilt is by association unless proven otherwise. (My father is an innocent German, no?)

Patriotism is not calculated acts of violence meant to symbolize that we are badass. It does not mean killing others or acquiring assault rifles to act as if this is a military state. That is NOT patriotism. Rather, patriotism is killing only when you HAVE to, to protect and defend. For Americans, regardless of the savagery we have been subjected to and the grief we have been forced to endure, there is no solace in blindly shooting or bombing or planting exploding devices in public places on your person or in a car. It does not mean agreeing or dissenting with the current political administration.

Patriotism is your moral compass. It is what you personally know to be right or wrong, not due to the actions outside your self but within you. It resides in your heart.

It is your pride in being American, not because of who your President is, but because of who YOU are. Patriotism is not the right to lord guns over others or to shoot each other as a mode of “protection.” Rather, it’s our job as Americans to work on picking up the pieces that we as a country have helped to shatter. It is knowing that the only way to stop the madness is to disarm, and then re-arm intelligently.

Happy Memorial Day. Keep American soldiers close to your hearts and honor the fundamental roots of your patriotism in this beautiful country of ours which does its best to bounce back for us, time and time again.


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